For a festival that's no longer dubbed "Serious Fun," there's serious fun to be had at Lincoln Center Festival 97, including opera, ballet and international theatre events. Featuring 11 U.S. premieres, the festival's tag-line is, "The real fireworks begin."
Most highly anticipated is Les Danaides, Rumanian director Silviu Purcarete's adaptation of four Aeschylus plays, dating back to 470 BC. Featuring a chorus of 50 men and 50 women, the epic production of Les Danaides (loosely translated as "The Suppliants") tells of 50 defenseless sisters and their harrowing flight from Egypt to seek sanctuary with the King of Argos.
The play is making its U.S. Premiere after stagings in Vienna, Amsterdam, Avignon, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Glasgow and Birmingham, as well as Sibiu, Rumania. The Rumanian production was staged in a huge military gymnasium, but at Lincoln Center, a special outdoor stage is being construted at Damrosch Park, located behind the New York State Theatre, for the 120 performers. Les Danaides runs July 8-20.
Several African works are also on the Festival schedule: Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth and 4 plays under the banner, Woza Afrika: After Apartheid. Umabatha (July 21-27) features 66 drummers, singers, dancers and actors as "the moors of Scotland become the vast plains of the African continent. Here, Umabatha and Kamadonsela are the treacherous couple who commit murder for political power. Welcome Msomi adapted the work, which is in the Zulu language, 25 years ago. This revival has received "major revisions" but still features traditional Zulu dancing, storytelling and music.
Woza Afrika: After Apartheid serves as a sequel to Lincoln Center's Woza Afrika! series a decade ago. This edition comprises four plays, all U.S. premieres:
The Suit, an eerie tale of "weakness, lust and betrayal" will be staged for the Festival at the John Jay College Theatre. The last production directed by the late Barney Simon, co-founder and artistic director of Johannesburg's Market Theatre, The Suit is being restaged by new artistic director John Matshikiza. Tony-winning John Kani and four other actors perform the piece, which is adapted by Mothobi Mutloatse from a story by Can Thembe. (July 8-13). Bergville Stories tells of violence in the modern South African townships. Still fresh in the people's minds is the memory of the 1956 uprising against white oppression. Duma Ndlovu, director of the Woza Afrika festival, has conceived, written and directed Bergville Stories, which was commissioned by the Playhouse Company in Durban, S.A. (July 15-20).
On My Birthday, Aubrey Sakhabe's domestic drama set in a Mofeking township, runs July 22-July 22. Sakhabe, a young playwright/director, directs.
White Men With Weapons, a solo piece by Greig Coetzee, runs July 22-27 and seems to resemble the work of Anna Deavere Smith. This collection of monologues recalls "the stunned reactions of members of the Republic of South Africa's Defense Force on hearing that President de Klerk had freed Nelson Mandela... The men are left rudderless, bitter and comically confused." Coetzee, a former conscript in the army, will be directed by Garth Anderson.
Performance troupes at the Lincoln Center Festival include a return to NYC by "Le Cercle Invisible," Jean-Baptiste Thierree and Victoria Chaplin's whimsical clowning with objects d'art (July 22-26). Also on tap is The Aquarium, "A Meditation On Life In The City" by composer/performance artist Connie Beckley.
Fans of The Little Frieda Mysteries at La MaMa will no doubt want to check out Incident At Cobbler's Knob by the Talent Family, better known as siblings David and Amy Sedaris. David is the author of 1996's The Santaland Diaries. Incident, July 8-11, follows "the flight of farmyard animals to a woodland sanctuary, where they encounter all the prejudice city-dwellers might find in the American heartland."
More musically-oriented pieces at the Festival include Ornette Coleman: ? Civilization, Intimate Immensity (billed as "a staged media poem" by Morton Subotnick) and Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf, an epic tale in story and song, to the accompaniment of medieval harp.
Presented by Lincoln Center Inc., Lincoln Center Festival 97, July 8-27, this is the second year of the fest, which will fill 10 NYC venues and offer Braille and large-type programs, as well as hearing devices for those in need. Single tickets to events are available by calling (212) 721-6500.
--By David Lefkowitz