Gotham Arts Fest Sets Summer on Grand Scale

Lincoln Center be selling, but who will be buying? That’s the very considerable question facing Ruth Kaplan when she takes over as vice president of marketing and communications for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc., which announced last week the lineup of next summer’s Lincoln Center Festival 96.

The task of imprinting the city’s latest international performing arts extravaganza on a ticket-buying public unfamiliar with the new event will fall primarily to Kaplan, who arrives this week following stints at the National Gallery in Washington and with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Kaplan and her Lincoln Center campus colleagues will have to convince New Yorkers to stay in town in late July and early August, and tourists to include the festival’s eclectic bill of experimental and innovative fare on their must-see menus.

The ambitious slate of local and international programming to be offered from July 22 through Aug. 11 ranges from a “Brain Opera” available on the Internet, to a retrospective of works by Samuel Beckett, to traditional puppet theater from Vietnam, to complementary concerts of different versions of Beethoven’s opera, “Fidelio.”

Modeled somewhat on the great European summer festivals at Edinburgh, Salzburg and Bayreuth, the Lincoln Center Festival will offer 61 largescale programs from 17 producing organizations in 206 performances. In scale and programming, the festival most closely resembles the late, lamented Pepsico Summerfare, held on the suburban Purchase campus of the State University of New York. The Lincoln Center events will include three world premieres and two U.S. and several New York premieres.

New York hosts other international arts festivals – notably the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual Next Wave Festival, which takes place in the fall. The sprawling New York Intl . Festival of the Arts , conceived as a biennial event in the late ‘ 80s, disappeared after two outings with mixed results financially and artistically.

But Lincoln Center promises a festival at once more focused – stressing a manageable number of grand-scale works – and more diverse, including works by traditional as well as innovative companies, with free events and ticket prices topping out a t $75. The festival’s artistic director is John Rockwell, who was hired in the summer of 1994 t o direct the $8.5 million event, his first experience as a producer. A former critic and cultural correspondent for the New York Times, Rockwell said his goals for the festival were to offer works t h a t involved crosspollination among different organizations : a festival that would be “dense and intense, ” as he put it.

“Brain Opera,” for example, commissioned b y the festival, is described as “an interactive digital event” designed by t he Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab under the direction of Tod Machover. It will be a free offering in which audience members can take part either on computers at the Juilliard School or online. The festival will also include the New York Video Festival, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Another co-production, this one with the Houston Grand Opera, will be the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein folk opera, “Four Saints in Three Acts,” staged and designed by the avant – garde director Robert Wilson, which will have its premiere in Houston in January .

Among the major dance works to be presented are “Ocean, ” Merce Cunningham’s final collaboration with the late John Cage, and the world premiere of a new piece commissioned from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, with choreography by Judith Jamison and music by Wynton Marsalis, leader of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The other major musical events will include appearances by the Kirov Orchestra and Opera Chorus, the New York Philharmonic and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as well as the world premiere of a work commissioned from Reigakusha, a Japanese classical music ensemble.

The Beckett plays, including “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame,” among others , will be presented by the Gate Theater of Dublin. The other theater offerings will be London’s Theatre de Complicite, performing “The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol, ” and t h e Thang Long Water Puppets Theater from Vietnam.

The festival has been in the works for about three years. But the idea of an event that would include many of Lincoln Center ‘s constituent groups goes back to the conceptualization of the center 50 years ago, said Lincoln Center president Nathan Leventhal, who was joined at a press conference announcing the lineup last week by Lincoln Center chairman and retired opera diva Beverly Sills. Indeed, Lincoln Center sponsored two similar festivals in the mid -‘ 60s .

Nigel Redden, the festival’s executive producer, announced last month his plan to return to Spolet o Festival U.S. A. in Charleston, S.C., where he was general manager. No replacement has been announced, and it is possible that his duties will be split among present staff members. But that will leave the Lincoln Center Festival with an artistic director inexperienced in the mechanics of Bringing all those organizations to New York, along with a new marketing director with only a few months to get out the word.

I n fact, these kinds of festivals rarely take off before actual exposure by critics and audiences to the work, something Rockwell acknowledged last week: “The festival will stand or fall on people’s perceptions of the quality of these events.”

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