- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Freedom fries be hanged. In the spirit of detente, the Kennedy Center will sport an insouciant Gallic air throughout the winter and spring as it hosts the Festival of France.

Grab your beret and essay a most world-weary shrug to get into the mood of this cultural bouillabaisse, which will feature traditional and contemporary works of dance, theater, music and film, as well as literary readings and visual exhibitions.

In case you haven’t conjugated a French verb since Labelle sang “Lady Marmalade” (aka “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”), the productions will be accompanied by surtitles, and some shows will be partially done in English.

“The idea for the French festival started back in 1997 with talks with the French Embassy, but things were put on the back burner because of the renovation of the Kennedy Center,” says Roman Terleckyj, vice president of artistic planning at the Kennedy Center. Mr. Terleckyj went to France last year and visited more than 30 theater companies and arts centers before settling on the final program, which he says “presents a variety of what I think is going on in Paris and France, which is actually quite an international scene.”

The global flair can be seen in the festival’s musical programming, which includes a week of performances and master classes by American opera sensation Renee Fleming. The soprano’s stint at the Kennedy Center begins tonight with a concert with the National Symphony Orchestra exploring the French repertory, including Ravel’s “Sheherazade” and excerpts from Massenet’s “Manon.” Miss Fleming will conduct master classes Sunday and Monday, focusing on French song, gender onstage and French role preparation.

Three different Kennedy Center Fortas Chamber Music Concerts will offer a comprehensive exploration of notable French composers — among them Debussy, Messiaen and Ravel — and interpreters of their works.

Le jazz hot won’t be neglected, as French arranger and pianist Michel Legrand teams up with smooth jazz singer Patti Austin and a 16-piece big band for a concert tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. The Kennedy Center will be l’amour central with a special Valentine’s Day offering featuring dazzling jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who will perform songs of love with a Parisian twist. On March 4, Algerian-born jazz pianist Martial Solal will be in concert, and his style may remind you of classic jazz masters like Art Tatum, Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk — only blended with undertones of both French and North African folklore and European art music.

What would a French festival be without film? A tres desolee experience, indeed. The American Film Institute (AFI) at both the Kennedy Center and the Silver Spring theaters, will present a celebration of the best of French cinema, including classics, rarities and promising works from a new generation of filmmakers.

The AFI’s French Film Festival will showcase legendary French star Jeanne Moreau; a titan of the new wave, director Alain Resnais; and a selection of the best of new French cinema at both the AFI National Film Theater at the Kennedy Center and in Silver Spring at the art deco AFI Silver Theatre (see schedule).

World screen icon Miss Moreau will appear at Monday’s Kennedy Center screenings of “Bay of Angels” at 6:30 p.m. and “Diary of a Chambermaid” at 8:10 p.m. and at the Tuesday AFI Silver 6:30 p.m. screening of “Bay of Angels.”

Also scheduled to appear live: Arnaud Desplechin, director of “Esther Kahn” and “My Sex Life … Or How I Got Into an Argument,” at a special AFI Silver screening of his new film “Leo Playing in the Company of Men” tomorrow at noon; and Jean-Michel Frodon, noted Le Monde critic and editor of “Les Cahiers du Cinema,” at selected screenings throughout the festival.

The theatrical offerings should give local audiences a taste of French theater beyond Marivaux translations and restagings of Moliere classics. “We saw so many pieces that were fascinating and beautiful but completely impractical to bring over to the U.S.,” Mr. Terleckyj says. “We wanted to create an arc from the traditional to the blatantly theatrical to something like ‘Les Sublimes,’ which is unlike anything I have seen before.”

From Feb. 12-14, the festival turns to the interior psychic landscapes of Henry James with acclaimed French author Marguerite Duras’ adaptation of “The Beast in the Jungle” (“La Bete dans la Jungle”).

“With this theatrical company — Theatre de Lorient — we move into a blending of the visual and environmental with the theatrical,” says Mr. Terleckyj. “The short story the piece is based on deals with the possession of souls and the anticipation of the future, and this production achieves this by combining text and a highly visual theatrical style.”

A return to more standard fare occurs Feb. 17-21, when the Opera Comique presents “La Vie Parisienne,” the Jacques Offenbach operetta. “The Opera Comique has never been in the United States — I was shocked when I learned this,” says Mr. Terleckyj. “This is a traditional operetta with singers and dancers, light and fun, but with overtones of sociological revolution in its depiction of glittering Paris life.”

After the classicism of “La Vie Parisienne,” the Kennedy Center takes a walk on the wild side on Feb. 19-21 with Compagnie Hendrick van der Zee’s “Les Sublimes.” The multimedia presentation fuses dance, theater, circus and video in an exploration of the body in all its states. “To describe ‘Les Sublimes’ is very difficult,” Mr. Terleckyj admits. “A very raw, different kind of theatrical experience that is not Cirque du Soleil pretty. It is visual — full of dance, circus elements and visual elements — but pulled together in a different way. We left the theater disturbed — an experience we all sort of long for in the theater.”

Mr. Terleckyj saw “Les Sublimes” just as the situation in Iraq escalated last year. “We were going to Lyons to see the performance and found out as we were leaving Paris that there was nerve gas discovered at the Lyons train station,” he says. “The cab driver drove us to Lyons and saw the performance with us — we got a taxi driver’s perspective. He was quite moved by it.”

While allowing that some audience members may be offended by “Les Sublimes,” Mr. Terleckyj says, “It is not vulgar — it is challenging.” The French festival, he hopes, will give American audiences a broad cross section of the French theater scene. “We chose these pieces specifically because of their visual elements, rather than going with classic French theater, which can be text-laden,” he says. “After three and a half hours of pure dialogue, you are exhausted.”

The festival has not forgotten les enfants. The weekend of March 5-7 will feature four shows geared for children, including “Can You Can Can,” about France’s high-kicking dance, and “Cyrano,” a child-sized adaptation of the Edmund Rostand classic about a poet with a prominent proboscis.

Nor are dance aficionados neglected. The Lyon Opera Ballet will perform “Tricodex,” a new full-length work by Philippe Decoufle on April 8-10. This piece uses technology to create a new and mesmerizing form of theater that combines dance, mime, acrobatics, video and film. It is inspired by the “Codex Serafinius,” an encyclopedia of fantastic animals, plants, insects, and vegetables by the Italian artist and naturalist Luigi Serafini.

WHAT: National Symphony Orchestra concert, Leonard Slatkin, conducting; Renee Fleming, soprano; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

WHEN: Today, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Concert Hall

TICKETS: $20-$75

WHO: The Music of Michel Legrand with Patti Austin and KC All-Star Big Band

WHEN: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: All seats $50

WHAT: National Symphony Orchestra concert, Leonard Slatkin conducting; Renee Fleming, soprano

WHEN: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Concert Hall

TICKETS: $20-$75

WHAT: Renee Fleming Master Classes, including the French Song, Gender Onstage and French Role Preparation

WHEN: Sunday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 6:30 p.m.; Monday, 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Terrace Theater

TICKETS: $15; Students, $12

WHAT: The Art of the French Song

WHO: Renee Fleming, soprano; Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; and Steven Blier, piano.

WHEN: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Concert Hall

TICKETS: $30-$75

WHAT: Les Arts Florissants (French period instrument chamber ensemble)

WHEN: Tuesday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $60-$90

WHAT: Fortas Chamber Music concert, with Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio

WHEN: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Terrace Theater

TICKETS: All seats $30

WHAT: Theatre de Lorient, La Bete dans la Jungle

WHEN: Feb. 12 to 14, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater


WHAT: Dee Dee Bridgewater with J’adore l’amour

WHEN: Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

WHERE: Terrace Theater

TICKETS: All seats $30

WHAT: Opera Comique?Theatre Musical Populaire (U.S. company debut) with La Vie Parisienne by Jacques Offenbach

WHEN: Feb. 17?21, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 21 and 22, 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Opera House

TICKETS: $40-$150

WHAT: Fortas Chamber Music concert, with Christopher Taylor, piano

WHEN: Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Terrace Theater

TICKETS: All seats, $30

WHAT: Compagnie Hendrick van der Zee with Les Sublimes (North American company debut)

WHEN:Feb. 19-21, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $30-$80

WHAT: Fortas Chamber Music concert, with Renaud Capuon, violin, Gauthier Capucon, cello, Paul Meyer, clarinet and Frank Braley, piano

WHEN: Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Terrace Theater

TICKETS: All seats $30

WHAT: Martial Solal concert, jazz pianist

WHEN: March 4, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.

WHERE: Terrace Theater

TICKETS: All seats $28

WHAT: French Children’s Theater: La Troupe de Mademoiselle Clairette with Can You Can Can?

WHEN: March 5-7; Friday: 6:30 p.m.; Saturday: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.; Sunday: 1 p.m.

WHERE: Theater Lab


WHAT: French Children’s Theater: Theatre en Ceil with The Treasures of Dibouji

WHEN: March 5-7; Friday: 7 p.m.; Saturday: 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.; Sunday: 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: Terrace Gallery


WHAT: French Children’s Theater: Velo Theatre with Envelopes and Packages

WHEN: March 5-7; Friday: 7:30 p.m.; Saturday: 12 and 2 p.m.; Sunday: 12 and 2 p.m.

WHERE: Atrium

TICKETS: All seats $14

WHAT: French Children’s Theater: Kennedy Center Youth and Family Programming with Cyrano

WHEN: March 19-April 4

WHERE: Theater Lab

TICKETS: All seats $14

WHAT: Lyon Opera Ballet, Yorgos Loukos, artistic director

WHEN: April 8-10, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $12-$36


Tickets and Information: (202) 467-4600

Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324 / (TTY) (202) 416-8524


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