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Lincoln Center Fest Trades in Diversity

Culture * The events offer 29 productions, including an opera about Vermeer and the return of the Bolshoi Ballet.

July 11, 2000|KARIN LIPSON | NEWSDAY

NEW YORK — There's Vermeer and video, reggae and avant-garde electronic music, symposia and the circus. Lincoln Center Festival 2000, which begins today and runs through July 30, features 29 productions, including 16 premieres and debuts, that are nothing if not eclectic. In fact, can such a varied program be said to have a central theme?

"A lot of what we're doing here is about the intersection of cultures," says Nigel Redden, director of the festival. The skeins of connection include performers who appear in more than one event, the use of such media as film in various musical and dance productions and the melding of traditional and contemporary styles, often in a single performance. And with its significant percentage of audiences new to Lincoln Center--17% at last year's festival were newcomers, according to Redden--as well as younger and more culturally diverse than the year-round crowd, isn't the festival itself a kind of "intersection of cultures"?

Here are a few highlights of the festival.

Versatile Vermeer: The great, 17th century Dutch artist Johannes "Jan" Vermeer resurfaces in the U.S. premiere of the multimedia opera "Writing to Vermeer." With music by the avant-garde Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and a libretto by the English film director Peter Greenaway, the opera revolves around a series of fictitious letters to the painter from three women: His real wife, his real mother-in-law and a model (a fictional character created by Greenaway). Their personal stories are set against the tumultuous background of a Holland besieged by the forces of Louis XIV. A production of De Nederlandse Opera, "Writing to Vermeer" features multiple film projections and an onstage deluge that depicts the final desperate attempt by the Dutch to thwart the invaders: the breaking of the dikes. The deluge, by the way, is real, created by 7,000 gallons of water held in check by a series of fiberglass canals. It's all worked fine, we are assured, in previous productions.

Russian Ballet and Theater: The Bolshoi Ballet makes its first New York City appearance in 10 years, and two Russian theater companies tread the U.S. boards in what amounts to a mini-festival of Russian culture.

The famed Bolshoi has emerged from internal upheavals following the collapse of the Soviet Union with a new generation of dancers, many making their New York debuts. The company appears in two programs (the full-length "Giselle" and a repertory program) for seven performances with the New York City Opera Orchestra at the New York State Theater July 18-23.

The well-regarded Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, whose style is epic in scope and Stanislavskian in technique, brings "Brothers and Sisters," adapted from a trilogy of novels by Fyodor Abramov. The play, which was briefly closed by the Russian government when it premiered in 1985, depicts the lives of Russian villagers who see their hopes for the future dashed in the aftermath of World War II.

Making its U.S. debut is the State Academic Theater (also called the Vakhtangov Theater after its founder Evgeny Vakhtangov), which presents "Innocent as Charged." Written in 1884 by Alexander Ostrovsky, the first major realist of the Russian theater, the play is given an unusual production by director Piotr Fomenko: Many of the actors are obviously, and purposely, much older than the characters they portray. The intimate setting at the Fordham University Theatre's Pope Auditorium puts the audience within arm's reach of the actors.

Caribbean Route and Roots: The roots are Afro-Caribbean; the routes, those of migration, cultural adaptation and trade, all converging to produce the sounds of calypso, reggae, zouk, mizik racine and the other lilting, infectious--and often politically or socially astute--music of the region. The series of five events is "a good metaphor for everything we're doing here," says festival director Redden. With an emphasis on some of the lesser known (in the United States) musical traditions and artists of the Caribbean. July 24, 26 and 28 at 9 p.m. the New York Society for Ethical Culture; July 27 and 29 at 8 p.m. at Avery Fisher Hall.

Clashing Perceptions: At a small Vermont college, a series of racist notes affixed to the door of an African American student sends students, faculty and administration into an emotional maelstrom. By the time things get sorted out, all have confronted their own conflicted notions about race. That's the rough outline of "Spinning Into Butter" by Rebecca Gilman, a Lincoln Center Theater production that is having its New York premiere at the festival. Unlike many of the festival's offerings, "in this particular piece, cultures don't mingle, they clash, which is the flip side," says Redden. "It isn't about racial clashes per se, it's about racial perceptions that clash." In previews at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center (the official opening is July 26), the production runs through Sept. 16. Performances throughout the run are Monday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m.

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