The headliners of the 1998 Columbia Festival of the Arts, which begins this weekend, are a festival in themselves. And then there are all the backup events, including an extra-splashy LakeFest.
In pop music, there's Aretha Franklin. In dance, Pilobolus. Junction Avenue Theater is coming from South Africa and novelist Reynolds Price from North Carolina.
In addition, there's a daylong program of "African Connections," a homage to Pablo Picasso and the gorgeous puppets of Figures of Speech Theater.
This year's 10-day event - performances this weekend and next bracketing a week of workshops, lectures, screenings, concerts and other activities - marks the return of Merriweather Post Pavilion as a festival venue. Franklin, the famed soul singer, will close the festival there June 28.
The festival opens tomorrow with a 5:30 p.m. reception at Oakland Manor and artist demonstrations and slide shows at 7:30 p.m. in the Columbia Art Center.
The emphasis of the festival, however, is doing, not watching. The poem on the event brochure says it all: "Paint in the morning/Make music at noon/Dance till the sun goes down/And sing to the moon."
For every star performance, there are at least half a dozen participatory activities to get people out of their seats and into actual (or sometimes virtual) dancing, acting, puppetry, photography, printmaking and pottery.
Some are for beginners, some for whole families, some for those on the edge of professionalism - including workshops on auditioning, head shots and resumes; the reading of new plays; and a seminar on critical responses to the arts.
The festival also incorporates a communitywide celebration of Columbia's birthday, held Saturday afternoon at the lake and featuring birthday cake, activities for children, a showcase of local performers and evening concerts by Hart Rouge and the Shirelles.
Here are a few of the highlights of the 1998 festival.
Quartetto Gelato (Saturday at Jim Rouse Theater) actually has five members: a singer and four musicians playing violin, cello, clarinet and accordion. The Canadian ensemble performs everything from Mozart and Puccini to a show-stopping "O Sole Mio." (For those who demand a little gelato with their quartetto, the next best thing is a fruit slush from Sgt. Pepper's, available for purchase at the lake.) The group will give a free, informal lecture-demonstration at noon Sunday in the Rouse dance studio.
Other musical events on the festival's delightfully mixed menu include folk duo Pete and Maura Kennedy (Saturday at LakeFest); salsa performer Jose Alberto ("El Canario") and his orchestra (June 27), prefaced by a free Latin ballroom dance class for those who want to mambo; soprano Kishna Davis (Monday) in the patrician setting of Oakland Manor; Hart Rouge, a New Age band from Montreal (Saturday at LakeFest); Jewish klezmer music from Fabrangen Fiddlers (Thursday, Oakland Manor); Eddie From Ohio, a quartet of singer/songwriters not from Ohio but from Virginia (June 26 at LakeFest); jazz pianist Junior Mance headlining the "House of Jazz" (June 26 at Oakland Manor); and music from "Porgy & Bess" performed by Columbia Pro Cantare and the Columbia Orchestra (Thursday).
Junction Avenue Theater, which last toured the United States with "Sophiatown," a tribute to a bloody event of the apartheid era, will perform "Marabi," an original musical about a love story -- set against apartheid (tomorrow through Sunday, Smith Theater, Howard Community College). It will also hold a discussion about contemporary theater in South Africa at noon Sunday at Oakland Manor.
Figures of Speech Theater, whose performers are 4-foot-high carved puppets, offers original adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" (June 27-28) and the myth of Cupid and Psyche (Saturday and Sunday) at Slayton House. The company co-directors will discuss contemporary puppetry at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Slayton House, and there's a puppetry workshop designed for teachers and parents all morning Sunday at Columbia Art Center.
Czech clown Tomas Kubinek, who bills himself as "Certified Lunatic and Master of the Impossible," is a magician and acrobat who will fill the stage of the Rouse Theater with his shenanigans (June 26-27).
Filmmaker Perry Miller Adato (see item on art below) will show her innovative film biography of playwright Eugene O'Neill on June 27 at Slayton House, which intercuts documentary footage with scenes from the plays performed by Jason Robards and other distinguished actors.
Pilobolus, which started as a collective of students at Dartmouth College, has always been a welcome blend of the unconventional and the populist. (How can you not like a work in which two dancers impersonate a mushroom?) On its return to the festival (tomorrow and Saturday, Rouse Theater), it will perform "Apoplexy" (1998), "Solo" and "Gnomen" (both 1997) and "Aeros" (1996), all but the last a Maryland premiere. The company also will lead a workshop for advanced dancers Saturday in Rouse's dance studio, and a limited number of places are available for observers.
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, a longtime Washington company newly relocated to Takoma Park, begins a three-year association with the festival by giving a performance (Sunday, Rouse Theater). Known for its nontraditional dancers, who range in age from 12 to 70, the company also has devised "The Hallelujah Project," a dance workshop for everyday people ranging from health-care economists and teen dancers to multigenerational African-American families. The project's community performance - June 28 at Rouse Theater - will lead into a national tour. Lerman's company also will lead workshops and master classes throughout the festival.
Emmy Award-winning director Perry Miller Adato will show the latest in her series of artists' biographies for PBS, "Picasso: A Painter's Diary," June 26 at Slayton House. Warren Robbins of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art will discuss African influences on Picasso and other early 20th-century artists at 2 p.m. Saturday as part of "African Connections" at Oakland Manor.
Reynolds Price, the prize-winning Southern man of letters, will read from his new novel, "Roxana Slade," June 28 at Slayton House. "Clear Pictures," a documentary film by Charles Guggenheim based on Price's memoirs, will be screened Tuesday at Slayton House.
Pub Date: 6/18/98