“Let’s dance,” urges the David Bowie song of the same name, and that is just what’s in store when the Virginia Arts Festival kicks off the first performances of its 20th anniversary season.
The Spring for Dance Gala, April 9–10 at Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall, will feature dancers from around the world. With styles ranging from classical ballet to modern dance, participating companies include American Ballet Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Mark Morris Dance Group, Richard Alston Dance Company, Richmond Ballet, and — a festival newcomer — Tokyo Ballet. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra will accompany the performances.
But, dance is just one of the performing arts scheduled to be on view during the festival.
The event will bring together an extraordinary collection of world-class performing artists in the fields of music and theater, as well, to the Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia. Venues range from large concert halls and theaters to smaller venues in churches, schools, and community centers, as well as outdoor events in streets and parks. There’s a mix of more than 50 ticketed and free events occurring over several months.
“We are using the whole year to celebrate Virginia Art Festival’s 20th season,” said the festival’s Rob Cross. “Throughout the 2016 season we will welcome back artists who have become very special to the festival and we will present many new artists, new productions, and definitely some surprises.”
A series of preseason “Celebrate” performances included the Vienna Boys Choir, violinist Joshua Bell, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Coming up on March 15 is the Irish group The Chieftains.
The official festival opening takes place April 8, with a free outdoor event scheduled for outside MacArthur Center in Norfolk.
What’s on tap
The festival attracts a diverse array of performers, ranging from classical music cellist Yo-Yo Ma and virtuoso pianist Emanuel Ax on April 12 to best-selling R&B group Boyz II Men on May 22.
Also performing will be the Venice Baroque Orchestra, pianist Yuja Wang, the swing band Hot Sardines, the Afro-Cuban All Stars, and The Texas Tenors, stars of TV’s America’s Got Talent.
A special treat on April 16 will be a fully staged production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, presented by the Virginia Stage Company.
A “Fringe Festival,” April 28–May 1, will showcase performances in the Norfolk Arts District.
The ever-popular Virginia International Tattoo — the festival’s signature event — will be April 21–24 at Norfolk’s Scope Arena. The spectacular show features 1,500 musicians, performers, and military men and women from 10 nations in what is considered the largest patriotic music display in the United States. The American Bus Association voted the Tattoo as the No. 1 U.S. event in its Top 100 Events in North America listing for 2016.
A jazz series and coffee concerts are among other highlights during the season. Festival Williamsburg, normally a part of the arts festival, has been moved to June.
Celebrating an anniversary
“The festival’s 20th anniversary season looks back with pride, and forward to the future,” said Cross.
The event has flourished since its inception in 1997. The first season was 18 days long and drew 30,000 patrons. More than 60,000 visitors are expected this year, with 27 percent traveling from outside Hampton Roads.
Besides bringing top performing arts to the public, the nonprofit organization has commissioned innovative works of national and international significance, presented numerous U.S. and regional premieres of new works, sponsored far-reaching arts education programs for students, and had an economic impact of $17 million per year through cultural tourism.
“The festival is able to attract artists from around the world due to Virginia Arts Festival’s reputation and success over the past 20 years,” said Cross.
To see the 2016 season’s entire schedule and profiles of the artists, visit vafest.org. Tickets may be purchased through the website or by calling the box office at 757-282-2822.