(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – DIRECT CURRENT, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’s two-week celebration of contemporary culture, returns for a second season. Training its focus on new works, interdisciplinary creations in which artistic worlds collide, and creative responses to topical concerns, the 2019 spring immersion showcases some of the most provocative, original, and pioneering voices in the arts today. DIRECT CURRENT takes place on March 25–April 7 at the Kennedy Center and beyond, extending throughout the District of Columbia through collaborations with a number of alternative venues, to expand the growing audience for contemporary culture in the nation’s capital.
A divided America, the refugee experience, the Japanese nuclear disaster, societal marginalization, and environmental conservation are among the pressing themes addressed in the 2019 programming. All told, DIRECT CURRENT’s second season offers a snapshot of contemporary culture through a thoughtfully curated collection of work – almost all of which draws on multiple disciplines – by some of today’s foremost cultural risk-takers.
DIRECT CURRENT’s wealth of offerings spans the artistic spectrum, from the world premiere of a new orchestral commission to Middle Eastern-jazz fusion, and bold new experiments in dance. Three of the Kennedy Center’s resident artistic leaders – Composer-in-Residence Mason Bates, Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran, and DEMO series director Damian Woetzel – contributed to the second season’s programming, which includes talks with prominent thought leaders to supplement selected events. Caroline Shaw and Du Yun are among the renowned composers in attendance, performers range from the National Symphony Orchestra to Bon Iver, and other world-class collaborators include the great Bill T. Jones.
The DIRECT CURRENT mainstage season kicks off with TU Dance and Bon Iver’s Come Through, a cohesive, cross-genre collaboration between two artistic powerhouses. This evening-length performance features new music from Justin Vernon, of two-time Grammy Award-winning indie folk band Bon Iver, and new choreography from contemporary dance troupe TU Dance. A diverse ten-member company founded by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands, TU Dance is known for works combining the language of modern dance and classical ballet with African-based and urban vernacular movements (Concert Hall, March 25). Come Through was commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series.
Next, singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane, “one of the most visible representatives of a generation of Brooklyn musicians who bring individual voices to many genres” (Washington Post), performs his new song cycle 8980: Book of Travelers to his own piano accompaniment. With an evocative video backdrop by Drama Desk Award-winner Jim Findlay, the cycle draws on the conversations and stories Kahane gathered on an 8,980-mile trip just after the 2016 election, when he spent two phone- and internet-free weeks crisscrossing America by train, talking to as many people as possible (Terrace Theater, March 27).
The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company returns to the Kennedy Center for Analogy Trilogy, a series of three evening-length works choreographed by Artistic Director and Kennedy Center honoree Bill T. Jones, a living legend of the dance world, and Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong. Dancers move, sing, and speak to the accompaniment of live music, videos, and projections in the three-part work. This comprises Dora: Tramontane, which recounts the experiences of Jones’s French-Jewish mother-in-law during World War II; Lance: Pretty aka the Escape Artist, which follows his nephew’s hardships and emotional struggle in the late-1980s and 1990s club culture and sex trade; and Ambros: The Emigrant, in which he explores the impact of trauma on the psyche through a fictionalized narrative inspired by W. G. Sebald’s historical novel The Emigrant (Eisenhower Theater, March 28–30).
Damian Woetzel, the former New York City Ballet principal turned director, choreographer, and thought leader who recently launched his tenure as the seventh president of New York’s Juilliard School, curates and hosts the fourth season of his interdisciplinary DEMO series. This new installment of the series presents recent commissions and D.C. premieres from some of today’s most creative voices in dance and music (Terrace Theater, March 29 & 30).
The National Symphony Orchestra gives the world premiere performance of ARCTICA: An Artistic Exploration, a new NSO and National Geographic Society co-commission from composer Lera Auerbach, who is known for “music of extraordinary power and intensity” (New Yorker). Created in collaboration with Dr. Enric Sala – National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence, marine ecologist, and global conservationist – Auerbach’s work for orchestra and chorus forms the centerpiece of a major new multimedia project for which she traveled to the Arctic to collect stories, images, and sounds. With Auerbach at the piano, ARCTICA’s first performance will be led by Teddy Abrams, the transformative young Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra (Concert Hall, March 30).
DIRECT CURRENT presents the U.S. premiere of Where We Lost Our Shadows, a video oratorio documenting the experience of refugees in Germany, by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Du Yun and Palestinian videographer Khaled Jarrar, who discuss their work together in a post-concert talk. Co-commissioned by the Kennedy Center with Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Orchestra, London’s Southbank Centre, and Cal Performances, this timely new video oratorio will be performed by vocalists Helga Davis and Ali Sethi, with Shayna Dunkelman on percussion and Joseph Young leading the Peabody Student Orchestra (Terrace Theater, March 31).
Known for its “searing musicianship and tender vocals” (The Guardian), female folk supergroup I’m With Her makes its DIRECT CURRENT debut. The trio is made up of Sara Watkins, a founding member of progressive bluegrass outfit Nickel Creek; Sarah Jarosz, a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist; and Aoife O’Donovan, the Grammy Award-winning lead singer of progressive string band Crooked Still (Concert Hall, March 31).
Hailed as “one of the most socially aware artistic events in New York this year” (WQXR), Lovestate is the third installment of “Silent Voices,” a multimedia, multi-composer, and multi-season series of concert works conceived, produced, and performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a choir of culturally and socioeconomically diverse young New Yorkers aged 12–18. Featuring commissions from composers including Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, Shara Nova, Paola Prestini, Toshi Reagon, Angélica Negrón, Julia Adolphe, Bora Yoon, and Pulitzer Prize-winners David Lang and Caroline Shaw, Lovestate confronts the challenges of division and categorization while envisioning a more inclusive and compassionate future (Concert Hall, April 1).
San Francisco’s three-time Grammy Award–winning male vocal group Chanticleer – “the world’s reigning male chorus” (New Yorker) – returns to the Kennedy Center in the immersive KC Jukebox series, with “Sirens,” a program of 20th- and 21st-century choral music. Anchored by Sirens, a song cycle by Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Mason Bates, this also features composers ranging from Ned Rorem and Steven Stucky to Freddy Mercury of Queen (Family Theater, April 2).
Harlem-based interdisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers – “an under-sung artist [who] upends received ideas about race and history” (New Yorker) – is best-known for installations, videos, and performances intended to broaden and complicate our read on American history. As creative director and keyboardist, he fronts the multimedia concept band Moon Medicin, which performs original compositions and re-imagined covers against a backdrop of curated sound effects and images of sci-fi, punk, sacred geometry, coded symbology, film noir, minstrels, world politics, and ceremonial dance (Atrium, April 4).
Co-founded by artist, director and set designer Jessica Grindstaff and composer and puppet-maker Erik Sanko, New York’s Phantom Limb Company is known for its work with marionette puppetry and its focus on collaborative, multimedia theatrical production and design. The company makes its Kennedy Center debut with Falling Out, a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Created in collaboration with butoh dancer Dai Matsuoka, a member of Japan’s famed Sankai Juku troupe, the work represents the final installment of Phantom Limb Company’s environmental trilogy exploring our changing relationship to nature over time. For this production, Phantom Limb is creating an interactive visual and audio installation in the style of an old rotary-dial phone booth. Inspired by those in Japan, where survivors of the 2011 tsunami were able to record thoughts about lost loved ones, this “Memory Phone” will offer concert-goers the opportunity to voice their thoughts and feelings on love, water, nature, and loss in an enclosed and serene environment. Both performances also include a post-concert discussion, curated in collaboration with Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics (Terrace Theater, April 4 & 5).
One of only three jazz musicians to be recognized with the Pulitzer Prize, Henry Threadgill makes his long-awaited Kennedy Center debut. A mentor of Jason Moran, Kennedy Center’s Artistic Director for Jazz, who calls Threadgill his “favorite living composer,” the saxophonist/flutist showcases his avant-garde innovations and intense originality in Double Up Plays Double Up Plus. For this set, he will be joined by his own ensemble on piano, saxophone, tuba, cello, and drums (Family Theater, April 5).
American jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, producer, electronic musician, and writer Vijay Iyer was named Artist of the Year in the 2018 DownBeat International Jazz Critics Poll, marking the third time he has been so honored. Also recognized with a 2013 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship, Iyer mines core rhythmic, melodic, and structural elements from a wide range of sources to construct richly varied, improvisation-driven solo and ensemble music (Family Theater, April 6).
Thirty years after the untimely death of photographer and visual artist Robert Mapplethorpe, his work remains emotionally complex, influential, and compelling. DIRECT CURRENT is thrilled to present the East-Coast premiere of a Kennedy Center co-commission that pairs his photography with music and poetry in a theater piece exploring the impact of his art on the lives and careers of librettist Robert O’Hara and composer Bryce Dessner, best known as a member of the band The National. Combining music from the Grammy Award–winning choral ensemble Roomful of Teeth and poetry by Essex Hemphill and others with large-scale projections of Mapplethorpe’s images, the work is directed by “magical manipulator” (New York Times) Daniel Fish (Eisenhower Theater, April 6).
Brooklyn Rider, the omnivorous string quartet hailed as “the future of chamber music” (Strings), draws the mainstage season to a close in company with Magos Herrera, who is “without a doubt the best jazz singer out of Mexico” (Jazz Times). Together they reinterpret classics from Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Spain, celebrating such luminaries as Octavio Paz, Federico García Lorca, and Rubén Darío (Family Theater, April 7).