- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Ponder having 450 guest artists come to visit for two weeks — all needing visas — and you’re in charge. That was the challenge facing Alicia Adams, international programming head at the Kennedy Center, which is hosting the nonstop blockbuster festival Japan! Culture+Hyperculture.

It’s more complicated even than the center’s previous celebration of Chinese arts, she noted, because there is no one agency she could work with to handle arrangements and advice. Also, the scope and scale of performances and installations have required using “every square inch” of the building — “more than for China.” In spite of that, Ms. Adams looked unusually relaxed at Wednesday’s opening celebration, attended by many of the artists and VIP guests, including Buffy Cafritz, Jim Kimsey, Mandy Ourisman, Samia and Huda Farouki, Alma Gildenhorn, Bob Barnett and Rita Braver, Jane Hitchcock, Mel Estrin, Norman Mineta and John Firestone. Conversation in the Hall of States had a surreal quality in the presence of a gorgeous kimono-clad Japanese Actroid DER2 woman robot that displayed an eerie ability to answer questions in English. It was made by a Japanese entertainment firm called Kokoro.

Ms. Adams, smiling, standing beside an intrigued Andrea Roane: “How much do you weigh?” Actroid DER2: “I weigh 220 pounds, but I can bench press a lot more.” The actroid also said she came “from Japan, of parts from Japan.”

So the evening went — a display of Japanese culinary and decorative arts as well as a preview of coming attractions served up between courses (steamed foie gras, sushi, steak). They included a contemporary pianist, a hip-hop dancer and two very physically agile robots, one from the Honda company and the other from Toyota.

The latter, a silver metal creation lighted up with bright blue accents, performed a few cool tunes on a trumpet, “What a Wonderful World” and “Moon River,” in a manner that might have made Dizzy Gillespie proud.

Their presence supplied the right cue for Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen Schwarzman to welcome everyone by remarking how he had “never been introduced by a robot before.” The moment also provided a chance for Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato to declare the day “Super Hyper Wednesday” in a week of super everything else.

The occasion also afforded Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser an opportunity to appear in sartorial high style wearing a sleek black wool suit custom-made by Junko Koshino, one of Tokyo’s leading designers. A dramatic display of her wildly theatrical fashions closed the evening in full runway mode.

“As you can see,” Mr. Kaiser said proudly at one point, “this is not your father’s Japan festival.”

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