As part of a yearlong celebration commemorating former President John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hosted a cross-cultural open house on Saturday, May 27. The 10-hour event featured over 30 performances, highlighting a diverse selection of artistic forms, from ballet to skateboard performance art, all aimed to embody Kennedy’s five core values: courage, freedom, justice, service and gratitude.
The Kennedy Center, located on the Potomac River and offering beautiful rooftop views of the Rosslyn skyline, Washington Harbor and Lincoln Memorial, is a living memorial to the 35th president. A performing arts space with numerous stages, the center hosts year-round performances in a variety of artistic media. Now in its 45th season, the Kennedy Center is arguably one of the most renowned arts centers in the United States: It presents about 2,000 performances each year, has an average annual audience of two million and hosts various media broadcasts.
Over the past year, the performing arts space has hosted a variety of commemorative events leading up to open house this past weekend. The center has been lit with red, white and blue lights each night in honor of the centennial, and the rooftop displays a stencil reading “JFK 100” in large letters that can be seen from afar.
“We’re taking this centennial to remind people that we are the memorial to John F. Kennedy,” Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said in an interview with D.C. radio station WTOP-FM.
The open house event was free to the public and featured performances throughout the day on both the main level and the roof terrace level of the center; there was never a lull in entertainment. The fluid layout allowed attendees could come and go as they pleased, walking from one space to another and sampling the different performances as they wished.
The first thing that visitors entering the event saw was the D.C. Arts Market. Alongside the walkway to the center’s entrance, local artisans, whose goods ranged from jewelry to paintings to skate gear, had set up tables to sell their work. To the left of the main entrance were two of the most popular attractions: the skate park and the Front Plaza stage.
The skate park, which was open for the entire event, included a variety of ramps, jumps, funboxes and grind rails. The youngest skaters, who were around the age of 10, spent most of their time trying out small jumps and sliding up and down the ramps, but more experienced skaters, including professionals Paulo Diaz and Jennifer Soto, performed using the full range of features.
The busiest performance spaces at the Front Plaza were the North Plaza, the Grand Foyer and the terrace spaces. The North Plaza is centered around Millennium Stage, a venue that featured performances throughout the day from a diverse array of musical groups. Performances included an upbeat concert from the family band Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips and a serious piano tribute to Chuck Berry by his long-time pianist Daryl Davis.
Another popular space was the Grand Foyer, a long hallway inside the center that has a stage at both ends. One of the most innovative performances of the day, “(In)Security: Or, Jack and Nikki do the Cold War Tango,” by the dance troupe Company E, cleverly used both stages. Different musical soundtracks played from either end of the foyer, and dancers performed different routines on each stage, as images of Kennedy’s written correspondences projected behind them. Audience members were encouraged to interact with the performance and could either watch from one vantage point or move between the stages as they desired.
Visitors of the open house were also treated to an engaging learning experience on the rooftop. Starting with morning community yoga on the South Roof, the outdoor terrace spaces of the center were used consistently throughout the day. The rooftop featured educational events, such as lessons in fan dance from the Peace Mission Korean Dance Group and performances, including a story from spoken word artist Polarbear and an interactive bluegrass concert.
Although most of the events enabled visitors to come and go, some performances had a more intimate atmosphere, including the National Memorial Day Choral Festival performance in the Concert Hall, dance group FLEXN’s “In FLEX We Trust” dance and discussion event in the Eisenhower Theater, and performances by The Washington Ballet in the Opera House, all of which encouraged visitors to stay for the duration of the event and lose themselves in the music.
Ultimately, turnout for the Kennedy Center Open House was impressive, and there were attendees who stayed for many hours to attend events throughout the day. The artistic showcases, which truly took advantage of every inch of the Kennedy Center’s performance spaces, were both a wonderful tribute to the former president and a beautiful example of the power of art.