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Center's 2010-2011 season includes tributes to Kennedys, Lincoln, India, Mexico

By Jacqueline Trescott
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; C01

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inauguration, the Kennedy Center announced Tuesday that it will re-create two famous concerts from that White House era, those of Pablo Casals and Grace Bumbry.

Led by Yo-Yo Ma, a group of musicians will perform the music that Casals, the legendary Spanish Catalan cellist, played Nov. 13, 1961, after a state dinner. The tribute will include pianist Emanuel Ax and the center's chamber ensemble-in-residence and take place at the Kennedy Center on Jan. 25, 2011.

On Feb. 1, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves will sing some of the selections mezzo-soprano Bumbry performed for the Kennedys on Feb. 20, 1962. Bumbry, one of last year's Kennedy Center Honorees, was 25 when she gave her landmark performance.

"It seemed appropriate because of the Kennedy influence on the arts and his championing of the arts," said Michael M. Kaiser, president of the center, which is a living memorial to the 35th president. The center also commissioned a work from composer Peter Lieberson based on various Kennedy speeches; it will be performed by the National Symphony Orchestra in January. Also in January will be a program featuring performances of some of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's favorite dances by American Ballet Theatre.

The center unveiled its 2010-11 season on Tuesday, pegging the lineup as one of the biggest and most complex seasons in recent years.

One of Jacqueline Kennedy's most famous goodwill tours as first lady took place in India in 1962. Coincidentally, the center is mounting a large festival, "maximum INDIA," next March. For three weeks, a cavalcade of Indian artists will visit Washington, from the classical odissi dance of choreographer Madhavi Mudgal to the contemporary rock-and-roll of Parikrama, a band from Delhi.

In recent years the center has become expert in developing encyclopedic international festivals, often enlisting hundreds of artists, many making their American debuts. "We have been tracing the Silk Road, with Japan, China, the Arab world, and this completes it," Kaiser said.

Highlights of the India festival, estimated to cost $7 million, will be the work of choreographers Alarmel Valli, Malavika Sarukkai and Shantala Shivalingappa; music from sitarist Anoushka Shankar, a daughter of the legendary Ravi Shankar, ghazal singer Vatsala Mehra and drummer Sunny Jain; and theater from writer Ratan Thiyam and puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee.

Thanks to the India festival and a number of other offerings, the upcoming season has more international companies and artists than usual. "This is the right place," Kaiser said. "Washington is an international city, and a lot of other places have stopped bringing in international acts."

A special tribute to the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence from Spain will take place in September and October, with performances by the Ballet Folklorico de Veracruz, among other groups. The work for young audiences will include shows from Australia, Germany and Great Britain. Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo will be part of the contemporary dance programs, and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Mariinsky Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet will also appear during the season.

Jazz programs will include a work by pianist Ramsey Lewis commemorating Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Lewis will perform the work, entitled "Proclamation of Hope," on Nov. 14. Two of New Orleans's sons, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, will be onstage together March 26, 2011. And taking over the stage on Oct. 29 of this year will be saxophonist Jimmy Heath and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath.

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