Welcome to J F Kennedy Centre, Washington DC
e-mail: sunilkothari1933@gmail.com
Photos courtesy: Arabesque & JF Kennedy Center brochure
January 13, 2011

The MAXIMUM INDIA FESTIVAL takes place at the J F Kennedy Centre, Washington DC, USA from March 1-20, 2011. I have been many times to this Centre.

I had the privilege of accompanying Ratan Thiyam, Director of Chorus Repertory Theatre, Imphal, when his company was invited by Asia Society and Lisa Booth and Arts Management, New York, to perform at J F Kennedy Centre, for their American debut in 2000 with their production 'Uttar Priya Darshi' directed by Ratan Thiyam. That was ten years ago.

Chorus Repertory Theatre is invited to present their latest production 'When We Dead Awaken.' It is the Manipuri version of Ibsen's play. Alicia Adams, the Vice President of International Program of J F Kennedy Centre and her colleague Gilda Almeida visited New Delhi last year in January 2010 and saw the play when it was staged at Kamani Hall. They liked it and selected it for MAXIMUM INDIA, a festival of Indian classical, and folk dances, plays, classical, folk and fusion music, Bollywood extravaganza, exhibition of paintings, installations, fans, handicrafts, food festival, tours of exhibitions and various other expressions of Indian culture, on a grand scale, with their planned budget and with the help of Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, from March 1 to 20, 2011.

They have in the past curated Festival of Arts of 22 Arab Countries viz., 'ARABESQUE' focusing on the culture of Arab Countries. Earlier they had organized Festival of Chinese Arts focusing on the culture of China. This time it is India.
It reminds me of Festivals of India which were held in various countries during the times of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It is a part of cultural diplomacy. With India gaining importance as a power to be reckoned with, the Federal Government of USA had decided, well in advance three years ago, to organize Maximum India Festival.
Alicia Adams

As is their practice, Alicia Adams and Gilda Almeida visited India several times, meeting the leading lights from the world of dance, theatre, and plastic arts, paintings and sculptures. They interacted with scholars, critics, connoisseurs of Indian arts and agencies like Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), Sahitya Akademi (SA), Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Zonal Cultural Centres, The Music Academy of Madras, Indian impresarios like Team Works, SEHER, regional dance and music academies, theatre directors, literatteurs, authors, poets, dancers, choreographers. They visited their studios, watched their rehearsals, saw the paintings, installations, and these visits were repeated over the past two years. Now the curtain is 'to rise at Kennedy Centre' with big fanfare on March 1, 2011.

Kennedy Centre has nine venues. One of them viz., Millennium Stage has a wide reach out, as the performances staged there, are FREE to public and hundreds of people can watch them round the year for 365 days. Not only that but also through internet, television, it reaches out to millions of people round the world. The state-of-art and technological innovations have been dovetailed to great advantage and have worked wonders.

On entering the vast foyer of Eisenhower Theatre, one can watch on monitors at regular intervals, the screenings of excerpts of the performances and also the history of the Centre. There is continuous screening of a documentary on J F Kennedy Centre with commentary by none else than one of the daughters of the Kennedy family, explaining to the viewers the salient features of the Centre. Also there are screenings of the life and times of President John F Kennedy, giving one an idea of the dreams he had and his aspirations for the nation.

One remembers some of his quotes after one leaves the Centre.
"I am certain that after the dust on centuries has passed over our cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battles or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit."
Located on 17 acres overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, DC, the Centre is America's living memorial to President Kennedy as well as the nation's busiest arts facility, presenting more than 2,000 performances each year. Besides, there are Touring Kennedy Centre productions and its television, radio, and internet broadcasts reach millions around the world.

The national cultural centre continues to fulfill President Kennedy's vision by producing and presenting an unmatched variety of theatre and musicals, dance and ballet, orchestral, chamber, jazz, popular and folk music, and multi-media performances for all ages. Every year the Centre brings his dream to fruition, touching the lives of millions of people through thousands of performances by the greatest artists from across America and around the world. The Centre also nurtures new works and young artists, serving the nation as leader in arts education and creating broadcasts, tours and outreach programs.

In Mumbai, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) is modeled on this centre and Lincoln Centre in New York. At present its current Chairman, is following the model of Kennedy Centre's approach. NCPA also brings out a monthly booklet giving details of various programs. It also announces well in advance, the projects on classical dance, music, curating of films, discussions, photo exhibitions, exhibitions of paintings and sculptures, presentation of plays, choreographic works of dance, new plays, Western orchestra, performances by foreign artists, young and upcoming promising artistes at Godrej and Experimental theatres, major artistes at Tata Auditorium, and Jamshed Bhabha auditorium, discussions 'Chauraha' at sunk garden outside the theatres.

I have suggested to the Chairman of the NCPA to have monitors and screenings of the excerpts of performances and history of NCPA, how it came into being etc on the lines of screenings of Kennedy Centre's documentary. Even if it is not on the grand scale like Kennedy Centre, NCPA has its own identity and can have specific timings of its tours, showing the auditoria and the facilities offered to artists. At The Little Theatre, I have given several lecture demonstrations during my stay in Mumbai and continue to do so once a year.

Alicia Adams had the great opportunity and privilege of curating the Centre's international festivals. She says in her introduction of the book ARABESQUE which was brought out for the Festival of Arab Countries, as follows:
"During this time, curatorial journeys have taken me to over 60 countries around the world to see artistic work, experience traditions, hear stories, explore culture and geography, meet future collaborators, and make friends.

These journeys have borne fruit in the international festivals at the Kennedy Centre over the last decade and half. We have explored the art and artists of contemporary Africa, representing 44 of 54 countries of the continent in 'African Odyssey,' a four year initiative. 'Americartes' celebrated artistes from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and practically every country in Latin America; 'The Festival of China' brought 900 artists including Cai Guo Qiang's explosion event to the Potomac River and the Peking Opera to the Centre's main stage; 'Japan! Culture + Hyper Culture' explored the exquisite work of 600 of Japan's finest artists, architects - and even robots! In 2009 we looked to the artists of the Arab region."
This is no mean achievement.

Alicia Adams is confident: "For the Festival of India - MAXIMUM INDIA - hundreds of thousands of people will come through the doors of the Kennedy Centre throughout the three weeks of March 2011 to savor the arts of India. Millions more throughout the world will be exposed to the festival through the Kennedy Centre, through print, broadcast and electronic systems; media interest will be enormous. It will hopefully build up as the Festival will go on. MAXIMUM INDIA will inspire new partnerships, between artists, with other US performing arts centres, with embassies, with new fans and aficionados!!"

She is aware of what impact such festivals leave. "Of course with all this, the festival represents a small effort to influence public opinion; it will challenge stereotypical assumptions simply by showing the beauty and humanity of people through their art and culture. One hopes MAXIMUM INDIA will be a significant festival for the Kennedy Centre to create: using the mightiest tool that they have - the arts - which will further understanding and bring people together. Indeed it will take time to fully understand its impact."
Oman…O Man
Marcel Khalife, Lebanon
Youssef Nabil, cinema
Alicia recalls the assistance given to her during the Arab countries festival to help guide her understanding and the decision making process. She acknowledges the invaluable help she had received from the author Ahdab Soueif, whose literary contributions are recognized world over, but also she values her wise counsel and over all support she received from her. She acknowledges the complete support she has received from the staff including Gilda Almeida, Erik Wallin, Xerxes Unwalla and others.

'Arabesque,' the book Alicia has brought out of the Festival of 22 Arab Countries reminds one of the enormous achievements of the Arabs, in art and science, as it inspires to encourage others to embrace contemporary Arab culture.

I received the book from Alicia to go through and have some idea of the dimension and scale of the Festival of India. I have browsed the book many times, have savored the wonderful, colourful images of the book, the text. I am sharing with you all, some of the images I have selected from that book as reprints for the readers of Narthaki.com. That will give us an idea of varied, diverse, less known cultures of Arab countries.
Azza Fahmy, Inspirations
By the time this will be on in Narthaki.com, the book on MAXIMUM INDIA will be under production. I have no doubt that a similar book shall serve the purpose to bring better understanding of the diverse culture of India with its multiplicity, complexity and richness.

The final scheduling of a few events is still pending. But once it is finalized, it will be announced in print and electronic media. The Festival is not organized for Indian Diaspora. They shall also savor the tastes and smells of India, Indian ambience, feel nostalgic about India and also see how the artists have progressed in their expressions, with abundant creativity.

For me, it is an emotional involvement - so many friends and artists are taking part. They represent the best in various art forms and the Festival will showcase their art with great sensitivity. Over the past thirty years, I have been to so many international festivals, various venues, and various theatres in so many countries. And yet the excitement has not subsided. The feeling of exhilaration continues to thrill me. In these times of globalization, we in India have shown tremendous strength and inherent dignity of the forms and diverse cultural expressions that the large American audiences will undoubtedly cherish our arts and shall enrich themselves.

As mentioned in the book Arabesque, 'No passports will be required to attend some more than fifty Arabesque (read now MAXIMUM INDIA) performances on the Kennedy Centre stages – you just have to be there. Twenty one FREE performances will be programmed on the Millennium Stage: one on each day during three week festival. The Millennium Stage hosts a very rich selection of artists and enjoys a record attendance."

Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to www.narthaki.com, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award. He recently received the Senior Critic award from Dance Critics Association, NYC.