Kennedy Center to stage artist-curated series, festivals celebrating Ireland and skateboarding

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WASHINGTON — A new performance series curated by leading artists will help define a new programming slate at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts under its new president, along with festivals celebrating Ireland and something unexpected: skateboarding culture.

Jazz pianist Jason Moran, dancer Damian Woetzel, mandolinist Chris Thile from the bands Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek and composer Mason Bates will be the first artists crafting programs that cross traditional artistic genres, said Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter in announcing plans Tuesday. To open the center's new season in September, Moran will break out of his traditional jazz role to lead a festival on skateboarding, music and media — complete with an outdoor skateboarding ramp.

The new artist-led series is one of a few changes Rutter is making to the center's presentation as she seeks to have artists engage more directly with audiences.

"I want to put the artists more centrally in the discussion about what we do, why we do it, how we do it and how it reflects our society," Rutter said. "If we only ever do what is expected of us ... if we give art to you, as opposed to having a dynamic relationship, we're never going to advance art. That's what artists will tell you."

The 2015-16 season includes more than 2,000 performances in music, theater and dance — making the center one of the nation's busiest performing arts venues. An international festival celebrating Irish arts and culture in 2016 will mark the centennial of Ireland's move toward independence, dating back to the Easter Rising in 1916. Organizers noted President John F. Kennedy, for whom the center is a memorial, was the first Irish-American president.

The programming slate totals more than $125 million of the center's nearly $200 million budget, said spokeswoman Amanda Hunter. That represents a slight increase in spending due to major commitments for a European tour of the affiliated National Symphony Orchestra and the first-ever Washington National Opera production of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle. Rutter said the four-opera cycle will be a "critical pinnacle of our season."

The center will also broaden its approach to classical music with two new series showcasing the National Symphony Orchestra. "Declassified: Fridays@9" will offer a later start time, a mix of classic and modern music, and cocktails allowed in the concert hall. Pop star Ben Folds will open the series. The orchestra will also offer "Coffee Concerts" for audiences during daytime hours.

In theater, the season does not include any major new theater projects produced by the Kennedy Center, however, following last year's revival of "Side Show" that moved to Broadway and the center's first new musical "Little Dancer." Still, Rutter said it's important to maintain the center's "important role in theater" going forward, and she wants to take time to work with producers on future plans.

Six national touring shows booked for 2015 and 2016 include: "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," ''Matilda the Musical," ''A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," ''Kinky Boots," ''The Bridges of Madison County" and "The Phantom of the Opera."

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Follow Brett Zongker on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat .

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