One stage can’t hope to capture the essence of a country’s culture, let alone a swath of the globe as far-reaching as Latin America.
When the Kennedy Center decided to bring a sampling of that region’s culture to its halls, it realized it needed several stages — and several years — to get the job done.
Enter The AmericArtes Festival: The Kennedy Center Celebrates the Arts of Latin America. The multiyear program embraces the region’s finest singers, dancers and entertainers through a wealth of programs to be presented during the coming months and years.
The festival bursts with accomplishment from a deep reservoir of talent. Participants range from the Costa Rica Youth Symphony Orchestra (7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb., 5, at the Concert Hall) to singer La India, a Puerto Rican chanteuse who will perform with her 12-member salsa band (6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5, on Millennium Stage).
Alicia Adams, the Kennedy Center’s director of special programming, says the festival is a continuation of the performing arts center’s efforts to present Latino culture.
But never has the Kennedy Center embraced its varied artists on such a large scale.
The center’s goal is to “reflect the culture of the American people. We’re a nation of immigrants,” Miss Adams says.
“We’re trying to look to places that may not have been included as much on our main stages,” she adds.
Some of the programs, including “The Body of the City,” a photographic exhibition by artist Claudia Jaguaribe running through Feb. 28 at the Education Resource Center, are free. Others require ticket purchases.
The festival kicks off Monday, Feb. 5, with a gala opening ceremony, to include guest hosts actress Maria Conchita Alonso and TV personality Giselle Fernandez, plus the American Indian Dance Theatre and readings from Martes Eroticos. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in the center’s Concert Hall.
Miss Adams says AmericArtes will resemble African Odyssey, a similarly focused, recent festival that enjoyed a four-year run. For 2002, AmericArtes will concentrate on Brazil and Argentina, though other Latin American countries also will be represented.
AmericArtes will run either three or four years, she says, depending upon funding.
That amount of time is necessary, she says, given the extent of the source material.
“We’re talking about a region. It takes a long time to explore its arts and culture,” she says.
Miss Adams contends that part of the festival’s mission is to surprise its audiences.
“I’m looking for that which is not stereotypical,” she says.
Tambuco: Cuarteto de Percusiones de Mexico, to perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24 at the Terrace Theater, is but one example. The group’s music takes on a modern-day feel, unlike the thoughts one might conjure when thinking about Mexican percussionists.
Choreographer Deborah Colker’s Brazilian dance troupe covers unexpected ground.
“They’re not dancing about Carnival. It takes a look at what’s going on in contemporary times,” Miss Adams says.
Among the festival’s standout routines, says Miss Adams, is the Scissors Dance, which she first saw while visiting Colombia. The performance features a troupe of Peruvian dancers clacking 2-pound scissors in constant rhythm as they sweep across the stage. The Scissors Dance will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 10 on the Millennium Stage.
The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage also offers: La India on Monday, the Spirit of Cuba, the band Laito and singer Carmen Flores performing “Son” and Afro-Cuban music on Wednesday, Latin Dance Class on Thursday, the Colombian group Cimarron on Friday, the Peruvian dance quartet Los Danzaq de Ayacucho on Feb. 10 and a Poetry Slam with young Latino poets from Washington on Feb. 11. All Millennium Stage shows start at 6 p.m.
Miss Colker, director and choreographer of Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker, says the festival marks a solid start for Washingtonians to grasp Latino entertainment.
“I think it’s a good beginning because it’s a way to introduce many different manifestations of art from different countries,” Miss Colker says. “I think the festival will be enough to give a first taste of the Latin American continent.”
Her group performs at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5, at the Concert Hall, plus at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Feb. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 11, all at the Eisenhower Theater.
Miss Colker established her dance company in 1994 at Rio de Janeiro’s City Opera with “Vulcao.” It has performed in Brazil, England, France, Germany, Colombia, Portugal and Argentina, among other countries.
The group’s “Casa,” which will enjoy its U.S. premiere as part of the festival, was inspired by Miss Colker’s visit to the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar, Germany.
“With my company… . each performance brings questions that will be answered by the following show. In ‘Rota,’ I develop a relationship between movement and space, between occupation and the exploration of space,” she says of the show, which was created before “Casa.”
“‘Casa’ talks about the architecture of movement,” she says.
Miss Colker says any world artist would pounce at the chance to perform in the United States, let alone the Kennedy Center.
“It’s a country that’s always challenging,” Miss Colker says. “I consider Washington and the Kennedy Center a wonderful cultural center.”
Miss Adams says audience members “will have seen something new … and been excited by the breadth and depth of the Latin American culture,” when they walk away from one of the festival’s shows. “They’ll be piqued as to their expectations of future Latin American programs.”
For a complete list of performances, contact the Kennedy Center at www.kennedy-center.org, or call 202/467-4600 for more information. The Kennedy Center will broadcast the opening performances live on its Web site.