The songs of Puerto Rican pop star Olga Tañon, the jazz of Larry Redhouse, whose Native American trio does "Autumn Leaves" as well as original compositions, the cocktail sounds of Bobby Short, the musical interpretations of Broadway regular Karen Mason, as well as new work from writer Joyce Carol Oates are all part of the eclectic menu of the Kennedy Center Prelude Festival.
For the third year, the center has organized a series of previews of its own upcoming features, as well as samplings from other local theaters, choreographers and singers. This year's lineup of 36 programs runs from Sept. 1 to 26.
The impulse behind the festival is to provide one-stop shopping for the fall programs of many cultural outlets. It's a curtain-raiser to the fall season of almost everyone, with the participants selected by the Kennedy Center programmers. In its two years, the festival has given attention to companies that do different kinds of work than the center -- usually more edgy. This gives the center a shot of freshness as well as exposure to groups that often can't afford advertising.
Last year Prelude attracted 50,000 people. "This year is the most diverse one so far," says Tammy Ward, the manager of artistic programming administration. "It covers more of what the arts community looks like -- not only what the Kennedy Center is presenting but what the local community is doing."
However, this year the local groups are sharing the stages with two other artistic enterprises. Concurrently with Prelude, the center is also highlighting the arts of Puerto Rico and Native Americans.
Also, as part of Prelude, the center is hosting its 20th annual Open House on Sept. 12, a day of free performances. The Washington National Opera's young artists will make a stop, as well as six dancers from Chicago's well-received Hubbard Street Dance Company and the up-and-coming South Austin Jug Band, which does something called "swinging Lone Star beatnik country."
All this activity has the center bursting at the seams. This year the management will test its newest performance spaces, two outdoor plazas above the garage expansions. These roofs are about 300 feet wide, ready for musical concerts and dancing to big bands.
The salute to Native American performers -- the Festival of First Peoples -- will be an early preview of the many musical forms that will be heard during the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. The inauguration of the newest Smithsonian museum takes place Sept. 21 amid a week of traditional pageantry. Native Roots is, believe it or not, a reggae group from Albuquerque, and it will play Sept. 12. The Lakota Sioux Dance Theatre comprises 15 dancers who hail from the Rosebud reservation of South Dakota and weave history into their dances. They will also appear Sept. 12, as will Joseph FireCrow, who has been nominated for a Grammy for his exquisite flute playing. Ulali is a women's group that does choral singing and pre-Columbian music. The Cherokee National Youth Choir, 30 children who have won kudos for their gospel music, will appear Sept. 24. The comedians Don Burnstick and Charlie Hill, familiar from their late-night appearances, come to the center Sept. 20.
"It is about Native Americans doing the performing arts and we want to discover who is out there," said Ward.
The other component of fall activity at the center is the showcasing of talent from Puerto Rico. This is the last installment of the AmericArtes (a blend of the Spanish for Americas and arts) Festival, an exploration the center started four years ago to study and expose the performing arts of Latin America, South America and the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico was a natural addition, said Alicia Adams, vice president of international programming and dance at the center. "I felt Puerto Rican culture has become so much a part of American culture that we don't recognize it as such," she said.
"The island is a mixture of Spanish, African, Indian, and we wanted to show how interesting the Puerto Rican brand of that mixture is," Adams said.
Previous showcases have proved very popular. Juanes, a pop singer from Colombia, brought 7,000 people to a free Millennium Stage performance last year. Stagings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" and Fernando de Rojas's "La Celestina," full-length and in Spanish, have sold out. Adams hopes the success of Hispanic artists will result in their being mixed into the regular season's programming.
The Puerto Rican programs start Sept. 7 with a mix of free and paid appearances. Olga Tañon, the leading merengue singer of the day and the winner of two Grammy Awards and two Latin Grammys, will do a free concert Sept. 12. On Sept. 7 Gilberto Santa Rosa, the master of a vocal improvisational style called soneo, performs; on Sept. 8 Ednita Nazario, who won a Drama Desk nomination for "The Capeman," the Paul Simon Broadway musical, will perform; Miguel Zenon, the alto saxophonist, brings his jazz quartet Sept. 18; and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Puerto Rico, the orchestra founded by Pablo Casals, will appear Sept. 19.
Other work will include Andanza, a contemporary dance company; a performance by the Nuyorican Poets; a presentation of "Quintuples," six monologues by playwright and essayist Luis Rafael Sanchez, by the Teatro del Sesanta; and a discussion by a group of female novelists and poets including acclaimed writer Rosario Ferre, the author of "The House on the Lagoon."
The center will showcase three dance works by local artists commissioned for Prelude. On Sept. 8 and 9, Sharon Mansur, a dancer, will stage a work identified as "(un)Identified." On Sept. 14 and 15, Naoko Maeshiba will do "Beyond," and on Sept. 20 and 21, Vladimir Angelov will introduce "TransParent."
Returning to Prelude for the third year will be a preview of 27 new plays in a format of snippets called the Page to Stage New Play Festival. Oates's "The Tattooed Girl," produced by Theater J, and Signature Theater's "The Highest Yellow," from Michael John LaChiusa, are included.
A special salute to Leonard Slatkin, the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, will mark the end of the festival. Slatkin's 60th birthday will be celebrated on Sept. 26 with violinists Joshua Bell, Midori, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman and many other musicians. The appearance of Marvin Hamlisch and Bobby Short doing a Cole Porter program is a ticketed event on Sept. 16 and 18.
The Grammy Award-winning Take 6, the a cappella male group that crosses gospel, jazz and rhythm and blues, will sing in a ticketed event Sept. 11. Karen Mason, who appeared in "Mamma Mia!" and "Sunset Boulevard" on Broadway, will turn to movie themes in an evening of song on Sept. 12.
The Washington National Opera is also contributing some excerpts from Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd" on Sept. 7 and Umberto Giordano's "Andrea Chenier" on Sept. 10.
Also in the coming months, the center is taking a page from questioners David Frost and James Lipton, the host of "Inside the Actors Studio" on the Bravo channel. In "Voices of the Arts," Michael M. Kaiser, the Kennedy Center's president, will discuss arts and careers with mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne on Oct. 19, conductor James Conlon on Dec. 13 and actor John Lithgow on March 28.