Columbia Festival

June 15, 2000|By Gina Kazimir | Gina Kazimir,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Who knew it could come so far? International-caliber artists plus the best of the region, performances ranging from the ultimate simplicity of mime to a complex fusion of visual and performing arts and technology that is almost a new art form. The debut of a poetry festival. A total of 31 free arts events and 16 ticketed events over a 10-day period. And all in Columbia.

In its 13th year, the Columbia Festival of the Arts is growing up. The festival, which begins with a benefit gala tonight and continues through June 25, offers something for everyone, with all types of literary, visual and performing arts represented.

Events will be held all around Columbia, with free performances and activities for the whole family at the Lakefront, free music at many of the village centers and an array of performances at the Rouse Theatre.

It's an exciting and diverse festival, one that's as hard to categorize as it is to ignore.

"It's hard to describe a single theme for the festival," says Executive Director Katherine Knowles. "This year's festival is all about taking a big jump forward. We've really increased the caliber of the artists and the breadth and scope of programming. If there is a theme, it's a very broad one, perhaps surprise, excellence and wonder. A sort of look at where we have come from and where we are going, from the profoundly simple to the high tech."

The festival's broader scope is reflected in this year's budget, which is about $950,000. That represents a 30 percent increase from just over three years ago.

"It's a big jump, certainly," says Knowles. "But I think the Columbia Festival of the Arts has the potential to become a major festival in the mid-Atlantic region. We're taking steps toward that this year."

The festival lineup would certainly indicate that it is becoming a major artistic presence in the region.

Marcovicci and Marceau

Tonight's gala features international cabaret sensation Andrea Marcovicci. Ten days later, the festival closes with two performances by one of the most sublime artists ever to grace a stage, renowned mime Marcel Marceau. In between, there are performances by multiple Grammy Award-winning singer Emmylou Harris, Motown favorites the Marvelettes and one of America's best Cajun bands, BeauSoleil, among dozens of others.

With so many quality performances being offered, it's easy for spectators to miss some of the festival's behind-the-scenes accomplishments, such as its deepening relationship with the artistic community. Over the years, the Columbia Festival of the Arts has grown not only in the scope of its programming, but in its fostering of local and regional artists as well.

Year after year, some of the premier artists in the region are represented at the festival, and their performances demonstrate the benefit the association brings to both the artists and the audiences.

"With Next Ice Age and the Washington Ballet, we're really developing relationships with regional artists," says Knowles. "That's one of our goals, and we've seen these relationships grow over time."

The Next Ice Age will debut a new ice-dance choreographed to composer Michael Torke's inspiring work, "The Book of Proverbs." And the Washington Ballet, which is quickly gaining fame under its new artistic director Septime Webre, begins a multiyear presenting and commissioning partnership with the festival. The company will be performing works by established and emerging choreographers that venture far outside the European tradition of classical ballet. These works draw on everything from the Amazonian spirit to family stories from Havana set to live Cuban music of the 1920s and '30s.

Reworking of tradition

This looking at new sources and reworking of traditional approaches to art forms is one of the underpinnings of this year's festival. Allowing artists the freedom to explore and create is part of what the festival sees as its mission, and that freedom is well-represented in the festival's program.

"We've started to approach the artists themselves to ask what they want to do and then create those opportunities," says Knowles. "We want to be able to be a place where artists can do new things, can have fun and play.

"We'll see violinist and composer Mark O'Connor and renowned fiddler Natalie MacMaster collaborate for the first time ever, at the artists' request. We'll see our first literary event with the poetry festival, and a new visual arts exhibit, too.

Another first is the Maryland debut of "Leitmotiv" by Canada's Les Deux Mondes. A work that took five years to develop, "Leitmotiv" draws on the visual arts, musical theater and media to create a timeless story of young lovers caught in a civil war.

The Canadian company blends static and dynamic artistic vocabularies into a performance that is both intimately personal and universal in scope.

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