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Kennedy Center's 2016-17 season will mark JFK centennial, introduce hip-hop artistic director

Yo-Yo Ma
Yo-Yo Ma (Jason Bell)

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will honor the 100th anniversary of its namesake's birth during the 2016–2017 season, which will also see the arrival of three new "artistic partners" — two celebrated classical artists, soprano Renee Fleming and cellist Yo-Yo Ma; and hip-hop star Q-Tip.

The lineup, announced Tuesday morning by center President Deborah F. Rutter, starts before next season — the Kennedy centennial initiative runs from April of this year to May 2017 and involves multiple artistic disciplines. A celebration of Irish arts and culture this spring will include screenings of documentary films about President Kennedy's 1963 visit to Ireland.

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In addition to Q-Tip, named the center's first artistic director for hip-hop culture, Fleming and Ma, named artistic advisers at large, will be involved in various programming for the centennial.

The issue of civil rights, a major force during the Kennedy era, will be examined with such works as Terence Blanchard's opera "Champion," about welterweight world champion boxer Emile Griffith and the prejudice he experienced as an African-American and closeted gay man. Washington National Opera will produce "Champion," as well as Jake Heggie's much-acclaimed look at the death penalty, "Dead Man Walking."

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Labor leader Cesar Chavez, Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev and others from the 1960s will also receive attention as part of the centennial activities.

Other highlights of the 2016-2017 season:

  • "SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras," a collaboration with Washington Performing Arts spotlighting ensembles from Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia and New York and featuring several premieres;
  • Ballet Across America, curated by dancer-choreographer Justin Peck and principal dancer Misty Copeland;
  • Washington National Opera productions of "The Marriage of Figaro," "The Daughter of the Regiment" and "Madama Butterfly";
  • National Symphony Orchestra with outgoing music director Christoph Eschenbach, whose programming includes a salute to one of his predecessors, Mstislav Rostropovich; music director designate Gianandrea Noseda will also conduct during the season.

Theater events include "The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family," a three-play series about the 2016 political season; touring productions of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," and "The King and I," among others.

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