Wolf Trap Summer: Besides Favorite Singers, a Surprising Lineup of Dance Troupes

Elvis Costello will return to Wolf Trap this summer.
Elvis Costello will return to Wolf Trap this summer. (Danielle Chappell - Danielle Chappell)
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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

As part of its upcoming summer season, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts has booked Elvis Costello, the British musical shape-shifter who is apparently planning to spend much of 2009 getting in touch with his inner-Appalachian.

His newest project, Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, is an all-star country-bluegrass band that seems to be mining the same rich, rootsy musical hills where Robert Plant and Alison Krauss struck gold together. The band even includes Plant-Krauss sidemen Stuart Duncan and Dennis Crouch (along with Jerry Douglas, the Dobro ace who has played with Krauss for more than a decade in Union Station) and has as its producer T-Bone Burnett, who guided Plant and Krauss to a big Grammy haul with their "Raising Sand" album.

Costello and the Sugarcanes, who perform at Wolf Trap on June 11, are among the highlights on the venue's summer season schedule announced yesterday. The lineup also features another Plant-Krauss collaborator, Buddy Miller, performing with Americana stars Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin (May 31), plus the great country-folk musician-songwriter John Prine (June 5), who popularized "Killing the Blues," a song later covered by -- yep -- Plant and Krauss. (Costello's wife, the jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, visits Wolf Trap on June 17.)

Other highlights of the summer schedule include David Byrne performing some of the electro-pop music he's made with Brian Eno; country diva LeAnn Rimes singing her hits backed by the National Symphony Orchestra; and Bill Cosby telling PG-rated jokes.

Wolf Trap first-timers include Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and former teen dance sensation Rasta Thomas. A current teen phenomenon, Disney's "High School Musical," will stop by in September. Other musical performers include the Indigo Girls, Gipsy Kings, Huey Lewis and the News, Tony Bennett, the Steve Miller Band, the Brian Wilson-less Beach Boys and B.B. King.

Although Wolf Trap's music offerings are mostly predictable, the same can't be said about the dance that has been scheduled -- that is, once you overlook the inevitable Riverdance visit. The centerpiece is the debut appearance by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, performing "Split Sides," a whimsical 2003 collaboration between the cerebral modern dance master and hot art-rock bands Radiohead and Sigur Rós. Less well-known groups fill out the rest of the season, which includes the youngish 11-member Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Rasta Thomas's hip-hop and Broadway-influenced Bad Boys of Dance.

A new installment of Wolf Trap's occasional "Face of America" series focusing on national parks spotlights Montana's Glacier National Park with the premiere of "The Sun Road," a site-specific dance by the Trey McIntyre Project, based in Idaho.

Wolf Trap's excellent opera company has cut back this summer to two staged productions -- Mozart's "Così Fan Tutte" and Monteverdi's "Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria" -- in addition to its multimedia concert opera with the NSO under Stephen Lord, which will be, this year, the evergreen "La Bohème." Perhaps by way of compensation, the company is offering two song recital programs masterminded by the ever-wonderful pianist Steven Blier, who will both lead and accompany the young professional singers in programs called "Road Trip" and "The Pursuit of Love."

Further staged musical offerings come courtesy of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (fondly known as NY GASP), who will offer "The Pirates of Penzance" in May. The NSO's core audience can hear performances of "Carmina Burana" and, in July, a program combining Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, with Sarah Chang, with Beethoven's "Pastoral."

Rock, tap and pop set the beat for Wolf Trap's theater offerings. On June 19 and 20, "Rain" is forecast -- it's a tribute show to the music of the Beatles. A touring version of "42nd Street" -- the crowd-pleasing Tony winner, based on the movie musical of the same title -- is also on tap. And just in time for the kids' acquisitions of all those new loose-leaf binders and gym uniforms, Disney's very silly "High School Musical" will pay a visit to the venue as the summer season comes to a close during the first week of September.

Staff writers Sarah Kaufman, Anne Midgette and Peter Marks contributed to this report.

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