- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The 2008-09 season at the Kennedy Center is all about celebration — of anniversaries, traditions and even birthdays. The yearlong September-through-August calendar, announced yesterday, is especially full of music and dance.

The major festival, following the center’s previous seasons devoted to Asian culture, will be Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World. It will be presented in cooperation with the League of Arab States and will highlight work in dance, music, theater and film by representatives of 22 countries. A souk — a public market — will sell typical Middle Eastern wares.

“It’s our strongest ballet season since I’ve been at the Kennedy Center,” said President Michael M. Kaiser, speaking in the building’s Family Theater, where three commissioned works for young audiences will take place, one of them directed by Hollywood notable Bob Balaban.

Eight ballet companies, including the Bolshoi and the Royal Ballet, and nine modern dance troupes also are on tap. The reopening after 17 months of the Eisenhower Theater — planned officially for Oct. 5 — gave “more leverage in planning,” Mr. Kaiser explained. The initial offering will be a concertized look at three generations of Broadway musicals, followed in the spring by a Kennedy Center revival of “Ragtime,” based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, opening April 18.

World premieres are planned on nearly all of the performing arts venue’s stages. The production of a new musical, “Giant,” directed by Eric Schaeffer with music by Michael John LaChiusa, is a collaborative effort, to be presented at Signature Theatre in Arlington. Other premieres include a concert by the newly formed 105 Voices of History Choir — one singer from each of the country’s historically black colleges and universities.

Also on the music side, Ivan Fisher takes over as the principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra following the departure this year of Music Director Leonard Slatkin. The soon-to-disband Guarneri String Quartet will give its last Washington performance under the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series.

The 12th anniversary of the free daily Millennium Stage performances will be celebrated Jan. 31. The 80th birthdays of composer-conductor Andre Previn and jazz musician Benny Golson will be honored separately, with comedian Bill Cosby and jazz greats Al Jarreau and Ron Carter saluting Mr. Golson and violinist Anne Sophie-Mutter and double bass player Roman Patkolo doing the honors for Mr. Previn. Other anniversary events include 35 performances under the umbrella title Arts Across America in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the National Cultural Center Act signed by President Eisenhower.

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