Ballet and contemporary dance; a month packed with performances celebrating the reopening of the Terrace Theater; a celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial; and a brand-new festival devoted to contemporary performing arts, of all stripes. All this will be part of the Kennedy Center’s 2017-2018 season.
The center, which this year has broken up its season announcement into four parts, revealed details of its dance and new-music programs Wednesday, several weeks after its announcement of the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera and Fortas Chamber Concerts seasons.
“I want to transform this building into a place that reflects the arts in our society,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter at a media dinner Tuesday night. She observed that contemporary music has not always had as much of a place at the Kennedy Center as contemporary theater or dance.
“In some ways,” she said, “I feel we’ve been walking around without an arm, compared to other presenters that have been doing this work” for many years.
For that reason, Rutter said, the new Direct Current festival will include major contemporary trends of recent decades. The Philip Glass ensemble, for instance, will make a long-overdue Kennedy Center debut with the film “Koyaanisqatsi,” and Glass and four other pianists will play his “20 Etudes.” Other highlights include Taylor Mac’s remarkable “24-Decade History of Popular Music” (though abridged from the full 24-hour version); Julia Wolfe’s oratorio “Anthracite Fields,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015; and the multimedia project “The Colorado,” with music by John Luther Adams, Paola Prestini and others, to a film by Murat Eyuboglu.
Among the dance highlights are two acclaimed stage versions of classic musical films, both created by British choreographers. Christopher Wheeldon’s Tony Award-winning “An American in Paris” reworks the 1951 Gene Kelly movie, with its famous Gershwin score. Wheeldon uncorks spectacle on a whole new scale. Matthew Bourne’s “The Red Shoes” reinterprets the 1948 film about a ballerina forced to choose between love and art. Bourne, best known for his sensational “Swan Lake” with its bare-chested male swans, was last at the Kennedy Center in 2013 with his version of “Sleeping Beauty.”
In a ballet series that favors standards — the Mariinsky Ballet with “La Bayadere,” Ballet Nacional de Cuba with “Giselle” and “Don Quixote” — American Ballet Theater’s raft of new works counts as daring. One is the local premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s full-length “Whipped Cream,” an original story about the perils of a sweet tooth, with music by Richard Strauss and sets and costumes by pop surrealist artist Mark Ryden.
In March 2018, the Mark Morris Dance Group will offer yet another full-evening premiere, “Layla and Majnun,” a dance-drama based on a classic Persian love story, with the Silk Road Ensemble performing a chamber arrangement of the score by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov, with Azerbaijani singers and musicians.
An international outlook continues in other modern-dance programming. The Nederlands Dans Theater makes its Kennedy Center debut with two works by artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic adviser Sol Leon, as well as a piece by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite, one of the few female dancemakers represented next season. Sweden’s Andersson Dance joins the Scottish Ensemble in “Goldberg Variations — ternary patterns for insomnia.”
Next season also marks the end of one of the center’s longest-lived dance initiatives. After 16 years, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet will bid farewell, bowing out with a final selection of Balanchine works, including the pas de deux “Meditation” and the gypsy-inspired “Tzigane,” both created for Farrell. Farrell will continue to teach at the Kennedy Center once the ongoing expansion of its physical campus is completed in 2018.
Given the existence of so many series, there’s a certain amount of overlap. Much of the season’s “Leonard Bernstein at 100” celebration was already revealed in January’s classical-music announcement; the New York City Ballet will also contribute with the Bernstein-Jerome Robbins “Fancy Free” on its all-Robbins program. Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox is part of the Direct Current series (a new version of his signature Mercury Soul program seen earlier this season), as is Damian Woetzel’s Demo, featuring new dance commissions and collaborations.
And the Kennedy Center debut of Camille A. Brown & Dancers’ “Black Girl: Linguistic Play and Ink,” which delves into the African American urban experience, is being presented as part of the ongoing Kennedy centennial celebration, “JFKC.”
The Terrace Theater’s reopening month, meanwhile, will have Renée Fleming and the jazz bassist Christian McBride representing the Voices series, as well as performances by most of the center’s constituents (including the NSO and WNO); a number of regular visitors such as Opera Lafayette; and special presentations including a live performance event based on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me.” Rutter referred to it as a family gathering and praised the inclusivity of Voices, which will include Leslie Odom Jr., Angelique Kidjo, Cynthia Erivo and Ute Lemper, among others.
The diversity of styles and artists, Rutter said, is “reflective of what we’re trying to do.”