By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009
In a recession, any uptick in arts programming feels like a courageously life-affirming act. Take George Mason University's Center for the Arts, expanding its offerings next season -- ever so slightly. With an additional couple of evenings of performances, the 2009-10 season will be "every bit as robust as this current season, and this current season has the largest number of events we've ever had," said Tom Reynolds, GMU's director of artistic programming.
Among the highlights of the season, which the university announced yesterday, are appearances by pianist Lang Lang, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with the violinist Julian Rachlin, actress Olympia Dukakis and Britain's respected modern-dance ensemble the Richard Alston Dance Company.
Dukakis makes her GMU debut with her Broadway hit "Rose," one woman's journey from Warsaw to Miami Beach. Rounding out the theater offerings are two radio plays -- L.A. Theatre Works' productions of Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" and H.G. Wells's "The Lost World" -- and two Shakespeare classics -- "As You Like It" (from Aquila Theatre Company) and "Romeo and Juliet" (the Acting Company).
The university's dance events include a first-time visit by the Alston company, which was founded in 1994 by the veteran British dancemaker who was formerly Ballet Rambert's resident choreographer. Other international performers include New Zealand's all-male Black Grace and Virsky Ukrainian National Dance Company.
The Finnish circus ensemble Circo Aereo makes its U.S. debut with a mix of acrobatics and cabaret theater.
Long the most glamorous fixture of GMU's dance season, the Mark Morris Dance Group returns after a year's hiatus. Known as much for its welcome insistence on live music as for its excellent dancing, the group will perform the local premieres of "Visitation" and "Empire Garden," as well as "V." The accessible Momix and Garth Fagan Dance will also make stops.
Of particular interest to local orchestra-goers is the appearance of Christoph Eschenbach, still one season away from taking over as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. At GMU, he'll appear with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra, part of the German festival that he led for three years, and, making his GMU debut, Lang Lang -- a superstar, though not always connecting with his tremendous potential. Other notable guest orchestras include the China Philharmonic and the Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Smaller ensembles of note include repeat visitors like the King's Singers and Chanticleer, offering another Christmas program. Cherryholmes also comes back, this time with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. "Keyboard Conversations," with the pianist Jeffrey Siegel, returns for a 17th season, with four installments focusing on Chopin.
Lovers of "Porgy and Bess" -- and their numbers are legion -- will have a field day next season, which marks the opera's 75th anniversary, since the Virginia Opera is offering its own production as a counterweight to the Washington National Opera's popular account. The Virginia company's entire season is made up of well-loved operas: "La Boheme," "The Daughter of the Regiment" and "Don Giovanni" are its other offerings.
Staff writer Anne Midgette contributed to this report.