For the past 34 years, the Kennedy Center has demonstrated its leadership as the nation's center for the performing arts through wide-ranging programming that covers theater, dance, classical music, jazz, productions for young people, and more.
To celebrate its birthday and launch the 2005-2006 season, the Center presents its fourth annual Prelude Festival, beginning September 1 and ending with the National Symphony Orchestra's 75th Anniversary Season Opening Ball Concert on September 24. A reflection of the Center's upcoming season, the Prelude Festival provides audiences with more than three 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 the Prelude Festival is the 21st annual Kennedy Center Open House Arts Festival on Saturday, September 10. Beginning with a huge parade and featuring more than 30 performances, activities, and events, it's a fun-filled day for the entire family. Washington-area arts organizations will give a taste of the season to come while Native American artists commemorate the first anniversary of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The Bard is back in a salute to Shakespeare and the Renaissance, and a lion dance company provides a preview of the fascinating culture to be featured in the Center's upcoming Festival of China. The NSO gives a peek at what's in store for its season, and strolling musicians and costumed characters will interact with the crowds.
The Prelude Festival continues with a sidesplitting good time for all ages from visual comedian Pete Geist in the Theater Lab on September 17. A Kennedy Center favorite, Geist has been performing his zany one-man show featuring magic, pantomime, juggling, and physical comedy for 17 years.
Classical music enthusiasts will have a number of performances to choose from with appearances by the National Symphony Orchestra and NSO Pops. On September 4 Associate Conductor Emil de Cou leads the NSO in its free annual Labor Day Capitol Concert. Guest conductor Peter Oundjian is joined September 8 and 9 by cellist Alisa Weilerstein for a program featuring Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol, Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, and Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony. On September 15-17 Marvin Hamlisch and the NSO Pops spend An Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell, the Tony Award-winning baritone dubbed "the last leading man" by the New York Times.
Acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman joins Leonard Slatkin and the Orchestra September 21-23 for Barber's Violin Concerto on a program that also includes works by Weber, Vaughan Williams, and Tchaikovsky. On September 18 in the Terrace Theater, members of the NSO perform a matinee chamber music concert. And on September 14 the U.S. Army Chorus celebrates its 50th anniversary with a free concert in the Terrace Theater.
In collaboration with Washington-area choruses, the Kennedy Center presents a moderated panel discussion on September 21 featuring music directors from the largest local choral groups: Norman Scribner (The Choral Arts Society of Washington), Donald McCullough (The Master Chorale of Washington), Robert Shafer (The Washington Chorus), and J. Reilly Lewis (Cathedral Choral Society). With moderator Robert Aubrey Davis, the directors will talk about their careers, their choruses, and their artistic opinions on the trends in the world of choral music.
Jazz aficionados can look forward to another spectacular season of performances in the KC Jazz Club. Longtime Silver Spring, Maryland, resident Keter Betts‹"one of the most respected bassists in jazz," according to the Washington Post‹takes the stage September 8 and 9. Jay Leonhart's reputation as a stellar bass player and one of today's wittiest singer-songwriters is "the product of a whimsical imagination combined with artfully understated musical virtuosity" (Los Angeles Times). He plays in the club September 15. Vocalist Roseanna Vitro, performing September 16 and 17, is "one of the most gifted singers ... a first-rate improviser ... determined to use her voice with the same musical breadth and density with which instrumentalists use their horns" (Los Angeles Times).
On September 19 in the Eisenhower Theater, the 18th annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition features several of the world's most outstanding emerging jazz guitarists competing for scholarships and prizes. The event includes performances by the finalists and a number of world-class jazz artists.
If thrilling drama is more to your liking, don't miss the world premiere of Dracula by Arlington, Virginia's Synetic Theater September 8-11. Through an "elegant fusion of dance and experimental theater" (New York Times), Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili and Resident Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili have adapted this classic Gothic tale in a production that will inflame your blood ... and perhaps drain it as well.
For an advance look at the latest in theater, try the Page to Stage New Play Festival, September 3-5. More than 25 local theater companies present free readings and open rehearsals of plays and musicals being prepared for Washington premieres in the 2005-2006 theater season, including new works by Ken Ludwig and Horton Foote.
Dance lovers have a number of enticing options, including Chinese dance, modern dance on the Millennium Stage, and dancing on the River Terrace. Known for its beautiful performances, blending traditional and contemporary Chinese dance, the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company appears in the Terrace Theater September 16 and 17. Led by choreographer Lily Cai, former principal dancer of the Shanghai Opera, the company explores the traditional regional and court dances from 2,000 years of Chinese history in Dynasty Suite; in more contemporary numbers such as Begin from Here and Silk Cascade, Cai creates exciting new movements and visual dance sculptures from the ancient Chinese art of ribbon dancing.
Millennium Stage presents a series of special dance performances by Washington-area choreographers (including commissioned works) as part of the Local Dance Commissioning Project on September 1 and 2 (Daniel Burkholder/The Playground), 15 and 16 (Meisha Bosma), and 22 and 23 (Ludovic Jolivet).
On September 16 and 17 enjoy live music and dancing under the stars when some of the finest local dance orchestras take to the South Plaza Stage in Dancing on the River Terrace: salsa with Son de Aqui (September 16) and ballroom with The New Columbia Swing Orchestra (September 17).
It's all a spectacular prelude to another brilliant season of performing arts at the Kennedy Center.
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer and editor of Kennedy Center News.