Beginning Oct. 1, nearly 900 performing artists from China will bring a number of productions rarely seen in the United States to the Kennedy Center. The Festival of China, a month-long celebration of music, dance, puppetry and theater, starts with a custom-made display of fireworks by artist Cai Guo-Qiang over the Potomac.

On the schedule is the world premiere of "Cathay: Three Tales of China," a puppet theater work conceived by Ping Chong and commissioned by the center. The artist is using the puppetry of the Shaanxi Folk Art Theater to tell the history of three eras in China.

The Beijing People's Art Theater, now in its 50th year of performances, will make its U.S. premiere. It is bringing "Teahouse," the landmark work of playwright Lao She. In a totally different kind of artistic style, Red Poppy, an all-female new-age band, appears Oct. 6.

Also, the National Ballet of China is making its Washington debut with "Raise the Red Lantern," adapted from the film of that name by director Zhang Yimou and choreographer Wang Xinpeng. The Beijing Modern Dance Company is also stopping in the city for the first time, performing "All River Red." This work, set to Igor Stravinsky's 1913 classic "The Rite of Spring," has been choreographed by Li Han-Zhong and Ma Bo. Hong Kong's City Contemporary Dance Company will also visit Washington for the first time. It is presenting "Silver Rain," a retrospective of the troupe's best works.

Among the many music ensembles, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra is returning. And, after a 25-year absence, the China National Peking Opera Company is returning to the center with its signature work, "Female Generals of the Yang Family."

The schedule also includes a number of free events with performances that are unique to the festival. In an unprecedented coupling, the Wong Chinese Lion Dancers will join Washington's own Step Afrika! on Oct. 1. The Inner Mongolian Chorus will make its American premiere on Oct. 2. Both events are scheduled for the Millennium Stage.

On Oct. 3, young pianists from China and America's top conservatories, under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, will play 100 pianos outdoors on the South Plaza stage. Not to be outdone, on Oct. 8 250 drums will be set up for the audience and musicians from Hong Kong to play, also on the plaza.

The China National Peking Opera Company, part of the month-long festival at the Kennedy Center.The Shaanxi Folk Art Theater explores Chinese history via puppets at the Theater Lab Oct. 29.