The Kennedy Center recently announced a week-long celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of our namesake, the late President John F. Kennedy, whose 100th birthday would have been May 29, 2017. The Center kicked off its Centennial celebration last May, and by the end of 2017, will have presented a suite of more than 50 distinct programs inspired by five ideals often ascribed to President Kennedy: Courage, Freedom, Justice, Service, and Gratitude. From May 23–29, special performances and the return of the Center’s popular Open House will memorialize the life and legacy of America’s 35th President. To explore some of the stories behind those events, check out the Kennedy Center’s JFK Centennial website, and also take a look at the JFKC-themed events
JFKC Celebration Programs
DJ SPOOKY: REBIRTH OF A NATION
Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 8 p.m.
By Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky
Featuring Sound Impact
Eisenhower Theater — from $19
Features a post-concert talk back with DJ Spooky and Gregory McGrunder
Conceived as a reimagining of director D.W. Griffith’s infamously racist 1915 silent film, The Birth of a Nation, DJ Spooky’s Rebirth of a Nation is a culturally significant project that examines how “…exploitation and political corruption still haunt the world to this day, but in radically different forms.” Today, more than a century since the release of The Birth of a Nation, the project continues to be presented internationally, engaging audiences in themes of civil rights and freedom, seen through the lens of DJ Spooky’s unique art of remixing. Dr. King once said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” — one of the drivers behind Miller’s work is influenced by this. “I try to give people thought tools for mindfulness, or for thinking about the patterns we inhabit as not fixed of locked down, but changeable. It’s the beauty of that, which makes life worth living.” The Kennedy Center debut of Rebirth of a Nation is a multimedia performance featuring a string quartet from D.C.-based music ensemble Sound Impact. Two violins, a viola, and a cello will accompany three screen video projections, controlled live on stage by DJ Spooky.
On May 22 at 8:30 p.m., ArtsChangeUS will host a national conversation between DJ Spooky and Favianna Rodriguez at the Kennedy Center. The talk will have a live interactive webcast available on Kennedy Center Facebook and Youtube accounts.
NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA CONCERT HONORING JOHN F. KENNEDY
Wednesday, May 24, 2017, 8 p.m.
National Symphony Orchestra
Joshua Weilerstein, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Concert Hall — from $79
Features a talk back session following the concert
The National Symphony Orchestra performs the world premiere of Mason Bates’s Passage, an NSO commission created especially for JFK’s 100th. Passage examines the theme of American exploration through the visionary words of Walt Whitman and President John F. Kennedy. Composed for renowned mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and the NSO, the work imaginatively sets Whitman’s “Passage to India” alongside recorded fragments of JFK’s moonshot speech given in 1961. Two iconic American voices — that of poet and President — come together on a journey to the ever-expanding human frontier.
Thursday, May 25, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Paola Prestini, composer
Royce Vavrek, librettist
Concert Hall — from $15
Features a post-concert talk back with Paolo Prestini, Mario Livio, and others to be announced
The Hubble Cantata, brought to life by Metropolitan opera star Nathan Gunn (with soprano to be announced), music director Julian Wachner, a 20-piece instrumental ensemble, and a 100-person choir from The Washington Chorus, is an unprecedented live experience. The program pushes the boundaries of art and science as it takes audiences on a journey of wonder and exploration., seeking parallels between human life on Earth and the stars in the heavens. Framed by the birth, life, and, death of a star — and connected to a narrative of a couple experiencing loss–the hour-long, space-inspired cantata features a cutting-edge virtual reality film (Fistful of Stars) by Eliza McNitt, music by composer Paola Prestini, and libretto by Royce Vavrek. Through his narration, New York Times best-selling author and eminent astrophysicist Dr. Mario Livio explains the larger celestial implications at stake, placing the characters’ story within the grand scheme of the cosmos.
In a final gesture, this family-friendly performance incorporates virtual reality cardboard headsets, simulating an immersive voyage through the universe, expertly created by The Endless Collective, a leading VR FX firm, with a 360-degree soundscape developed by Arup, the global leaders in acoustic and sound design. This mesmerizing live experience, co-produced by VisionIntoArt/National Sawdust, Beth Morrison Projects and Arup, reflects Livio’s poignant themes and the powerful realization that humans discovered, explore, and continue to expand the understanding of the universe, and man’s place in it.
From our friends in the community:
THE WASHINGTON BALLET
Thursday, May 25–27, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Opera House — from $25
The Washington Ballet, in a self-presentation at the Kennedy Center, has independently commissioned Frontier, choreographed by former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Ethan Stiefel, inspired by President Kennedy and his aspirations for America as a leader of artistic, cultural, and intellectual excellence. His historic May 25, 1961 “Urgent Needs” address to the United States Congress serves as the impetus for this work. The seminal speech launched what became a legacy in U.S. space travel and exploration. Stiefel investigates space exploration through the perspective of the astronaut, delving into the emotional and physical rigors required for space travel. While Kennedy used space as a model for national achievement, Stiefel uses his art as a conveyance for this message and for Kennedy’s affirmation that America must fulfill a desire to achieve and be exceptional in the arts.
KENNEDY CENTER OPEN HOUSE: CELEBRATING JFK AT 100
Saturday, May 27, 2017, noon — 10 p.m.
Campus-wide — FREE
In celebration of John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday, the Kennedy Center will host an Open House. This free event welcomes the public to explore and experience the performing arts through the halls, theaters, and plazas of the Kennedy Center through more than 30 free performances, activities and events for all ages and tastes. The arts program will feature artists from across the U.S., the Washington, D.C. region, and abroad.
- Bandaloop, the pioneers of vertical dance, will present multiple performances suspended from the roof of the Kennedy Center throughout the day.
- Company E, a D.C-based contemporary dance company, will perform a Kennedy Center JFK Centennial-commissioned work and world premiere, (In) Security or Jack and Nikki Do the Cold War Tango, in the Grand Foyer using both Millennium Stages simultaneously to explore the John F Kennedy/ Nikita Khrushchev relationship.
- Flexn will present five different performances throughout the day in the Eisenhower Theater of flex dance which is an electrifying form of street dance evolved from Jamaican bruk-up and reggae. Each performance will be in a different format (solo, two-on-two battles, full company), and each focusing on one of the five JFK Centennial ideals as well as opening with a discussion of the works by Peter Sellars and Reggie Gray.
- Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music, and Media will return with a skate park and music stage open and active throughout the day on the plaza.
- Citizen Artist Fellow Paige Hernandez and Baye Harrell will perform “All the Way Live!” in the Family Theater.
- The National Memorial Day Choral Festival in the Concert Hall will present patriotic repertoire which will include works that celebrate President Kennedy such as the “Star Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Inauguration,” and “To the Moon.”
- Local Washington Ballet will participate in Open House activities by presenting their independent commission Frontier.
All of the programming in the three largest theaters and the Grand Foyer will explore and celebrate the legacy of President Kennedy
NSO Memorial Day Concert with Live Broadcast
Sunday, May 28, 2017, 8 p.m. EDT (Check Local Listings)
U.S. Capitol — FREE
The National Symphony Orchestra delivers its traditional Memorial Day Concert, an uplifting performance honoring the military service of all men and women in uniform as well as their families at home. The award-winning program is broadcast live each year on PBS. Program details to be announced at a later date.
JFK Centennial Celebration
Monday, May 29, 2017, 4 p.m.
Presented on Memorial Day the centennial week grand finale will feature a large-scale, feature-length show with a star-studded cast celebrating President Kennedy and reflecting on his enduring ideals of Courage, Freedom, Justice, Service, and Gratitude. Program details announced at a later date.
JFKC at the Millennium Stage
The Millennium Stage is dedicated to hosting free events every day of the year and will have a wide range of offerings and a new JFK-themed dance commission during the JFK Centennial Week
American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra Chamber Ensembles
Monday, May 22 — 6 p.m.
Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra
Tuesday, May 23 — 6 p.m.
Sweet Heaven Kings
Tuesday, May 23 — 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 24–6 p.m.
VSA Young Soloists
Thursday, May 25–6 p.m.
(In)Security: or, Jack and Nikki do the Cold War Tango
Paul Gordon Emerson and Company E
Friday, May 26–6 p.m.
George Burton presents The Truth of What I am
Sunday, May 28–6 p.m.
Monday, May 29–6 p.m.
Leading up to the Centennial, from April 25 through May 29, the Center offers an opportunity for everyone to play an active role in promoting President Kennedy’s legacy. During the 35 Days of Giving Centennial Challenge, people from across the country will be invited to participate online, around D.C., and on-site at the Center to support ongoing and future artistic and educational activities.