- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The fledgling Prelude Festival is the kind of affair that promises plenty of the arts — without the pretension. The Kennedy Center festival, in its second year, offers many of its events during its two-plus week run either for free or at reduced charges.

It’s Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser’s way of saying: Welcome to the District arts scene. Please stay a while, won’t you?

Last year’s festival served as an introduction to the local arts scene. This year’s version isn’t as expansive, in part because of the construction swirling around the center, including the Opera House renovation and new garage construction.

The festival unofficially began yesterday in the Terrace Theater with “Nijinsky’s Last Dance,” a Signature Theatre production of a biographical portrait of the legend of 20th-century dance.

Among the programs slated for the festival are “Fiddlers on the Roof,” an international fiddle showcase, a concert by Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, the Page to Stage New Play Festival, plus a sing-along “Wizard of Oz” for the whole family.

Also, part of the festival is the 19th annual Kennedy Center Open House (Sept. 7), a free event dedicated to the “year of the blues.”

Regular Kennedy Center features such as the KC Jazz Club and the Millennium Stage series will go on as usual throughout the festival.

This year also marks the second time Signature Theatre is taking part in the festival, says the company’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer.

“Nijinsky’s Last Dance” is a return of an original piece that debuted at the theater in 1998. The one-man play follows legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s descent from unrivaled dancer to anguished artist left in an insane asylum.

“He was such a passionate man, and his life was so complicated as an artist,” Mr. Schaeffer says. “The play captures both lives and puts them in one evening.

“You want to go inside his mind and figure it out,” he says.

Thanks to Mr. Kaiser’s festival, new audiences will be able to see the play as well as an array of local and national artistic talent.

“The great thing Michael [Kaiser] has done is he’s opened the doors of the Kennedy Center,” Mr. Schaeffer says. The building, which he says once was known too often as a touring house, now produces such events as last year’s Stephen Sondheim Festival.

Productions such as the Prelude Festival let lesser-known arts companies get the kind of exposure they deserve, he says, and the Kennedy Center often relies on local talent to flesh out other productions year-round.

“He’s given a renewed spirit to the arts in D.C. and made the Kennedy Center the focus of it.”

The NSO will wrap the second annual festival and begin the Kennedy Center’s 33rd season with a Sept. 20 concert featuring soprano Angela Gheorghiu.

For a full list of events and information, visit www.kennedy-center.org.

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