This September, the Kennedy Center celebrates its 36th birthday and launches the 2007-2008 season with the sixth annual Prelude, beginning August 30 with a dance premiere on the Millennium Stage and ending with NSO Pops concerts with Roberta Flack and jazz concerts by Allan Harris. A reflection of the Center's upcoming season, Prelude provides audiences with more than four weeks of special performances, events, and activities for the whole family, including many free and low-cost performances in keeping with the Center's Performing Arts for Everyone initiative.
The centerpiece of Prelude is the 23rd annual Kennedy Center Open House Arts Festival on Saturday, September 8, a full afternoon of free performances and events for people of all ages. This year's 36th birthday celebration is called "Underground Circus," and focuses on circus arts for the stage and street. Featured circuses include the Perfect Unknowns from Montreal, Pittsburgh's Zany Umbrella Circus, and Montreal's The 7 Fingers. Open House also includes artists from the Washington, D.C., area, as well as a taste of the Kennedy Center's upcoming season with performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Portland Taiko, and many others.
Classical and Pops enthusiasts will have a number of National Symphony Orchestra performances to choose from during the month. On September 2 NSO Associate Conductor Emil de Cou leads the NSO in its free annual Labor Day Capitol Concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
Award-winning vocalist Wynonna joins Principal Pops Conductor Marvin Hamlisch and the National Symphony Orchestra for lively concerts on September 6 and 7. In her illustrious two-decade career, Wynonna has sold 30 million records worldwide, celebrated 20 number-one singles and 13 additional Top Ten hits, and has won more than 60 industry awards, including five prestigious Grammy Awards and the ACM Female Vocalist of the Year Award. The Syracuse Post Standard says, "She's got one of the strongest voices in show business, any style, anywhere and how."
To commemorate the beginning of the NSO and Kennedy Center 2007-2008 season, as well as Leonard Slatkin's final year as Music Director, the NSO hosts its annual Season Opening Ball on September 16. It is sure to be an unforgettable performance as the Orchestra, led by Maestro Slatkin, is joined by "America's soprano of choice" (New York Times), Renée Fleming, and young Chinese piano prodigy Peng Peng for a program featuring the coloratura beauty of Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate and Liszt's imaginative First Piano Concerto, as well as works by Suppé, Korngold, Richard Strauss, and Johann Strauss II. The evening continues with an elegant dinner and dancing under a pavilion on the Kennedy Center's South Plaza. For more information on this event, call 1-202-416-8102 or visit www.nationalsymphony.org/nsoball.
September 27-29, Marvin Hamlisch and the NSO Pops are joined by the four-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Roberta Flack for an unforgettable concert event. Celebrated for such chart-topping hits as "Killing Me Softly with His Song," "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and "Where Is the Love," Flack returns to her D.C. roots. A graduate of Howard University, she has moved audiences around the world with her heartfelt music. Spanning the genres of R&B, jazz, blues, and pop, her voice, according to The New York Times, is "luscious and golden."
Jazz aficionados can look forward to another spectacular season of performances in the KC Jazz Club. A "velvet-voiced jazz singer, with music in his veins" (Variety), Allan Harris has won praise for projecting the warmth of Tony Bennett, the rhythm of Frank Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat King Cole. He opens the 2007-2008 jazz season on September 28 and 29 with selections from his much-anticipated CD, Nat King Cole, Long Live the King, recorded live at the KC Jazz Club during his January 2005 sold-out concerts. Celebrating the CD's release, Harris sings such classic favorites as "L.O.V.E.," "Mona Lisa," and of course "Unforgettable."
September 11-16, on the Millennium Stage, the Kennedy Center presents international jazz artists as part of the third annual DC Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, which this year honors the late Dizzy Gillespie's 90th birthday and his remarkable contribution to jazz and 20th-century music. Featured performers include Colombian vocalist Toto la Momposina (September 12), New African vocalist Somi (September 13), and Mexico's Chéjere and Sonex (September 16).
Montreal's highly acclaimed company The 7 Fingers, which combines its exceptional circus skills with an electric, urban street energy, brings its new production Traces: urban acrobatics to the Terrace Theater, September 13-15. Melding traditional Chinese acrobatics with basketball and skateboarding moves, dance, humor, and cutting-edge multimedia projections, five artists jump from one movement to the next, improvising along the way to original live music performed onstage.
For a sneak peek into the future of Washington theater, the sixth annual Page-to-Stage on September 1-3 features more than 35 local theater companies with free readings and open rehearsals of plays and musicals that are being prepared for Washington premieres in the 2007-2008 theater season.
The work and life of legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman is celebrated in two special events in the Terrace Theater. On September 19 Millennium Stage presents a free screening of Words and Music by Jerry Herman, a 90-minute documentary that chronicles the life of one of the American musical theater's iconic figures, who created the Broadway classics Hello, Dolly!; Mame; and La Cage aux Folles. On September 20 Performance Plus hosts Celebrating Jerry Herman, a ticketed event in which ASCAP's Michael Kerker interviews Herman, illuminating a lifetime of stories filled with wit and charm.
Special guest artists round out the evening with live performances of favorite Herman songs.
For the seventh year, the Local Dance Commissioning Project brings three new dance performances — including commissioned works — by Washington-area choreographers to the Millennium Stage. On August 30 and 31 Gesel Mason presents Whose Body Is This?: Scars and Healing, a multimedia investigation on how people move forward productively after they've been assaulted by illness. Dancers include members of Gesel Mason Performance Projects, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Lucy Bowen McCauley, and Sarah Lowing Scott. On September 6 and 7 Aysha Upchurch uses spoken word, oral narratives, step, tap, and hip-hop movement to explore the plight of today's youth. On September 14 and 15 Princess Mhoon Cooper presents Royal Movement, a new work that explores romantic love and entanglements as inspired by the film Dangerous Liaisons.
On September 10 the Terrace Theater hosts the seventh annual Metro DC Dance Awards, which celebrate the excellence of Metropolitan D.C., Maryland, and Virginia's dance community.
August 31 and September 1, 21, and 22, enjoy free live music and dancing under the stars when some of the finest dance orchestras take to the South Plaza Stage in the return of the popular Dancing on the River Terrace.
It's all a spectacular prelude to another brilliant season of performing arts at the Kennedy Center.
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor of Kennedy Center News.