It WOULD be the vacation of a lifetime: Quebec, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Hungary, Vietnam and Taiwan in one fell swoop. But anyone interested in sampling the cultural traditions and contemporary arts of those countries without having to shell out the cash for an around-the-world plane ticket might want to visit the Music Center's “World City.”
The free globe-trotting performance and workshop series begins its sixth season at the outdoor W.M. Keck Amphitheatre at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday and continues on select Saturdays through mid-April.
"Since its inception, 'World City' has presented over 50 cultures or countries," says Barbara Leonard, artistic director for education. "The really exciting part of my research is to find artists who can open a window for the audience onto their culture."
Leonard, who acts as a "World City" tour guide of sorts by booking the international lineup, is particularly interested in the juxtaposition of past and present. Last year, for example, she paired a contemporary Tibetan opera company with throat singers, practitioners of an ancient art from Russia's Tuva region.
"I am fascinated with traditional artists, who are living and performing in the 21st century because they have one foot in the past and one foot in the future," she says.
This year, the first stop on the "World City" event tour is a celebration of Armenian arts featuring the Winds of Passion Duduk Quartet, master santir player Sarkis Petrosyan, vocalist Araks and the folk dance company Zvartnots Dance Ensemble. Accompanying workshops will include ceramic tile-making, hand puppet construction and a demonstration in stone carving.
The next stop is Latin America, specifically Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. On Oct. 11, the group Los Llaneros will perform the harp-heavy songs of the Colombian/Venezuelan plains; then Ballet Folklorico do Brasil will demonstrate the region's traditional folk dances with a twist.
"We do folk dances from Bahia, which is the northeast state in Brazil," says Ballet Folklorico director Amen Santo. "We are going to perform capoeira, which is a combination of dance, acrobatics and martial arts; samba, which is the national dance of Brazil; and maculaele, which is a stick fight that was developed on the sugar cane plantations of Brazil."
Ballet Folklorico's repertoire is interpreted for modern audiences. For instance, Santo says capoeira and break-dancing share many of the same movements. "We take the elements from tradition and then we bring our own interpretation through innovation," he says.
The rest of the season promises plenty of virtual jet-setting, or, more accurately, a bird's-eye view of other cultural traditions. Programming will focus on the Native American hoop dance (Nov. 8), Taiwanese puppetry (Jan. 17), African American storytelling (Feb. 7) and Czechoslovakian puppetry and Hungarian music (March 14).
On April 18, the clowns, jugglers and trick cyclists of the Canadian circus company Circo Comedia will team with the Quebec-based band Le Vent du Nord. "It is like a little trip to Quebec," says Nicolas Boulerice of Le Vent du Nord. "The traditional music that we play is from the mountains, from the sea and all of the songs are in French, of course."
With a sound that is heavy on the accordion and the hurdy-gurdy, Boulerice likens a Le Vent show to a turn-of-the-century party complete with "a fiddle player up on the kitchen table."
This spring, the "World City" tour is set to wrap up with three days of Vietnamese Water Puppets, an age-old tradition that uses a pool of water as a stage.
"World City," W.M. Keck Amphitheatre, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., L.A. 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Free. (213) 972-4396, musiccenter.org.