The Gaillard offers a range of dance performances in its biggest season yet. The Rite of Spring ballet honors the iconic Igor Stravinsky brought to town by the internationally recognized dance producers of Sadler s Well Theater. | Image provided by Maarten Vanden Abeele

The Charleston Gaillard Center announced its largest ever season for 2023-2024, including more than 40 shows spanning dance, theater and music, plus the debut of its first in-house produced theatrical work, Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls. This year, the Gaillard also continues to bring internationally acclaimed dance, theater and music performances and caters to an estimated 25,000 students through its educational programming. 

Gaillard CEO Lissa Frenkel said she is particularly excited about the world premiere of Finding Freedom: The Journey of Robert Smalls, which aims to amplify an underrecognized and important Southern story.

“This is our first self-produced theatrical production, and we’re just really excited about this story in particular and being a home for untold stories of Southern origin,” Frenkel said. “Robert Smalls, he has such an amazing history and unfortunately, he just isn’t taught consistently in the schools. We feel like we have a unique platform to allow access to these figures and have students really engage with these histories.”

The Gaillard will co-produce the Lowcountry Jazz Festival with performances including award-winning artists like Dave Koz & Friends. | Courtesy of The Gaillard

The Gaillard will cast the work this month and produce it for the stage as a pilot with the hopes of touring the show both throughout the South and potentially nationally, Frenkel said.

Though the date is yet to be announced, the Anson African Burial Memorial will also be unveiled this season. The memorial will be erected on the lawn of the Gaillard facing Anson Street to honor 36 unmarked graves of Africans, African Americans and Native Americans discovered during the renovation of the building in 2013. The Gaillard will roll out curriculum-based lesson plans for classrooms, Frenkel said, educating the next generation about this piece of Charleston history and the memorial’s larger significance to the community.

“The Gaillard is planning on opening a educational program that will allow all of the students that come to our hall to have access to the story of the 36 ancestors who were buried on our site, to the idea that there are all of these unmarked grave sites around Charleston and the history associated with slavery in our city,” Frenkel said.

“We have this beautiful artistic work done by an extraordinarily important Southern artist, Stephen Hayes. So I think talking about the making of a memorial and how significant that is will also be really important and illuminating for the kids.”

Dance, music programming at season’s forefront

In addition to producing new work, the Gaillard will this year continue an initiative to present contemporary dance to Charleston audiences. Previous seasons featured performances from the American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mark Morris Dance Group. 

 “We started a three-year dance initiative, right when I got here in the summer of 2021,” Frenkel said. “The idea was that Charleston needed a consistent space for high-quality dance throughout the year.”

This season is bookended with two works set to iconic Igor Stravinsky scores, starting with The Firebird, produced by the Nashville Ballet and accompanied by the Charleston Symphony. The season ends with The Rite of Spring, another score by Stravinsky which will be produced by Sadler’s Wells, internationally recognized dance producers out of the U.K. 

“They’re working with the original Pina Bausch choreography and the company is composed entirely of African dancers from 14 different countries,” Frenkel said. “So the work takes on a special significance, both for that community and for our community as the space where a huge percentage of the enslaved Africans came in through Gadsden’s Wharf just down the street.”

For the first time this year, the Gaillard will also co-produce the Lowcountry Jazz Festival under the direction of producer Tony Clarke. The performances include award-winning artists Dave Koz & Friends, Gregory Porter, Avery*Sunshine and Jonathan Butler, alongside local Grammy Award-winning ensemble Ranky Tanky featuring the Gaillard’s Artist-in-Residence Emeritus, Charlton Singleton.

The festival, which was formed in 2008, has taken place at the Gaillard since 2018 and is a fundraiser for Closing the Gap in Health Care, a nonprofit organization whose mission is decreasing health disparities and increasing health literacy.

“We’ve become very close with the producer Tony Clark and Dr. Thaddeus John Bell of Closing the Gap,” Frenkel said. “We decided that we would be stronger together in producing a really high-quality jazz festival with nationally recognized jazz and R&B performers.”

Frenkel emphasized that the Gaillard is an acoustically magnificent space to experience music of all kinds, including concerts by leading, genre-spanning musical artists such as Grammy Award-winner and prolific blues guitarist Lyle Lovett and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Guy. For the season finale in April, the Charleston Symphony will perform David Bowie’s final album Blackstar.

The Gaillard will also host performances from Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals and actors including Jagged Little Pill, Annie, an evening with Broadway legend Patti LuPone and much more.

To view the entire schedule of performances for 2023-2024, visit

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