Interviewing members of the Ku Klux Klan about white nationalism for CNN seemed far-fetched to the comedian W. Kamau Bell, but he went for it anyway.
“When I pitched the Ku Klux Klan idea, I didn’t think they’d actually let me do it,” Bell joked in a stand-up bit that opened the debut of “United Shades of America” in April 2016. “I was just trying to be edgy and get the job. And then I thought we’d negotiate it down to, like, the rodeo.”
Now with five Emmys under its belt, Bell’s CNN series begins its fifth season on Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time. The first episode asks, “Where do we even start with white supremacy?”
While you wait for the season premiere, you can spend the weekend catching up on “United Shades” on HBO Max. In addition to the KKK, topics include reforms within the Police Department in Camden, N.J.; white residents in and around Seattle fighting against racism; and the history of policies that have segregated Milwaukee. (You can also view additional clips and reading material at CNN’s website.)
The coming season promises to feature the experiences of Iranian-Americans in New York City, Venezuelans in Florida, the homeless in Los Angeles and more. Still no rodeo, though.
SEAN L. McCARTHY
Visions for Our Future
An effort to revitalize Lower Manhattan after 9/11, the River to River festival is fittingly among the first public art offerings in the city after the lockdown. This year’s program, “Four Voices,” organized by the Lower Manhattan Community Council, returns to that founding idea of rebuilding — from this crisis and others.
For “Echo Exhibit,” Asiya Wadud paired volunteers and poets over the phone to write verses reflecting on our current moment, which are now displayed throughout the Seaport district. Made from recyclable bottles and straws, Jean Shin’s two pieces, “Floating MAiZE” and “The Last Straw,” currently on view at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, calls attention to plastic waste.
Muna Malik is asking the public to consider a better society and inscribe their thoughts onto D.I.Y. origami boats. From Aug. 13 to 15, these creations can be added to her installation, “Blessing of the Boats: River to River,” at the Belvedere Plaza in Battery Park. On Aug. 20 at the Oculus, the journalist and illustrator Mona Chalabi will unveil “100 New Yorkers,” which distills the city’s demographics into representative avatars. She will screen a rotating group, based on changing voter participation data, until Nov. 30 — reminding us, as all four works do, that we still have the ability to shape how we want to live.
In July 1987, immigration officers in El Paso, Texas, found 18 men dead in the boxcar of a freight train. In their attempt to enter the United States, the men suffocated as temperatures reached 120 degrees inside the car. One survivor punched a hole in the floor through which he was able to breathe.
Inspired by this harrowing story, the playwright Silvia González S. wrote “Boxcar” (“Vagón”), which was produced by Repertorio Español. Directed by the company’s co-founder René Buch, who died in April, the gritty play went on to receive acclaim and remains an example of what Repertorio does best: delivering pithy messages in tightly constructed works featuring some of the most talented Hispanic actors working in New York City.
Streaming free on Repertorio’s website, the expertly acted play (featuring English subtitles) is available through July 31 along with Ana Caro de Mallén’s “Valor, Agravio y Mujer” (“Courage, Betrayal and a Woman”), a Spanish Golden Age masterpiece that’s very rarely produced. The director Leyma López’s version is presented in Spanish without subtitles, but watching the Repertorio star Zulema Clares deliver Caro’s feminist prose with grace and prowess (she eviscerates Don Juan!) transcends the limitations of language.
Losing Its Backdrop, but Not Its Strengths
Whether in the verdure of the Berkshires or the mountain majesty of Vail, summer dance festivals seem to be as much as about where the dance is happening as they are about who is dancing what. That’s true of the Fire Island Dance Festival, with its stage against the Great South Bay and its backdrop of sea, sky and sometimes sunset.
But there’s more to the festival than its location. And as the event goes online this year, livestreaming at dradance.org on Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern, and available through July 20 (advance registration is required), it preserves other strengths: top performers and premieres by high-profile choreographers.
The radiant tap dancer Ayodele Casel is debuting a solo. Stephen Petronio has made a tender duet for two brilliant movers, Nicholas Sciscione and Lloyd Knight. And Larry Keigwin’s new group piece doesn’t even miss out on setting: It was filmed on Fire Island.
The festival’s signature sights also appear in footage from past performances, like Kyle Abraham’s 2019 offering, a duet to D’Angelo’s “Really Love” elegantly embodied by Tamisha Guy and Calvin Royal III. Yet the most important retention is the cause. The festival’s purpose has always been to raise money for Dancers Responding to AIDS. Although Friday’s event is free, the virtual format makes donating easier than ever.
Pop & Rock
Songs of Resilience
Four months into the pandemic-induced prohibition on live performance, many musicians are feeling the economic and emotional effects of being away from the stage. For the singer-songwriter Samantha Crain, this isn’t the first time: A few years ago, a series of car accidents left her with limited mobility in her hands, forcing her to cancel tour dates as she renegotiated her relationship with her guitar.
That fraught period inspired much of Crain’s new album, “A Small Death,” due out on Friday. Her dense arrangements — layered with dainty piano melodies, horns, tape loops, the works — achieve a cozy lushness, as if she were spinning a protective cocoon in which to retreat from the traumas that populate her songs. “I know the shape of a great heartache,” Crain sighs in her dusky alto on “High Horse,” a track about emotional muscle memory, embellished with threads of mournful steel guitar.
Still, inherent in Crain’s return to music is a statement of resilience. An Oklahoman of Indigenous descent, she draws on her heritage to underscore this message with “When We Remain,” a song sung in Choctaw that she likens to the protest anthem “We Shall Overcome.” While the timing is pure coincidence, the song feels all the more resonant in light of recent legal victories affirming the rights of Native Americans.
An Album Full of Nimble Rhythms
The drummer Matt Evans is a familiar presence in New York’s contemporary classical scene. As part of the percussion trio Tigue, in which Evans also plays keyboard, he has been heard in the drone-style works of artists like Randy Gibson. In the trio known as Bearthoven, with Karl Larson on piano and Pat Swoboda on bass, you can enjoy Evans’s propulsion in compositions by Shelley Washington and others.
But Evans also plays his own music. On his most recent album, “New Topographics,” the multi-instrumentalist displays a knack for constructing classical music’s analogue of a hip-hop producer’s beat tape. A track like “Full Squid” reveals Evans’s skill in pairing contrasting elements, as sustain-rich synth figures drift patiently over nimble rhythmic patterns.
Elsewhere on the album, “Ongongos” derives energy from resonant, metallic thwacks and waves of glitchy, digital chirping; the opening of “On Dracaena” seems ready-made for some music supervisor (perhaps one working on a playfully suspenseful film or television project). Even when the melodic profile turns a bit more agitated, as in “Spinning Blossoms,” a hazy tunefulness prevails — a form of chill complexity that is particularly welcome in the sweltering summer months.
SETH COLTER WALLS
Most people use their heads to tackle a difficult math problem. On Saturday, Daniel Rose-Levine will rely on his feet.
Rose-Levine, 17, can solve a Rubik’s Cube with his soles and toes in just under 17 seconds, a feat he will demonstrate during the National Museum of Mathematics’ annual NYC Math Festival. This year’s virtual celebration will feature not only Rose-Levine’s talents, but also those of the educators Tim Chartier, who explores physics through mime; Arthur Benjamin, whose specialty is math-based magic; and Mike Andrejkovics, who raps about math for his high school students.
The festival, which requires online registration, will livestream on Zoom from 2 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern for $25 per household. Participants can drop in and out of successive 15-minute segments devoted to puzzles, brain teasers and math-related home activities like origami, model building and juggling. Expect to move your body, too.
Science also beckons on Saturday at the Staten Island Museum’s free annual Moth Night, at 7. After registering online, amateur naturalists will receive a downloadable kit that includes a scavenger hunt, a moth field guide and links to videos on subjects like building a nocturnal-insect attractor and raising butterflies. One highlight will be broadcast live on Facebook at 8:30: a forest prowl to find owls, which are far more elusive than moths.