The Washington Ballet Presents Carmen at the Harman

June 2, 2011

May 19 was opening night of the Ballet’s season finale. The program began with David Palmer’s Passing Through followed by a musical interlude performed by Youth Orchestra of the Americas. Edwaard Liang’s As Above, So Below concluded Act I. Following intermission, Carmen was beautifully interpreted by lead dancers Sona Kharatian, Luis R. Torres, Maki Onuki and Jared Nelson. At a post-performance reception, Board Chair Sylvia de Leon hailed “the year that was” as the Ballet grew to a new level. Incoming Executive Director Peter Branch was welcomed and glasses were raised to his predecessor Russell Allen. [gallery ids="99842,99843,99844,99845,99846,99847,99848" nav="thumbs"]

Holiday Cheer


 

-The Christmas holidays are upon us and its not even Thanksgiving yet. Everywhere you look — in malls, in television ads, in the streets and storefront windows — ‘tis the season.

That’s especially true for the performing arts, where seasonal favorites of all sorts are being prepared, sugar plum fairies being outfitted, little boys everywhere practicing how to say “God bless us, every one,” venues large and small brightening up their stages and halls with traditional holiday fare searching for a new and all-inclusive way to celebrate the season for their patrons.

Christmas is about pleasing the most people, it’s about sharing in the spirit of the season, and so old stories are resurrected in old and new ways. Music as familiar as a hometown is heard again, the atmosphere and environment become rich and thick with iconic elements, from Scrooge’s nightshirt and the ghosts that haunt him to stars to wrapped packages under a tree to the full-lunged glories of symphonic music and the quieter joys of quieter carols.

We’re offering a sampler of what’s in store in the way of Christmas in the performing arts around the Washington area, and we’ll take a close look at how two institutions are approaching something old and something new, one making a traditional holiday offering new again as an institution, the other attempting to create a new tradition.

An Old Story and a New Scrooge

There is probably no story that says Christmas more loudly, more intensely and with more familiarity than Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future have become such a staple of American film, television, and theater that it’s hard to imagine Christmas without it.

Right now, productions are being prepared all over the country and a new digitally created movie starring a facsimile Jim Carrey as Scrooge has already hit theaters.

Meanwhile, the folks at Ford’s Theatre are busy finishing rehearsals for its own production. With some interruptions, “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre is as much a Washington seasonal tradition as the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. As a result, the show has been seen by critics as something of a sentimental chestnut. Audiences, tourists and locals alike flock to it.

This year, it’s a brand new show. “We’ve added lots of music to the show, Christmas music and carols,” new director Michael Baron said. “That’s going to be a crucial element of the show. They say Dickens practically invented Christmas, so we added a true magical, seasonal element with the music. There’s a real flavor and sense of period and place to.”

“The odd thing,” Baron, who directed Signature Theatre’s cabaret series, said, “is that in England they don’t do the show. They do pantomimes and such.”

This production has something else that’s bound to make it fresh. That’s the presence of Edward Gero, one of Washington’s most honored, down-to-earth, natural actors taking on the part of Scrooge. Gero, who’s played everyone from Nixon to Bolingbroke to haunted, drunken contemporary Irishmen, knows that there’s not just the ghost of Christmas past here, but the ghosts of Scrooges past too.

“Oh God yes,” he said. “That dark, really scary Alistair Sims, George C. Scott, Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart, and, yeah, Mr. Magoo. That’s a long line, not to mention the people who’ve done it here. It’s a challenge, but you know, performing here at the Ford’s Theatre has always been on my bucket list, and I suppose, yeah, doing Scrooge.”

It’s hard to imagine Gero as Scrooge, or as anyone. He is the least chameleonlike of actors, a regular guy, blunt, funny, of Italian heritage, almost a working man’s actor. His wife is a district elementary school teacher, and while he teaches at George Mason University and does narrations and voice overs and some television, he is the essential great community actor who’s performed with almost all of the theaters in Washington.

“It’s a ghost story, it’s the Christmas story,” he said.”I’m looking forward to being Scrooge, he’s a haunted man long before the Marley and the ghosts come, haunted by his childhood, haunted by the past.”

“A Christmas Carol” begins Nov. 23.

Out of the darkness, into the light

If Scrooge rewards and reassures audiences with traditional material made rich again, “Take Joy!” the big Christmas show at the Music Center at Strathmore, takes a radical new approach to seasonal entertainment.

“It’s different, it’s spectacular, we’ve tried to present something that will be special to people who are living regular lives today, right here and now,” Eliot Pfanstiel, president and CEO of Strathmore and executive producer for “Take Joy!” said. “It begins almost as soon as you walk toward the center, over the bridge, with the sights and sounds of all sorts of music, carolers, people dressed for the season.”

“It’s the solstice, the darkest night of the year,” Pfanstiel said. “It’s a journey from the darkness into the light, a journey taken by a group of people, family and a shepherd in search of a pageant.”

At play is the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson, traditional Christmas music, gospel music, hip-hop, classical, folk and Celtic. “Call it a new kind of holiday show, wholly original, transforming and transporting. It’s not any one thing, just as the holidays don’t mean one thing for everybody. It’s about a community gathering together on the darkest night of the year and coming out into the light at evenings end.”

Pfanstiehl, sometimes the perfect example of CEO as inventive boy, nurtured this project with Director Jerry Whiddon, Composer Roger Ames and Producer Jeff Davis. They all worked together at Street 70 in the 1970s, a homegrown theater which evolved into the Roundhouse Theater.

“Take Joy!” which includes the wondrous F. Faye Butler, Jennifer Timberlake and Robert Quay in the cast, will be performed Dec. 18 and 19.

Nutcracker, Nutcracker, Nutcracker

If you look long enough during the holidays, you’re going to find a Nutcracker. Here’s three for everyone.

For the Washington Ballet, no less a personage than George Washington is featured in Septime Webre’s beautiful, lush imagining of “The Nutcracker,” with Washington in full uniform taking on the role of the heroic Nutcracker and King George III donning the role of the Rat King. It’s a Washington tradition that’s presented at the THEARC Dec.3-5 and at the Warner Theatre Dec. 10-27.

At the Kennedy Center, the Pennsylvania Ballet comes to town for seven performances of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” Nov. 24-29.

What’s special about this production is that it marks the D.C. premiere of the Balanchine version, which the Pennsylvania Ballet has performed since 1969. It’s a spectacular production with 192 costumes designed by Judanna Lynn and new sets by Peter Horne. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra will accompany the production, which will feature the Norwood Middle School Chorus.

Meanwhile, the Puppet Company at Glen Echo Park will present its puppet version of “The Nutcracker” through the holiday season.

Christmas at the National Gallery

The National Gallery of Art will have caroling in the west building rotunda with families and visitors singing along with guest choirs and ensembles Dec. 12, 13, 19 and 20. In addition, there will be holiday concerts on Sundays in the west garden court of the west building Dec. 13, 20 and Jan. 3.

Music, music and other occasions

Washington Revels presents its annual Christmas Revels December 12 and 13 at Lisner Auditorium, featuring Renaissance Italy, Leonardo Da Vinci and celebrating Italian holiday traditions with music and dance.

The Dumbarton Concerts in Georgetown present one of the most alluring, beautiful holiday concerts in town with its annual “A Celtic Christmas” with the Linn Barnes and the Allison Hampton Celtic Consort

It’s at Georgetown’s historic Dumbarton Church December 5, 6 and Dec. 12 and 13.

The Folger Consort will be celebrating the Christmas holidays in the Elizabethan Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library Dec. 11-20 with “In Dulci Jubilo,” a concert of the festive Christmas music of 17th-century composer Michael Praetorius, considered to be the man responsible for creating the German Lutheran chorale tradition.

The 21st Annual Christmas Concert for Charity at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will be performed on Dec. 4, featuring the Catholic University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra and other artists.

Discovery Theater will present its seasonal extravaganza “Seasons of Light,” celebrating the holiday traditions of Sankta Lucia, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and Ramadan in December.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Conductor Marin Alsop brings a very different version of Handel’s “Messiah” with a re-envisioned gospel version “Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah” at the Music Center at Strathmore Dec. 13.

At the Kennedy Center, there’s the NSO Pops with “Happy Holidays,” conducted by Marvin Hamlisch Dec. 10-13 and the National Symphony Orchestra performing the “real” Handel’s Messiah Dec. 17-20.

The Waverly Consort brings its performance of “The Christmas Story” to the Terrace Theater with its eight singers and five instrumentalists Dec. 16.

There’s also free stuff: the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center will include performances by the U.S. Army Blues performing Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Nutcracker Suite” on Dec. 1, a “Merry TubaChristmas” on Dec. 13, holiday vaudeville on Dec. 26-27 and an all-star Christmas Day jazz jam.

Plus there’s the annual “Messiah Sing-Along” performed since 1972 in the Concert Hall.

Finally, there’s the annual holiday doings at Union Station, featuring all things Norwegian, including a tree-lighting ceremony of a 32-foot Christmas tree on Dec. 3 and Toys for Tots and a model train ceremony Nov. 24.

Explore “Maximum India”


Here is India, according to stats provided by the embassy: 1.2 billion people, 24 languages, 1,600 dialects, 28 states, a rich variety of regional cuisines, 330,000 gods and goddesses, and 300 ways of cooking a potato.

The Kennedy Center’s huge, month-long festival celebrating Indian culture (March 1-20) is thus called “Maximum India.” And as it would seem, there are thousands of reasons for that.

“What you will find in this festival is a celebration of India’s diversity,” said Ms. Meera Shankar, the Indian Ambassador to the United States since April of 2009, in a small press gathering at the Cosmos Club, showcasing parts of the festival.

“India,” she said, “is a great kaleidoscope of cultures, ethnicity, religions, geography, languages, literature, music, dance, paintings, architecture, festivals, cuisine and customs going back thousands of years. And you’ll find much of that in this festival.”

The festival is another in a series of festivals that has focused on geographical regions of the world at the Kennedy Center, including China, the Middle East and Arabia, the Silk Road and others. “Maximum India” is presented in cooperation with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which has brought and sponsored several of the attractions in the festival to the United States.

“The arts create a unique platform for understanding each other,” Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser said. “This festival will highlight India’s magnificent arts and culture offerings on the Kennedy Center’s stages and throughout the building.”

Much of India’s cultural offerings—its literature, music, dance and performance arts—are rooted in the ancient past, so that even modern creativity in India has a flavor of the old Gods, of religious practices, of re-inventing old arts and understanding them anew, and of enduring faiths in a contemporary setting.

“You’ll find similarities through the regions of India—it’s the cradle of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which are known as the Indian religions. But there’s also Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Bahai faith, which makes the country a hotbed of inter-faith activities and cooperation.”

“The past is always a part of the present here,” the ambassador said. “But there is also Bollywood, with its very modern cinematic pulse, which is now exported all over the world. We have western pop music, as well as traditional music. We are at once very modern and very old.”

Not all of that may make its way into the enormous festival with its many free events, but there is definitely a flavor of a vast nation at work in the offerings of the festival.

Here are some highlights:

Madhavi and Alarmel Valli fuse two classical dance forms in a joint creative experience called “Samanvaya: A Coming Together.” Valli is the leading choreographer of one of the oldest dance forms in India, the classical bharatanatyam.

On the other hand, there’s Tanusree Shankar, a choreographer and artistic director of a company that specializes in contemporary Indian dance.

Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar, and who accompanied her father on tour recently, will be performing with the National Symphony Orchestra.

The Rhythm of Rajasthan, a group of musicians and dancers, perform a diverse program that includes folk music and ecstatic Sufi music. Want a mix of the modern and the old? Try the Raghu Dixit Project from Bangalore, an Indo-World-Folk-Rock Band.

Naseereuddin Shah will bring his Motley Theater Group from Mumbai (the setting for the popular Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaires”) to the festival. The group is famous for its storytelling abilities and for performing western plays in Hindustani, including “Waiting for Godot.”

The Kennedy Center has also created for this festival the Monsoon Club in the Terrace Theater, where contemporary Indian musicians and other artists will be performing

India is of course a center of the world film industry, and many key films from India over the last 50 years will be screened in the Terrace Theater throughout the festival. There will also be a major discussion of the Indian film industry and Bollywood.

The grand halls of the Kennedy Center will be filled with images and objects reflecting the arts of India, transforming the center into more than a little piece of India.

In terms of cuisine, the Kennedy Center will be serving up the tastes of India in the KC Café and the Roof Terrace Restaurant. Chef Hemant Oberoi, Executive Grand Chef of the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers in Mumbai, will lead a team of 12 chefs from around India to introduce festival-goers to the cuisines of India.

For all the details of maximum India visit Kennedy-Center.org/India.

Fight Night


Fight Night for children took place the Hilton Washington on November 11 at 6 p.m. [gallery ids="99561,104629,104635,104633" nav="thumbs"]

Foto Week DC


Foto Week DC as held at various galleries throughout Washington DC November 6-13. [gallery ids="99562,104634,104636" nav="thumbs"]

The Kennedy Center


Maximum India Festival
March 1-20

New York City Ballet Three mixed Repertoire Programs: April 5, 8 and 10; April 6 and 9 and April 7 and 9.
April 5 – 10

Paul Taylor Dance Company
March 22-24

Peter Brook’s “Fragments”
April 14 – 17
The acclaimed genius focuses on five short works by edgy, bare-bones genius playwright Samuel Beckett (“Rough for Theater 1,” “Rockabye,” “Act Without Words II,” “Neither” and “Come and Go”) at the Eisenhower.

Barbara Cook’s Spotlight Vocal Series
March 25
Actress and singer Ashley Brown (the original “Mary Poppins”) at the Terrace Theater.

The National Symphony Orchestra presents “The Trumpet of the Swan: A Novel Symphony,” based on a book by E.B. White, with music by conductor Jason Robert Brown.
March 27
Starring John Lithgow, trumpeter Christopher Vendetti and DC actors like Craig Wallace, Michael Willis and Naomi Jacobsen. Two concerts.

Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies”
May 7 – June 19

An Artist Visits the White House Past: The Paintings of Peter Waddell


Every Tuesday and Thursday through July 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the White House Visitor Center, artist Peter Waddell will discuss his paintings in the exhibit, “An Artist Visits the White House Past.” The exhibit presents fourteen paintings commissioned by the White House Historical Association that’s been six years in the making, depicting the President’s house from construction in 1792 to Theodore Roosevelt’s major renovation in 1902. Through meticulous research and tireless attention to detail, Peter Waddell created a vision of the White House as it was in the nineteenth century. The exhibit, part of a year-long celebration of the association’s 50th anniversary, will be on display through November 28, 2011.

Washington National Opera


Change — big and transforming — seems to be a part of just about any human endeavor
these days.

Major change is coming to the Washington National Opera. Placido Domingo, the world-renowned
tenor, who has been general director of the company since 1996, helping to launch it to another level of respect, stature and accomplishment, will be leaving his post as of June, 2011.

If you read the public announcements from both Domingo and the WNO board, the change was mutually arrived at, and apparently under consideration in recent times. The statements sound a lot like those surrounding the news of the breakup of a much-beloved couple who have come to a convivial agreement to go their separate ways.

Herewith: “We appreciate all that Placido Domingo has done for our great company. He will be missed, but all good things come to an end,” WNO President Kenneth R. Feinberg said. “Placido’s association with WNO was essential to the company’s artistic development and helped it to gain recognition nationally and internationally. We are looking forward to him being with us in Washington this spring to sing in ‘Iphigenie in Tauride’ and to conduct performances of ‘Madame Butterfly’ and ‘Don Pasquale.’ While today’s news may mark the end of the formal marriage, we are looking forward
to artistic collaborations in the future.”

Domingo brought the white heat of star power to the company, by way of talent, reputation and international appeal, giving it something it probably did not have before — glamour. In addition,
he brought innovative programs to the company including free simulcasts of season-opening operas, the WNO’s Center for Education and Training, international tours, and, essential for the future, the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program

Domingo at 69 remains a busy director and performer, and is still the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera. Under Domingo, who took over after Martin Feinstein, the company experienced international growth and saw the arrival of star conductors, directors and performers, including Jose Carreras, Renee Fleming and Franco Zefferelli. The company also embraced newer American works like the recently acclaimed “A View from the Bridge.” But there were also problems and some critical grousing as a result of difficulties in the current economic climate.

It will be interesting to see which direction the WNO will be headed with the departure of Domingo, a decidedly marquee big name brand. The possibility that the company might merge with the Kennedy Center, where it pays rent for its use of the Opera House, has already been bandied about.

The Music Center at Strathmore


Among many offerings, there are:

Hilary Hahn performs this Sunday at 4 p.m.
February 27

Itzhak Perlman comes to town with Rohan de Silva on piano.
May 1

Bryan Adams and his “Bare Bones Tour”
March 11

Comic writer David Sedaris
March 31

Jazz songstress Nancy Wilson
April 22

The Shakespeare Theater


Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband”
March 8 – April 10
Oscar Wilde will get the full treatment by the Shakespeare Theater Company under the veteran and able direction of Keith Baxter. The threat of scandal, an obsession during Victorian times, buzzes over an upstanding and rising aristocratic type in this Wilde gambol through British social mores.

“Old Times”
May 17 – July 3