- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Renowned for staging opera and ballet, the Kennedy Center will host a celebration of country music during its 2005-06 performing arts season, officials said yesterday.

Also on tap are productions of the Tony-winning musicals “Wicked” and “Mame” and a festival of Chinese culture.

“Country music hasn’t really been looked at by most art centers. We thought it was about time,” said Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser.

Working in step with the Country Music Hall of Fame, the center will honor the indigenous American art form with a series of concerts exploring the music’s many facets, from alt-country to its bluesier side. A list of slated entertainers is still being finalized, officials said.

Meanwhile, the center’s Festival of China promises a menu of both classical arts as well as newer pieces reflecting the country’s interest in outside influences, Mr. Kaiser said.

“They’re looking expansively at the world,” he said, citing artisans from a variety of countries whose work earned prominent display within China’s borders.

Mr. Kaiser visited China last year and came away impressed not only by the country’s rich art tradition but also by its focus on newer works.

“Contemporary work draws more interest than classical pieces,” he said.

The festival will begin with what’s dubbed an “explosive installation” art piece by Cai Guo-Qiang, one of Asia’s biggest contemporary artists. A screening of the 1991 film “Raise the Red Lantern” by its director, Yimou Zhang, also will be featured.

On the theater scene, a visit by the national touring company of Broadway’s “Wicked” and a Kennedy Center production of “Mame,” starring Christine Baranski, are among the highlights.

The center’s revamped Fund for New American Plays will help produce “Love-Lies-Bleeding,” a new play from acclaimed author Don DeLillo to be staged by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company.

Musically, the National Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 75th season next year with a stellar lineup of guest artists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman. The season will begin with a reworked arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Rob Mathes and also will feature music from Weber’s Overture to “Der Freischutz” — the first notes played by the NSO on Nov. 2, 1931 — NSO music director Leonard Slatkin said.

The Kennedy Center’s team of artistic advisers, which includes jazz legend Billy Taylor, expands by two for the upcoming season. Theater director Hal Prince, known for staging such premier productions as “Cabaret,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Evita,” joins ballet great Suzanne Farrell as the latest Kennedy Center advisers.

A complete list of the 2005-06 season is available through a link on the center’s home page, www.kennedy-center.org.

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