Forging International Relations

The Gimcheon Youth Korean Traditional Music Group will perform Korean folk dances at the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap.
The Gimcheon Youth Korean Traditional Music Group will perform Korean folk dances at the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap. (Arts Council Of Fairfax County)
By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, September 22, 2006

It has been around long enough to have become a family tradition. Parents who were taken to the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap as kids are now planning to take their own children to the annual two-day event this weekend.

Some things remain the same: youth groups from a variety of countries performing music and dance and offering a taste of their culture alongside young performers from the Washington area. But if the onstage part of the festival has remained much the same since the first event 35 years ago, the cultural element has evolved.

"The international aspect is much more interesting and important today than it was 35 years ago," said Ann Rodriguez, chief executive of the Arts Council of Fairfax County, which produces the festival with the Wolf Trap performing arts park and the National Park Service. "Then, it was unusual in this region to see kids from another country," she said. "Now, in Fairfax County, for instance, one in four residents is foreign-born. So now kids with a background in India, for example, can watch kids from India on a stage. And their friends can get a better idea of their background."

That's exactly what enthuses 9-year-old Sudeepti Surapaneni of Reston, who is a fourth-grader at Herndon's Fox Mill Elementary School and performs with the Rhythmaya School of Dance, which specializes in traditional and contemporary dance of India. The group will perform a dance about the Hindu god Krishna at the festival. "I'm excited because we usually perform at Indian festivals, and now we're doing it in front of non-Indians and this will be new for them," she said. "I'm really proud of that."

At the Filene Center, performances will feature four cultures (Middle Eastern, Asian, European and Pacific Island). The new Qatari Children's Choir from the Persian Gulf state of Qatar is making its first appearance in the United States. South Korea is sending children to perform traditional dances, music and drumming. Traditional music and dance from Turkey is scheduled, as is Polynesian dance from Hawaii. Also, the Grammy-winning musical duo Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer will perform.

Additional stages will showcase regional musicians, dancers and storytellers. Most of the performances are aimed at kids ages 3 to 10, but there are activities for the entire family. The Creative Kids Workshop features hands-on art activities from featured countries. The Arts & Technology Pavilion focuses on arts-related technology, such as computer and imaging tools. A dozen workshops designed for ages 5 to 12 concentrate on robotics, music, performing for video, animation and design concepts.

"These are gateway experiences for a lot of kids, in that this is the first time they'll see live performances on a stage," said Rodriguez. Families, who usually spend two to four hours at the festival, can pick up a program schedule at the entrance to guide them around the various activities.

Summing up the experience is 16-year-old Andrea Borelli, who attends Alexandria's Bishop Ireton High School. She's a veteran, having performed at the festival four or five times with the Christina Heimlich School of International Dance. "It's incredible but nerve-racking at the same time to be in front of so many people and to be backstage with all the kids," she said. "We always make friends with kids from other countries, which is really, really interesting."

INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S FESTIVAL Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 4. Wolf Trap National Park, 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna. $12 adults, $10 children and seniors, free for children 2 and younger. For tickets, 800-955-5566; for information, 703-642-0862 orhttp://www.artsfairfax.org.

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