Preview: Lincoln Center Festival 2009

Classic Arts Features   Preview: Lincoln Center Festival 2009
Lincoln Center Festival Director Nigel Redden provides a look at this year's festivities. Kicking off July 7, the annual celebration of music, theatre and dance has again attracted an eclectic array of artists from all over the globe.

Redden avoids applying a formula to the annual event. Sitting in his Rose Building office amid books and artwork from previous Festivals, he says he likes "a festival that can follow its own logic." Redden says that attitude also precludes a related and frequent festival clich_, insisting, "I don't want to do themes. You can run out of them relatively quickly."

What the festival-savvy executive looks for are connections. Lincoln Center Festival 2009 will find its connections mostly in its abundant theatrical offerings. As a matter of fact, there's more theater this year than is usually the case: a development having to do almost as much with what Redden has admired abroad as with which venues are available in a year when the Metropolitan Opera and the David H. Koch Theater stages are not.

The obvious connection this year is European theater, meaning that companies from France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Russia are headed to Manhattan. They will be prominently on view during the three-week festival of 52 performances and 11 premieres in seven spaces.

Ariane Mnouchkine, who founded and runs Paris's Th_ê¢tre du Soleil directs Les Eph_mres, an ingeniously mounted look at moments of memory in everyday lives and the unstoppable passage of time. Carlo Goldoni's 18th-century three-part satire, Trilogia della villeggiatura, will star and be directed by Toni Servillo for the Piccolo Teatro di Milano/Teatri Uniti. Here also the universality of family life is under examination, but with a certain amount of rib-tickling.

The legendary director Krystian Lupa brings Kalkwerk, Narodowy Stary Teatr of Krakow's adaptation of Thomas Bernhard's novel to the stage. The title refers to: and the work is set in: a limehouse where an obsessive scientist and his captive wife confront their emotionally crippled existence. Two works are coming from Hungary. First there's Budapest's B_la Pint_r and Company's Peasant Opera, a musical that makes merry on the topic of past and present country taboos. Then, there's Anton Chekhov's Ivanov as imagined by director Tamšs Ascher and the Katona J‹zsef Theatre. Chekhov's classic is set in Budapest during the 1960s and 1970s for (likely) contemporary political implications.

St. Petersburg's Maly Drama Theatre will come to New York with the expansive Life and Fate, a theatrical reworking of novelist Vasily Grossman's unflinching study of Nazism and Stalinism in the war-torn 1940s. The director here is the company's long-standing Artistic Director Lev Dodin. England's Declan Donnellan brings his Chekhov International Festival treatment of Alexander Pushkin's Boris Godunov and its larger politically-oriented themes to the Festival. Both the Donnellan and Mnouchkine offerings will be housed in the Park Avenue Armory, where Festival 2008's centerpiece, Die Soldaten, proved indisputably that the Armory is a desirable destination for grand productions.

While theater is receiving a special nod this summer, dance and music are not far behind. Emanuel Gat Dance, with Gat performing as well as choreographing, will be represented by two pieces, the North American premiere of Silent Ballet and the New York premiere of Winter Variations. The choreographer Shen Wei and his Shen Wei Dance Arts will offer the three-part Re- (I, II, III). This work will culminate with the New York premiere of Re- III, Shen Wei's New Silk Road, informed by his 2008 return to China to choreograph the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

As for music, it will be, in the vernacular, all over the place: a sampling of what's known familiarly today as world music. Algerian singer/guitarist Idir and Moroccan chaabi singer Najat Aatabou will share a classic Berber bill. Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa plan a program of four-hand and two-piano works, featuring the U. S. premiere of a Philip Glass opus and the New York premiere of a Chen Yi work. Up from New Orleans will be a tribute to arranger/songwriter Wardell Quezergue, created in partnership with Ponderosa Stomp Festival.

Although Redden doesn't go for any formula, he does like "a delicate balance" of new and familiar participants. Th_ê¢tre du Soleil and Mnouchkine, and the Maly Drama Theatre have contributed to past seasons (Le Dernier Caravans_rail and Brothers and Sisters respectively) as have both the Shen Wei and Emanuel Gat ensembles.

Overseeing a schedule he terms "a bit of a puzzle" to set in place, Redden says that every year "there's a moment of pure panic, when it all doesn't seem to fit." He'll admit that "I've made mistakes, but I'll deny them all."

On the other hand, Redden sees the Festival as fascinating because of its breadth.

"It shows you something you've seen before from a different point of view," Redden says. He is also delighted by the diversity of the Festival's audience which includes a significant number of younger ticket-buyers. Hopefully their interest in the Festival's offerings will spark curiosity about the events at Lincoln Center's resident organizations. Redden's ability to attract an audience filled with inquisitive minds is just another part of his winning formula. Or non-formula.


The 2009 Lincoln Center Festival runs from July 7-26. Click here for full information and tickets.

David Finkle is the chief drama critic at and a New York City _based arts journalist.

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