Fresh air. Great quantities of it can be gulped and savored at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, the annual outdoor arts marathon that runs this summer from August 13 to September 4. But fresh air is only the beginning.
With its marble surfaces sparkling in the summer sun, or basking at night in the glow from the windows of nearby apartment buildings, Lincoln Center once again will host an amazing series of events. This year marks the Out of Doors Festival's 35th anniversary, thanks to generous sponsorship from Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman. As always, the performances are designed to appeal to viewers of all kinds, with premier artists ranging from the slender athletes of the Paul Taylor Dance Company to the rugged sound of New Orleans bluesman Dr. John, with many a thrilling stop along the way.
Among the other dance headliners will be the Limón Dance Company, which preserves the soulful, modern masterworks created by the troupe's late founder, Jose Limón, and also commissions edgy, contemporary pieces from such artists as Doug Varone and feminist choreographer Susanne Linke. Dance-maker Stephen Petronio will take viewers into the post-postmodern era with his amazingly loose and fluid articulations while the muscular divas of Complexions Contemporary Ballet flex their joints in choreography of extroverted glamour.
In addition, Lincoln Center Out of Doors has offered two commissions to dance groups this summer. Souloworks/Andrea E. Woods & Dancers and the musical ensemble Women of the Calabash will present Molibungwe: Let the Voices of Women Be Praised. And Arthur Aviles Typical Dance Theatre, from the Bronx, offers Flow to the Groove, a salute to the disco era. Aviles will recall the wild nights of the 1970s with supernumeraries in Disco Duck costumes and roller-bladers who swirl to hits by the likes of Donna Summer and Gloria ("I Will Survive") Gaynor. Says Jenneth Webster, the Festival's programming director, "These companies are there because of the extremely joyous content of their work. They look beautiful outside and their work is understandable and accessible to a broad range of people."
Musical highlights at the Festival will include consummate jazz artist (and Grammy and Tony Award winner) Dee Dee Bridgewater, who will croon Une Soirée des Chansons Jazz, a tasteful evening of selections from the French jazz songbook. Legendary drummer and Jazz Hall-of-Famer Chico Hamilton will appear with his multigenerational band, Euphoria, and three-time Grammy winner Paul Winter.
A highly imaginative ensemble, Kevin Gordon and his Gotham Radio Players, will take listeners back to the 1940s, those golden days when "special effects" meant a sound table loaded with a washboard and tin cans filled with nails, with Old Time Radio Comes Alive.
The extraordinary, genre-busting sounds of Africa will be heard in the person of Angelique Kidjo, a sassy vocalist from Benin who now lives in Paris and blends various styles of Western Pop with the traditions of her native land. Kidjo's works can be sampled at her Web site, www.angeliquekidjo.com. The Festival also includes the Zérui Group, an offshoot of the mellow and sun-kissed musical scene in Cape Verde.
Just the opposite of mellow, the International Hip Hop Exchange: The Underground Vanguard will bring together rapping MCs and spinning DJs from Puerto Rico and Brazil, the United States and Africa. Their counterpart, Fly Dance Company, from Houston, will showcase hip-hop set to every kind of music, from classical to funk.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors typically reaches into the city's neighborhoods to recruit artists. No one needs to tell New Yorkers that their homes possess artistic riches beyond compare, and this wealth is spread through every community. The city's boroughs and neighborhoods are alive with creative action representing people from every part of the globe. These artists do not always have a long reach, however, and may not be recognized outside their niches. That's where Lincoln Center steps in, partnering with such groups as the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, which this summer will curate a concert of works by young African American choreographers, including Ronald K. Brown, Jamel Gaines, and Nathan Trice.
This year the Brooklyn Arts Council also will come on board with a program called FOLK FEET representing the ethnic enclaves of Brooklyn. In the same vein, the Taipei Cultural Center will introduce the Hung-Sheng Lion Dance Theater, which will parade with acrobats exhibiting amazing martial arts skills. The Chinese American Arts Council will offer From Chinatown with Love: 25 Years, an afternoon of classical Chinese music and Painting Face style Chinese opera.
There will be Japanese taiko drummers and Native American rock musicians; wailing Middle Eastern vocalists and African stilt dancers; steel-pan drummers from the Caribbean and Mexican guitarists; puppets, mummers, and masked theater.
Webster herself is always on the lookout for talent as she moves around the city. "Let's say I go to Brooklyn and I'm walking around in Fort Greene. There's always something to look at. There's always something to see and hear," she says. The LaCasita Project at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, for example, comes directly from her personal experience of living on the Lower East Side and visiting, sitting in, and enjoying the community gardens there. The project re-creates the ambience of the neighborhood casitas, or "little houses," that are focal points for spontaneous poetry and musical performances both in the gardens of the Lower East Side and throughout the Caribbean. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its Arts for Transit program are partners, too, this year.
It all finishes up with a bang and a twang the weekend of September 3 and 4 with the Lincoln Center Out of Doors tradition and series within a series, the Roots of American Music Festival, curated by Coleman Barkin. This year's "Roots" will pay tribute to the country-western and cowboy ballads made famous across America by radio broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville. Legends Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder are featured, along with many more singer/songwriters and acoustic virtuosi, such as Sourdough Slim, Rosemary Woods, Robbie "Connell, and The Highwaymen.
"We wanted to create that feeling of celebration," says Webster, "that amazing feeling that every breath you take is a great breath of wonderful life."
Robert Johnson is the dance critic for the Star-Ledger in Newark and reviews editor for Pointe magazine.