Lincoln Center Festival began with the idea of expanding the possibilities presented at Lincoln Center and bringing to audiences something that they could not see elsewhere. This is a challenging goal in a city as culturally rich as New York, and the result has been an eclectic mix of artists and productions representing over 50 countries as of Festival 2009. Central to the Festival has been an effort to look outside the Western European canon, to broaden notions of classicism by presenting classical works from other parts of the world. And, of course, the theaters of Lincoln Center have been our main stages, although on occasion we have presented performances elsewhere, notably at the Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College and at the Park Avenue Armory.
The history of the festival evokes memories of the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater from Vietnam (1996); Ta’ziyeh (2002), an indigenous form of music theater developed in Persia; the Kabuki theater of Heisei Nakamura-za (2004 and 2007); and I La Galigo (2005), based on an epic story sacred to the people of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII has brought his Nakamura-za, first to Damrosch Park and subsequently to Avery Fisher Hall, with his signature performances of Kabuki. In 1999, the Festival produced the monumental Peony Pavillion in a full-length nineteen-hour version not seen anywhere in the world since it was first performed during the Ming Dynasty in China. These traditions have been embedded in the cultures of their respective regions for centuries, and the Festival provides the opportunity for New York audiences to experience such traditions first hand.
The Festival has also been host to signature productions by artists at the forefront of their disciplines. Simon McBurney directed his own company Complicite in The Three Lives of Lucy Cabrol and Street of Crocodiles, and directed the Setagaya Public Theater in a stunning production of The Elephant Vanishes; Peter Greenway and Louis Andriessen created the opera Writing to Vermeer in 2000; and Ariane Mnouchkine brought Le Dernier Caravansérail in 2005 and her extraordinary Les Éphémères in 2009.
Along the way, we have presented unexpected collaborations, such as Elvis Costello and Metrople Orkest; new works by emerging artists, such as choreographer Shen Wei; and unique events that re-shape our view of what art can be, such as Deborah Warner’s site-specific The Angel Project.
Complementing the individual productions have been in-depth explorations of particular artists or particular genres. These “mini festivals” have included a Beckett Festival, a Harold Pinter Festival, celebrations of the work of choreographers Merce Cunningham and Sir Frederick Ashton, and concert series that range from gospel to Latin to the music of Steve Reich. We have also provided a platform for some of the most accomplished companies to display their talents, having welcomed Dublin’s Gate Theatre, the Royal Opera, the Bolshoi Ballet, and Israel’s Gesher Theatre (to name just a few).
Opportunities to collaborate with the various Lincoln Center resident companies have added another dimension to the Festival, as well as to the work these companies already produce. On occasion, we have collaborated with resident companies on particular productions such as the memorable Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center Theater, the series of presentations of the Kirov Opera and the Kirov Ballet with the Metropolitan Opera, or the New York City Opera orchestra’s participation in many presentations such as The White Raven.
As of 2009, the Lincoln Center Festival has presented more than 1050 performances and has commissioned, co-commissioned, or co-produced over 30 new works.
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