A Chat With: Virginia Arts Festival Artistic Director Rob Cross

Classic Arts Features   A Chat With: Virginia Arts Festival Artistic Director Rob Cross
An interview with Virginia Arts Festival artistic director Rob Cross. The 17th season of the festival began on March 17th, and goes through June 2nd. This year’s festival includes numerous extraordinary arts experiences.

The Festival will be a season of artistic celebrations. Dance is a signature element of the Virginia Arts Festival, and this year Britain’s esteemed Birmingham Royal Ballet travels for the only US performances in 2013 with its beguilingly danced production of Coppélia. Music performances range from classical to Broadway - to jazz to rock. There will be many outdoor activities as well, including the Virginia Chocolate Festival and a special Memorial Day Concert. Season subscriptions and single tickets are now on sale. Visit www.vafest.org or call 757-282-2822.

This year’s festival features some exciting performances. Can you please tell us a few that you are especially looking forward to?

It’s great to have Birmingham Royal Ballet back to the Festival this year in their only US engagement. This being their third time to the Festival, they have become an audience favorite.

Audra McDonald is amazing and it will be her first Festival appearance. I think people will be blown away by Meow Meow. She is a brilliant performer that I had the pleasure of seeing in Edinburgh and I think it will be a unique experience for the Festival’s audience.

Can you please tell us a little bit about the process of choosing performers, companies and acts for such a diverse Festival?

I program the Festival about two seasons in advance. I attend performances all over the world to program the best artists from the many genres we present. We have such a range of performers at the Festival that there is truly something for everyone.

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring will be performed on the exact day of its 100th anniversary. The piece was extremely controversial in both the music and ballet worlds when it premiered, due to its avant-garde nature. Though not nearly as controversial now, how do you expect audiences to respond to the renowned piece?

Although the music is not nearly as jarring as it was 100 years ago, it is still one of the most powerful pieces ever written for orchestra. If you think of the other music being written for the orchestra during that period, it is amazing that Stravinsky was able to conceive these sounds and colors.

In addition to the music, the critically acclaimed choreography by Salvatore Aiello of The Rite of Spring is powerful and raw and with themes of pagan rituals, eroticism and the cycles of life and death, the audience is sure to have an emotive reaction.

This year’s festival marks the second year of the Festival Fringe series – a program that was very successful last year. Can you please tell us a little bit about how the program came about and the special performances that this year’s festival will include?

I attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on a regular basis and always see a few eclectic things that I think our audience would love. Meow Meow is a perfect example of that. It is a great way to showcase non-traditional performances to our ticket buyers that want something more cutting edge and to break through to the younger generations.

Over 850 performers from all over the world will assemble for the Virginia International Tattoo, a unique display of military precision and patriotism featuring marching bands, massed pipes and drums, drill teams, gymnasts, dancers and choirs. For our readers who have never experienced a viewing of a Tattoo – can you tell us what it’s like to watch one?

It is hard to describe the power of over 800 artists performing simultaneously. The show is truly a spectacle of music and might and a celebration of patriotism and pride of the US Armed Forces. The Tattoo crosses over all generations - there is something for everyone to enjoy – and with a new show every year, has become an annual tradition to many of our patrons.

The Festival also features several outdoor celebrations. How do these events enhance the quality of the Festival? Do you have a favorite?

With our outdoor celebrations, we hope to expand arts and culture beyond the concert halls and theaters. This year we are increasing the amount of free outdoor opportunities to create a more festive atmosphere during the Festival. These events will include the aerial theatrical group Australia’s Strange Fruit, Keigwin + Company leading a community tableau with choreographed dance, and vivid projection art transforming local buildings into canvases.

As far as favorites go though, the Virginia Beer Festival is mine hands down! Who doesn’t love the art of tasting fine craft beers from all over the world along Norfolk’s beautiful waterfront?!

Can you tell us a little about the ATTUCKS JAZZ SERIES and its history & the performers we will hear?

The historic Crispus Attucks Theatre is a true jewel of Norfolk that has hosted such legends as Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole. We are very fortunate to have John Toomey, a world-class jazz pianist, curate our Jazz series showcasing some of the country’s top jazz artists in this wonderful setting.

Last year, the festival was only 8 weeks, and this year it has grown to 11 weeks – a substantial increase. What caused the decision to increase the Festival’s length? Was it much more difficult to program a longer festival? In what performance areas did the Festival most grow – music, dance, etc.?

There are times when we are offered the opportunity to present an artist at a time outside of the regular festival season. This season we have two really special performances in March with The Chieftains on St. Patrick’s Day and Meow Meow the following week. It was hard to pass up bringing these great artists to the Festival, so we are opening four weeks earlier this year.

Can you tell us a little about where can we expect the shows & performances to take place, any out of the ordinary?

We have the luxury of amazing performance spaces for the Festival—from great concert halls to beautiful churches and fantastic outdoor venues. I work carefully to place artists at the most appropriate venue to showcase them in the most favorable way.

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