"I like to assume our audience is knowledgeable and interested in exploring things they are not completely familiar with," says Lincoln Center Festival director Nigel Redden. "On top of that, I think our audience very much wants to be challenged."
The typically international and eclectic slate offers a swashbuckling samurai epic directed by Japan's Yukio Ninagawa, Gospel from the Blind Boys of Alabama, a moving Bill T. Jones cogitation upon Abraham Lincoln, and a mind-expanding theater work by Simon McBurney's British company Complicite- plus concerts offering every surviving tonality that Edgard ("The Father of Electronic Music") VarÔse ever composed.
Yet this year's most adventurous cultural explorers are likely to hop a boat to Governor's Island, where an industrial warehouse is being readied now to receive two extraordinary attractions.
The Demons is a 12-hour-long performance created from Dostoyevsky's prophetic 1872 novel about a small group of murderous revolutionaries driving each other mad at a country retreat. Adapted and staged by Germany's renowned director Peter Stein, who also acts in the 26-member company, the North American premiere is performed in Italian with English surtitles. Redden believes the immersive experience will transcend language issues. "We are on a remote island watching this for all of that time and eating together and becoming closer together and in a way we all become part of the terrorist cell. This is about how such things can happen," says Redden, his voice lowering. "It's going to be one of those ground-breaking moments in theater that you don't forget." All that intensity plus lunch and dinner - which go with the show - thanks to the city of Milan's cultural initiative to celebrate art and food.
Also staged in the warehouse on Governor's Island, but less daunting in its 100-minute length and possibly more titillating in its dark, decadent doings is Teorema, a look at a wealthy household entirely seduced and then abandoned by a sexy stranger. Drawn from Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1968 film, the piece has been created by the iconoclastic director Ivo van Hove (he of that notorious "Bathtub Blanche" off-Broadway version of A Streetcar Named Desire several seasons ago) with the Toneelgroep Amsterdam theater group from the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, more theater attractions can be discovered on the Lincoln Center campus. Led by hot young Japanese stars Tatsuya Fujiwara and Ryo Katsuji clashing as rival swordsmen, a dozen actors will battle through the North American premiere of Hisashi Inoue's Musashi, a samurai epic about a vagabond blade that bristles with martial arts and humor. Director Yukio Ninagawawa, whose staging of Modern Noh Plays was a high point of the 2005 Lincoln Center Festival, promises a lush environment that takes advantage of the David H. Koch Theater's expansive stage.
Ermon and Ramona marks the third Festival visit by Rezo Gabriadze and his Tbilisi Municipal Theatre Studio puppet-theater troupe from the Republic of Georgia. Employing puppets and sets created from found objects like twigs and wire, Gabriadze's intimate saga this time relates a tragic romance between two locomotives derailed by love.
Artistic director and founder Simon McBurney and his Complicite company make their fourth Festival appearance with A Disappearing Number, an Olivier Award-winning drama interweaving several parallel stories of the present day with a real-life saga concerning two of the early 20th century's notable mathematicians. Dreamy in looks, haunted by Nitin Sawhney's score, the company-devised work ponders infinity, imagination and endless possibilities. "It's about String Theory and in some ways that's a wonderful metaphor for the entire festival- connecting seemingly unconnected things," notes Redden. "What a festival can bring, I hope, is a series of connections that make the whole add up so that it is greater than the sum of the parts."
Musical presentations will make connections as well this season. Certainly that beloved gospel group known as the Blind Boys of Alabama will bring together diverse musicians in the three concerts curated for this year's Festival, including indie rockers, country songsters, and icons like Lou Reed.
A very different musical group and one of the most significant and long-lived Balkan bands, the No Smoking Orchestra, will make its overdue New York debut with a rambunctious mix of rock, gypsy, folk, techno and world music. And as a total contrast to those music-makers, contemporary Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino arrives with the North American premiere of his 2009 work La porta della legge. The new opera is based on a text by Franz Kafka regarding a man's nightmare encounter with a bureaucratic nemesis - in the form of a gatekeeper - who refuses him entrance to the House of Justice. Performed by three singers, the 70-minute work has been crafted by Sciarrino in a circular form modeled after Kafka's text.
After pioneering French composer Edgard VarÔse settled here in 1915, he became a New Yorker whose explorations in experimental and electronic music have since influenced artists ranging from John Cage to Frank Zappa. Redden believes it's high time to honor this local composer with VarÔse: (R)evolution, a retrospective of his works. "I'm not sure if VarÔse has ever been lost, but he is ripe for a broader discovery," remarks Redden. Because so much of VarÔse's music was either destroyed by accident or discarded by its maker, only 17 compositions exist. The International Contemporary Ensemble, directed by Steven Schick, will interpret the pieces created for chamber groups and soloists. Led by Alan Gilbert, the New York Philharmonic makes its first Festival appearance in 10 years to perform VarÔse's larger orchestral works, including his percussive tone poem Ameriques, which vibrantly suggests both the cacophony of Manhattan streets and the surge of the Hudson River.
Amid the acclaim for his hit Broadway musical Fela!, director-choreographer Bill T. Jones has been developing Fondly Do We Hope... Fervently Do We Pray, a meditative study of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln and his lasting legacy to the nation. A Lincoln Center 50th Anniversary commission, the evening-length company work incorporates the individual viewpoints of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company members about Lincoln, and how his thinking changed American history.
Yet more dance comes from across the globe. Led by its founder, the Pichet Klunchen Dance Company mixes classical Thai khon traditions with modern sensibilities in Chui Chai to relate the fable of a royal wife convinced by her husband to become an avenging queen. Singular dancer-choreographer Saburo Teshigawara returns with the U.S. debut of his solo work Miroku, an exploration of movement and space. "He creates stage pictures that are mesmerizingê«although I cannot say what they mean, which I find perhaps all the more intriguing," says Redden, admitting that he can't always connect every cultural link the Festival presents. "This is where the String Theory is just a theory," he chuckles.