Taking It Out of Doors

Classic Arts Features   Taking It Out of Doors
This year, as Lincoln Center Out of Doors celebrates its 40th year of free performances, the star power of the Campus itself may shine as brightly as the free festival's starry lineup.


After a multi-year renovation, a landscape of openness that matches the spirit of the anniversary season has been revealed.

Lincoln Center was barely a decade old when Out of Doors began in 1971, in a climate of social unrest that was challenging the concept of a citadel of high culture. The Center responded by embracing actress Geraldine Fitzgerald's offer to bring her radical Everyman Theater to create a summer festival of street theater. Thus was born Lincoln Center Out of Doors (as the Everyman Community Street Theater Festival). "The festival was meant to say, 'This is an institution that belongs to everybody,'" says Bill Bragin, director of public programming. This sentiment is also reflected in the campus's recent redevelopment, revealing a new landscape full of openness that matches the spirit of this 40th-anniversary season.

The Out of Doors line-up will be bookended by returns to the festival's street culture roots. The season kicks off on July 28 with No Snakes in This Grass, a landmark one-act by James Magnuson, directed by Mical Whitaker, and produced by Shirley J. Radcliffe, all alumni of that first iteration of Out of Doors. The closing day, August 15, features the premiere of Centrifugal Force: Hip Hop Generations, a site-specific dance presented with Dancing in the Streets, which brings an intergenerational cast of more than 50 b-boys and b-girls to the newly refurbished plazas. Street theater also makes its way into the annual "Roots of American Music" festival, in which filmmaker, actor, and writer Melvin Van Peebles performs Shel Silverstein's Hamlet: The Street Chant.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors offers routes for what Bragin considers the hallmark of any true outdoor celebration: parades and processions. Bands will act like Pied Pipers leading audiences to the new features and amenities around the campus. On July 29, Brooklyn-based Haitian rara band DJA-Rara will ignite an ecstatic celebration that also includes Emeline Michel and others of Haiti's most significant artists. This is one of several explorations of musically fertile locales: the others are Detroit and New Orleans: where the resilience of popular culture has been a valuable counterbalance to difficult times. A concert presented with the Caribbean Cultural Center to mark the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will begin with a second-line showcasing a troika of New Orleans performers: Soul Rebels Brass Band, Wild Magnolias, and Glen David Andrews.

Without revealing any surprises, Bragin promises that Nona Hendryx: who was voguing in glittery space-age costumes and mile-high heels in LaBelle long before Lady Gaga was born: will traverse the campus in her own unique fashion en route to the Damrosch stage for a career retrospective on June 30.

Bang on a Can's Asphalt Orchestra returns to the festival for five nights, August 4 _8, performing in multiple locations around campus. Bragin is especially fond of that approach, which allows the kinds of "cross-pollination" he thrives on: "There's the audience for Mostly Mozart or South Pacific, an accidental audience coming out of the subway, and a destination audience." The idea behind Asphalt, according to Bragin, was to take the most populist of forms : a marching band : and have it play music by iconoclastic composers, creating "a clash of popular and experimental culture." The year's commissioned composers are none other than Yoko Ono, and David Byrne with Annie Clarke of St. Vincent.

There will be more mixing and unexpected matching throughout the season, including opening night, July 28, when the string quartet ETHEL collaborates with four diverse songwriters including power pop tunesmith Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) with Mike Viola (Candy Butchers); Dayna Kurtz, a Brooklyn-based folk-blues singer; Juana Molina, an Argentinean who mixes folk and electronics; and Tom Verlaine, of the iconic New York band Television. To Bragin this is "a microcosm of the festival, which is about creating connections, as both an artistic and a community-building statement." Cross-genre connections will also be featured in the two-day "Roots of American Music" festival, July 31 _August 1. Detroit will be the focus of the first night, co-presented with The Ponderosa Stomp, connecting the dots between the garage rock of Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, with multi-ethnic Motor City soul, blues and even proto-punk traditions.

And there's more, all reflecting Bragin's "very conscious decision not to limit ourselves to one style, one tradition, one box." There's the string quartet polymaths Kronos Quartet: premiering Christine Southworth's "Super Collider": performed with her Gamelan Galak Tika and debuting a gamelan electrica, an instrument invented by Guitar Hero creator Alex Rigopulos. There's the tenth anniversary of La Casita, a festival-within-a-festival bringing together the oral traditions of a veritable United Nations of performers with 16 poets and musicians performing at Lincoln Center and in the Bronx. There's music from just about everywhere: Bulgaria, Egypt, and Greece (and Peru, Honduras, and Kenya). There's an International Body Music Festival with representatives from Brazil to the Canadian Arctic. There's the sabor of homegrown salsa: the New York premiere of Fania legend Larry Harlow's 1977 orchestral opus La Raza Latina, A Salsa Suite starring Ruben Blades. There are indefinable originals: Brazilian musical sorcerer Hermeto Pascoal; krautrock pioneer Michael Rother with Hallogallo 2010 playing the music of NEU!; the Gypsy-inspired breakbeats of Balkan Beat Box; Mucca Pazza, a 34-piece surf-punk-circus marching band; and young ladies rockin' out (on Family Day, featuring the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls).

And, of course, there's dance: Nicholas Leichter Dance's The Whiz re-imagines a Broadway and film musical favorite. Out of Doors honors modern dance pioneer Paul Taylor for his eightieth birthday on August 5. Closing out the festival on August 15 will be dance presentations that push the limits of the Damrosch Park Bandshell: audiences will time-travel with Lucinda Childs' post-modern classic Dance, performed behind a giant screen showing a 1979 film of the same work by visual artist Sol LeWitt. The evening also premieres Brian Brooks Moving Company's Motor, whose exploding set, says Bragin, "will visually change how you experience the space."

That's an apt description of how Out of Doors is meant to change perceptions of the "stage" that is Lincoln Center.

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