Skateboarding and Other Kennedy Center Surprises
Deborah Rutter spent the last six months or so getting used to her role as president of the Kennedy Center, and in a whirlwind of activity – talks to donors, meetings with the board, appearances at the Press Club (and at one of the Georgetown Media Group’s leadership breakfasts at the George Town Club) – she shared her ideas and her vibrant personality, giving Washington’s cultural and media crowd a chance to get to know this new player on the Potomac.
She made her first appearance as host of the Kennedy Center’s season announcement in the Family Theater last week, and truth be told, it was kind of fun and not a little startling. The program and the planned offerings turned out to be a fair indication of just how she and the center were willing to embrace the future and all it might bring –and, for that matter, all that the center might bring to the future.
New initiatives, new works and new faces were all on the plate. “We will be presenting works and projects that will cut across genres, that will be cooperative and new,” said Rutter. Think Jason Moran, the center’s gifted artistic director of jazz. Think new composer-in-residence Mason Bates. Think former ABT dancer-choreographer and Aspen Institute Cultural Director Damian Woetzel and MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient mandolinist Chris Thile. All of these talented folks will headline special series in 2015-16.
You might also want to whisper out loud the word “skateboard,” something not usually associated with the nation’s performing arts center. Skateboarding will be the focus of the season-opening festival in September, “Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music, and Media.” Collaborative and genre-bending, this explorative and immersive festival will celebrate skateboarding’s connection to art, movement, music and improvisation. The Kennedy Center is partnering with the George Mason University School of Art and the D.C. nonprofit Cuba Skate to bring together students, artists, musicians, skaters, and community members. Moran and his group, the Bandwagon, will headline the last two days of the Sept 5-12 festival, which will also include a specially-built skateable structure designed by artist and skateboarder Ben Ashworth.
Although the skateboarding festival is something new – “Why not take risks?” Rutter asked – it’s on a path that the center’s been following for a while. Not all that long ago, few people would have expected to hear former Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser utter the words “hip hop festival” when making a season announcement.
Moran is emerging as one of the center’s stars. An adventuresome and daring planner, he’s also a spectacular jazz pianist. The coming season will feature “Jason +,” a series that comprises the skateboarding festival; “Jason + Jeremy,” a “duel” between Moran and a fellow keyboard master, classical pianist Jeremy Denk (in collaboration with Washington Performing Arts); and “Jason + Ronald K. Brown,” a collaboration with the founder of the dance company Evidence; and “Jason + Mason,” an evening of electric jazz with the participation of DJ Masonic.
Bates is the newest electric wire – literally and otherwise – at the center, in the guise of a composer in residence. The youthful Bates will head KC Jukebox, presenting cutting-edge instrumentalists, vocalists and DJs in familiar and unfamiliar Kennedy Center performance spaces. He’ll be heading three new events, beginning Nov. 9 with “Lounge Regime: 100 Years of Ambient Music,” a trip through electronic music, 1970s minimalism and the “furniture” music of 1930s Paris.
Celebrity mandolinist Chris Thile will head “American Strings: A Tradition of Innovation with Chris Thile,” a festival of performances, workshops, jam sessions and panel discussions in 2016. Woetzel will present “DEMO,” a new series of cross-center performances with dance as its focus.
There’s big news at the Washington National Opera, where Artistic Director Francesca Zambello proudly announced the presentation of Richard Wagner’s complete “Ring of the Nibelung.” Three cycles of the four operas – “The Rhine Gold,” “The Valkyrie,” “Siegfried” and “Twilight of the Gods” – will be presented in April 2016. Long talked-about and envisioned, and often stymied, this should be one of the most anticipated cultural events in D.C., and the nation, in recent years.
But then again, there’s “Appomatox,” by the always-ahead-of-his-time composer Philip Glass, with a libretto by Oscar-winning writer Christopher Hampton (“Selma”), in November. “It’s an amazing work,” Zambello said. “It bridges the Civil War and the Civil Rights era. It’s just astonishing and moving.” The second act, which centers on the era of Dr. Martin Luther King, is newly composed. “Carmen” starts off the season, which also includes Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars” in February.
Nothing quite so startling is ahead in the theater season, though it starts off with a production of the Greek tragedy “Antigone” with luminous French actress Juliette Binoche. The rest is an all-musical season on the main stage, beginning with “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” in October and ending with “Phantom” in July of 2016.
The National Symphony Orchestra will offer two new programs: “Declassified: Fridays@ 9,” a mix of classic and modern works with pre- and post-performance programming, and “Coffee Concerts” at 11:30 a.m. on Fridays.
The Center’s contemporary dance program will focus on a celebration of choreographer Twyla Tharp’s five-decade career of dancemaking.
With the Kennedy Center in the midst of an almost month-long celebration of Iberian arts, it was announced that Ireland would be the subject of next year’s international festival.