Cold Weather Arts Fest for Fairweather Friend

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

Cold Weather Arts Fest for Fairweather Friend


Byline: Jayne Blanchard, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Freedom fries be hanged. In the spirit of detente, the Kennedy Center will sport an insouciant Gallic air throughout the winter and spring as it hosts the Festival of France.

Grab your beret and essay a most world-weary shrug to get into the mood of this cultural bouillabaisse, which will feature traditional and contemporary works of dance, theater, music and film, as well as literary readings and visual exhibitions.

In case you haven't conjugated a French verb since Labelle sang "Lady Marmalade" (aka "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?"), the productions will be accompanied by surtitles, and some shows will be partially done in English.

"The idea for the French festival started back in 1997 with talks with the French Embassy, but things were put on the back burner because of the renovation of the Kennedy Center," says Roman Terleckyj, vice president of artistic planning at the Kennedy Center. Mr. Terleckyj went to France last year and visited more than 30 theater companies and arts centers before settling on the final program, which he says "presents a variety of what I think is going on in Paris and France, which is actually quite an international scene."

The global flair can be seen in the festival's musical programming, which includes a week of performances and master classes by American opera sensation Renee Fleming. The soprano's stint at the Kennedy Center begins tonight with a concert with the National Symphony Orchestra exploring the French repertory, including Ravel's "Sheherazade" and excerpts from Massenet's "Manon." Miss Fleming will conduct master classes Sunday and Monday, focusing on French song, gender onstage and French role preparation.

Three different Kennedy Center Fortas Chamber Music Concerts will offer a comprehensive exploration of notable French composers - among them Debussy, Messiaen and Ravel - and interpreters of their works.

Le jazz hot won't be neglected, as French arranger and pianist Michel Legrand teams up with smooth jazz singer Patti Austin and a 16-piece big band for a concert tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. The Kennedy Center will be l'amour central with a special Valentine's Day offering featuring dazzling jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who will perform songs of love with a Parisian twist. On March 4, Algerian-born jazz pianist Martial Solal will be in concert, and his style may remind you of classic jazz masters like Art Tatum, Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk - only blended with undertones of both French and North African folklore and European art music.

What would a French festival be without film? A tres desolee experience, indeed. The American Film Institute (AFI) at both the Kennedy Center and the Silver Spring theaters, will present a celebration of the best of French cinema, including classics, rarities and promising works from a new generation of filmmakers.

The AFI's French Film Festival will showcase legendary French star Jeanne Moreau; a titan of the new wave, director Alain Resnais; and a selection of the best of new French cinema at both the AFI National Film Theater at the Kennedy Center and in Silver Spring at the art deco AFI Silver Theatre (see schedule).

World screen icon Miss Moreau will appear at Monday's Kennedy Center screenings of "Bay of Angels" at 6:30 p.m. and "Diary of a Chambermaid" at 8:10 p.m. and at the Tuesday AFI Silver 6:30 p.m. screening of "Bay of Angels."

Also scheduled to appear live: Arnaud Desplechin, director of "Esther Kahn" and "My Sex Life ... Or How I Got Into an Argument," at a special AFI Silver screening of his new film "Leo Playing in the Company of Men" tomorrow at noon; and Jean-Michel Frodon, noted Le Monde critic and editor of "Les Cahiers du Cinema," at selected screenings throughout the festival.

The theatrical offerings should give local audiences a taste of French theater beyond Marivaux translations and restagings of Moliere classics. …

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