- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pick of the pack

Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2011: Colombia, Rhythm and Blues, Peace Corps

The annual Folklife Festival, held on the Mall, is high-quality cultural tourism. This year’s vistas are both homey and foreign: rhythm and blues and the featured nation of Colombia.

In the past decade, Colombia has pulled itself kicking and screaming into the 21st century by neutralizing the left-wing rebel groups, narco-terrorists and right-wing paramilitary outfits that brutalized the country for decades. Now it’s time to do some image maintenance. That process starts quite literally with the face of Carlos Castaneda, whom stateside coffee drinkers know as Juan Valdez. On the music stage, the cowboy singers and instrumentalists of Grupo Cimarron will perform joropo music, which is to Colombian ranchers what the polka was to the Bohemians and jug-band is to Appalachia. Food tents will serve chorizo sausage with cornbread, a chicken stew called pollo sudado, rice pudding and other traditional Colombian fare.

The festival also features American rhythm and blues artists from the Civil Rights era to present, including the Funk Brothers, Marvin Gaye’s Motown backing band; Sonny Til’s Orioles, the very first R&B vocal harmony group; and jazz trombone legend Fred Wesley. For local residents, there’s a great local bonus: A performance by the National Hand Dance Association. What’s the hand dance, you ask? Developed in the 1950s, it’s a “sensual” version of the swing, in which dancers hold hands throughout an entire number. The Smithsonian recognized it as a “national art form” in 1993, and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray performed it at his inauguration. So make sure to bring your dancing shoes - and your appetite. Food will be served all day. July 1 to 4, and 7 to 11 on the Mall. Phone: 202/633-1000. Web: www.festival.si.edu/ (Free)

Comedy troupe: Reduced Shakespeare’s ‘Completely Hollywood’

The Reduced Shakespeare Company reads, interprets and truncates Shakespeare so that you don’t have to. The bard is a little wordy, after all. And, sometimes, so is Hollywood. It’s unlikely you’ve seen all 187 films that the RSC deems Hollywood’s greatest, but the three-man troupe can fix that for you, by condensing 270 hours of classic American cinema - from “The Ten Commandments” to “Apocalypse Now” - into two hours of “classic cinematic cliches.”July 3 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. Phone: 202/467-4600. Web: www.kennedy-center.org

Film: ‘Big Lebowski’

If you’ve never watched the July 4th fireworks explode over downtown D.C., gather your family, some blankets, a gallon of mosquito repellent, and your wits, Metro down to the Mall, and watch the fireworks. Everyone should do it at least once. If you’ve already subjected yourself to the Mall’s heat and bustle, however, consider spending this July 4th away from the madding crowd. “The Big Lebowski” will be playing that night in the grand confines of the American Film Institute’s Silver Theater, which serves beer and air conditioning. A distinctly American movie about one slacker’s quest to bowl in peace, the Coen brothers’ comedy somehow gets it - what America’s founders fought and died for. For documentary fans, the film citadel continues its tribute to cinema verite pioneers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker. Its retrospective wraps this weekend with “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” a film about David Bowie’s final performance in his first and greatest persona - the trippy spaceman Ziggy Stardust. “The Big Lebowski” (July 1, 2 and 4) and “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (July 1 and 2) at AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. Phone: 301/495-6700. Web: www.afi.com/silver

Music: John Maus

MySpace may have lost the social networking wars, but it’s still the best place to find new music. Electronic composer John Maus has not just MySpace, but also the fan site Maus Space. With an experimental oeuvre dating back a decade, perhaps he deserves two Internet homes. Mr. Maus’ shows are synth feasts influenced not just by the best of the oughts, or even the ‘90s, but also baroque and classical. It’s only fair to warn you: The most apparent influence in his work is ‘80s New Wave. July 5 at Black Cat, 1811 14th St., NW. Phone: 202/667-7960. Web: www.blackcatdc.com

Art exhibit: ‘American Temple’

The American love affair with exotic philosophies dates back to at least to the ‘60s, when Khalil Gibran’s mystical “The Prophet” swept through college dorm rooms, and John Lennon traveled to the Maharishi’s ashram. Since then, we’ve been half-heartedly consuming Judeo-Christian alternatives like so many spiritual Pringles. Jenny Sidhu Mullin’s new show at Flashpoint, “American Temple,” pokes fun at this distinctly American habit. Her exhibit features a slot machine that measures purity. Continuing through July 23 at Flashpoint, 916 G St NW. Phone: 202/315-1305. Web: www.flashpointdc.org

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