- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

A celebration of the work of noted composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim will be one of the highlights of the Kennedy Center's 2001-02 season, new center President Michael Kaiser announced yesterday.

Six of Mr. Sondheim's musicals will be presented in repertory during 15 weeks in late spring and summer 2002 in the center's Eisenhower Theater. Three are new productions and will be directed by Eric Schaeffer, artistic director of Arlington's Signature Theatre. This is Mr. Schaeffer's first formal association with the Kennedy Center and his first time directing two of the works, "Company" and "A Little Night Music."

Open calls for tryouts will be held in April 2002, Mr. Schaeffer said. The other musicals will be "Sweeney Todd," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Sunday in the Park With George" and "Passion." In addition, the New National Theatre Tokyo will have its American premiere of "Pacific Overtures," done in Japanese with English surtitles, and singer Barbara Cook will be featured in a "Mostly Sondheim" concert.

Mr. Sondheim received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.

The Kennedy Center's Education Department will do Mr. Sondheim's "Into the Woods Jr." The production is aimed at youth and family audiences and involves a theater residency for local young performers.

Other plans include the commissioning of two operas for children, one of them to be directed by Washington's own Debbie Allen, a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

National productions of acclaimed Broadway plays to be seen here include "Copenhagen"; "The Unexpected Man," with Eileen Atkins, who starred in the original London production; "Dirty Blonde"; the Elton John-Tim Rice version of "Aida"; and "Cinderella." The latter work will star Eartha Kitt in the role of the Fairy Godmother.

As previously announced, the Kirov Opera will perform after the appearance of the equally famed Kirov Ballet, both through special funding from New York-based arts patron Alberto Vilar. The opera company will present Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's ""Khovanschina" and Giuseppe Verdi's "Macbeth."

Ballet comes to the fore at the Kennedy Center with the offerings of six major companies, including the Kirov. These include Ballet Nacional de Cuba, to be seen in Washington for the first time in nearly 20 years; the Bolshoi in a return engagement; American Ballet Theatre; Joffrey Ballet; Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Modern dance will be equally well represented. The program will include Paul Taylor Dance Company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Lyon Opera Ballet. Novelty offerings include a Chinese group and the Next Ice Age troupe of Baltimore, which performs balletic movements on ice.

In the jazz department, the 80th birthday of Billy Taylor, the center's chief voice of jazz, will be celebrated with a gala.

"The Reinharts (Charles and Stephanie Reinhart, artistic advisers for dance) have put together one of the most remarkable ballet seasons I've seen anywhere," Mr. Kaiser said.

"The Kennedy Center commissions more art and art forms than anyone else in the country," he said even more expansively later. One of these will be a new work by Washington choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess, with the title "Silk Road Dreams."

He also made clear that most of the planning that went into myriad new programs was done before his arrival. Even so, the press event in the Terrace Theater brought together for the first time "all constituent organizations announcing their seasons simultaneously," noted Leonard Slatkin, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) musical director. He hailed the scene as symbolic of Mr. Kaiser's intention to unite the performing arts disciplines in new ways.

Different this year for the NSO will be the combination of festival projects with subscription concerts. Instead of a Mozart Festival, Mr. Slatkin described a Festival of Favorites to join the Beethoven Festival, exploring classical music pieces with insights from Library of Congress Chamber Players founder Miles Hoffman.

In line with his focus on American music, Mr. Slatkin announced what he called an exploration of America's artistic legacy under the title "Journey to America: A Musical Immigration," reflecting the influences and experiences of music proteges in America.

Six pops concerts will be presented again, under the direction of conductor Marvin Hamlisch. The 12-concert chamber music season in the Terrace Theater will include appearances by Joseph Kalichstein, the center's artistic adviser for chamber music, and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman in a duo recital, the Guarneri String Quartet and Andre Previn and Joan Tower in "Two American Composers Play Their Own Works."

Representatives of all departments were seated on the stage under eight large red-and-white banners on which were printed the names of artists and arts organizations involved in the next season's programs. The press conference was available live on the Internet for the first time yesterday, a date marking the fourth anniversary of the daily free Millennium Stage performances, initiated by Kennedy Center Chairman James Johnson, who sat quietly by in the Terrace Theatre audience.

Three local choreographers have been commissioned by the Millennium Stage project to create new works to be seen onstage in July. They are Nilimma Devi, Deborah Riley and Ed Tyler.

A Treasures of Nigeria Festival next February will open the second phase of the center's African Odyssey and will include a new theater piece commissioned by the center. "Queen Amina," based on a historical Nigerian tale, will be sponsored in part by the State Department.

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