The Kennedy Center is letting its hair down for the second season of Direct Current, a two-week celebration of contemporary culture that begins Sunday. “We hope that people will embrace the weird with us and hold our hand and take an adventure with all this new work, this new art,” says Jamie Broumas, the center’s director of classical and new music programming. “It’s not that the Kennedy Center has never done avant-garde or new work before, but the idea of the festival is to put a spotlight on it. It’s part of the vision to be a vibrant, creative space that’s a catalyst, that’s inspiring to artists.” The 2019 edition of Direct Current, running through April 7, takes place at the center (2700 F St. NW) and across the city at partner venues, including the Phillips Collection and Dupont Underground. For starters, Broumas recommends these five events.
Each night during Direct Current, a free performance will occur on the Millennium Stage. First up: Icelandic post-rock duo Hugar — Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson, who began writing music together in 2013. They’ve worked with a slew of popular Icelandic artists, including Björk and Ólafur Arnalds, and their music is frequently inspired by their country’s terrain (and its forward-thinking approach to the arts). “The Icelandic music scene is on the forefront of the avant-garde scene,” Broumas says. Other performers hitting the Millennium Stage include Liberated Muse (Wednesday) — an all-female, multidisciplinary arts collective founded by District native Khadijah Ali-Coleman — and J Hoard (April 4), who performs protest and freedom songs. Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center; Sun., 6 p.m., free.
Brooklyn Youth Chorus: ‘Lovestate’
One of Broumas’ goals for the festival was to curate events that local audiences might otherwise not have a chance to see. As an example, she points to the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a collective of culturally and socioeconomically diverse 12- to 18-year-old New Yorkers — young musicians from the poorest to the richest neighborhoods — who are given the opportunity to collaborate with classical composers. “Lovestate” is the third installment in the chorus’ “Silent Voices” trilogy, which examines issues like race, gender and gentrification. “I love this piece, because it gives voice to children’s concerns and helps empower them,” Broumas says. “It’s mixed media, very visual, with the children narrating and singing.” Concert Hall, Kennedy Center; April 1, 7:30 p.m., $25-$59.
Phantom Limb Company: ‘Falling Out’
Butoh — a theatrical Japanese dance form that developed in the wake of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings — inspired this piece by the New York-based Phantom Limb Company. “Butoh is an artistic response to both the physical and emotional anguish of the bombings,” Broumas says. “It’s a very unique dance style — people sort of shaking uncontrollably.” She describes “Falling Out,” which explores the suffering caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, as breathtaking and heartfelt. The performance was created in collaboration with butoh master Dai Matsuoka, who will travel to the District from Japan to attend the event. Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center; April 4 & 5, 7:30 p.m., $29.
Caroline Shaw and Friends
While planning the festival, Broumas asked Caroline Shaw — a New York-based musician and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music — what she would do if she had an intimate event space for an evening. The Kennedy Center was prepared to help her achieve whatever vision she conjured. The result is … well, it’s still unclear. “We’re not quite sure what it’s going to look like,” Broumas says. “Sometimes it’s like riding a bronco — you unleash the creative force, and then you’re along for the ride.” Shaw will be joined by a handful of her bandmates from Roomful of Teeth, an edgy vocal ensemble that experiments with techniques like Tuvan throat singing, whispered speech and Appalachian yodeling. Terrace Gallery, Kennedy Center; April 5, 9 p.m., $25-$39.
Du Yun with OK Miss
If you’re unfamiliar with Du Yun, know this: “On the creative spectrum, she’s out of her mind,” Broumas says. “She’s just a risk-taker like no other, an untethered force of nature. And I’m assured that she’s going to wear something equally outrageous to this concert.” Du Yun, a Chinese-born composer and performer, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music for “Angel’s Bone,” an opera about human trafficking. She’s lauded for continually reinventing herself, fusing orchestral music, theater and electronics, in addition to other styles and mediums. “She speaks English as a second language, and likes to say that music is her voice,” Broumas says. “It’s a language that she feels transcends language.” Terrace Gallery, Kennedy Center; April 6, 9 p.m., $25-$39.