The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Festival celebrating the Kennedy Center’s expansion is long on appeal, short on details

The skylight pavilion, left, and welcome pavilion are part of the Reach, the Kennedy Center’s $250 million expansion. (Jonathan Morefield)
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The National Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in a grass-covered courtyard. A block party curated by A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, featuring rapper Pharoahe Monch’s new project, Thirteen. Choreographer and actress Debbie Allen hosting a 12-hour National Dance Day capped by a performance of “Fela!” An Opera in the Outfield-style outdoor viewing of the Washington National Opera’s “Show Boat.” A new installation by Washington Color School artist Sam Gilliam.

These are the among the highlights of a free, 16-day festival at the Kennedy Center beginning Sept. 7. The occasion is the opening of the Reach, a $250 million expansion next to the performing arts center that contains 10 new interior spaces flexible enough to host rehearsals, performances, workshops and classes, as well as a plaza and a pedestrian bridge above Rock Creek Parkway.

“What we really wanted to do was provide a snapshot of all the types of programming we have,” Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter says. That means big names, such as an opening night concert with the Chuck Brown Band and legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins, but also letting the public explore the Reach during workshops led by musician Robert Glasper, dance master classes from the Broadway Collective and conversations with playwrights Aaron Posner and Karen Zacarias.

“You don’t think the Kennedy Center is going to open its programming with the Chuck Brown Band and Bootsy Collins,” Rutter says. “I want our festival to have something for every single taste.”

More than 400 artists will participate in the festival, according to the Kennedy Center’s announcement, although further specifics are hard to come by. The opening day festivities — which include that National Symphony Orchestra performance — have been pinned down, as well as the festival’s closing event on Sept. 22: “a West Indian-style sunset dance party” called D.C. Lovers Rock, headlined by dancehall singer Sister Nancy and reggae artist Junior Murvin, a member of Bob Marley’s band.

The rest of the schedule, though, remains something of a mystery (as does the Reach project’s very name, which at one point had been touted as an acronym for Renew, Experience, Activate, Create and Honor the legacy of Kennedy).

The Kennedy Center has confirmed a performance by Thievery Corporation; an interactive church service called “The Church of John Coltrane”; a day celebrating indigenous artists; and previews of new operas in progress, but not when or where any of that will happen — or how to get free tickets for events with limited seating. Meanwhile, a full two-thirds of the festival’s participating artists have yet to be announced. Expect more information to trickle out over the summer: The next slate of artists will be announced on June 21. In the meantime, you might want to keep your end-of-summer calendar clear.