WASHINGTON, D.C.: International performing artists from Haiti, Indonesia and Pakistan are coming to the United States as part of a new cultural diplomacy initiative, Center StageSM, which will be officially launched in June by the U.S. State Department.  These performing artists and ensembles — selected from more than 200 nominated artists from countries as far-flung as Haiti, Indonesia, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Syria, and Turkey — will perform in 60 medium- and small-sized towns and cities across the U.S.

All of it will begin in Washington, D.C.  On June 19, Center StageSM artists will perform in a month-long international exchange at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Millennium Stage. This concert is free and open to the public.

The first wave of performing artists will include two music groups from Pakistan. Singer-songwriter Arieb Azhar and the rock band noori will travel to the United States and participate in a range of activities, such as performances, workshops, discussions, artist-to-artist exchanges, and community gatherings.

After their D.C. performances, these Pakistani artists will travel in cities across the U.S.

For a full list of artists and performance dates, click here. Or scroll down to the end of this article.

Arieb Azhar | Photo by Shahzad Ali Mirza
Arieb Azhar | Photo by Shahzad Ali Mirza

Defying easy categorization, Arieb Azhar hails from Islamabad in Pakistan. A baritone, Azhar leads a quartet of musicians in an eclectic mix of urban and folk-based songs grounded in Sufi and other humanist poetries from across Eurasia. Known as a world-class troubadour, his sets pay tribute to Irish balladeers, Croatian gypsies, Punjabi traders and ancient Sanskrit texts.

Pakistani rock band noori | Photo by Mandana Zaidi
Pakistani rock band noori | Photo by Mandana Zaidi

Noori, one of Pakistan’s top pop-rock bands, helped define Sufi-rock. Led by charismatic brothers Ali Noor and Ali Hamza, Noori’s debut 2003 album created whirlwinds across Pakistani communities all over the world and introduced the pop/rock music to the national mainstream. Its content was a departure from the usual pop diet of chummy love songs and focused on inspiring the youth of Pakistan to take up the responsibility of doing something worthwhile for themselves and others. That initial hopefulness is tempered now, resulting in more complex thematic and musical explorations that continue to push the boundaries. The group is based in Lahore.

Compagnie de Danse  Jean-René Delsoin | Photo by Frederic Thaly
Compagnie de Danse Jean-René Delsoin | Photo by Frederic Thaly

Another fascinating group comes from Haiti: Compagnie de Danse Jean-Rene Delsoin, based in Petion-Ville. Delsoin’s dancers and drummers are said to “embody choreography that captures Haiti now — raw and refined, spiritual, powerful and precarious.” “From Raboday to Nago, passing through Congo and the Yanvalou, corporeal rhythms and expressions worked in harmony to transform everything into beauty,” praises Le Nouvelliste in Haiti. The group is comprised of eight dancers and musicians. It will perform in the U.S. from October to November 2012.

According to a prepared statement by the U.S. State Department, “Center StageSM builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of ‘smart power,’ which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools, in this case the performing arts, to bring people together and foster greater understanding.” Center Stage aims for geographic reach and seeks to support presenting organizations which may not otherwise have the capacity to host international work.

It is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, and with support from the Asian Cultural Council, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.” —RG, in the theater of One World

ARIEB AZHAR

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
6.19.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
6.21.12 – 6.22.12 Rockingham Arts & Museum Project Bellows Falls VT
6.24.12 Silvermine Arts Center New Canaan CT
6.26.12 River to River Festival New York NY
6.28.12 Portland Performing Arts Festival Portland ME
6.30.12 Chester Meeting House Chester CT
7.3.12 River to River Festival New York NY
7.4.12 – 7.5.12 Visit to Bloomington, IN Bloomington IN
7.6.12 – 7.8.12 Old Town School of Folk Music Chicago IL

NOORI

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
6.19.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
6.22.12 Huntington Arts Festival Huntington NY
6.24.12 International Festival of Arts & Ideas New Haven CT
6.26.12 International Festival of Arts & Ideas New Haven CT
6.27.12 Ann Arbor Summer Festival Ann Arbor MI
6.28.12 University of Michigan Ann Arbor MI

BELO

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
10.21.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
10.24.12 – 10.25.12 Academy of Music Northampton MA
10.26.12 – 10.27.12 Hibernian Hall Roxbury MA
10.28.12 – 10.30.12 Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts North Adams MA
11.2.12 Boothbay Opera House Boothbay Harbor ME
11.3.12 Bay Chamber Concerts Rockport ME
11.4.12 – 11.5.12 Portland Ovations Portland ME
11.7.12 – 11.9.12 Connecticut College New London CT
11.12.12 – 11.14.12 University of Florida Gainesville FL
11.16.12 – 11.17.12 Kravis Center Palm Beach FL

COMPAGNIE DE DANSE JEAN-RENE DELSOIN

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
10.16.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
10.18.12 – 10.20.12 South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center Miami FL
10.22.12 – 10.24.12 Coker College Hartsville SC
10.29.12 – 11.2.12 University of North Carolina-Wilmington Wilmington NC
11.5.12 – 11.7.12 University of Nebraska Lincoln NE
11.8.12 – 11.10.12 Johnson County Community College Overland Park KS

JOGJA HIP HOP FOUNDATION

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
11.15.12 Lincoln Center Atrium New York NY
11.16.12 Casity Maria Center for Arts and Education Dancing in the Streets Bronx NY
11.20.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
11.26.12 – 11.28.12 Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Scottsdale AZ
11.29.12 – 12.1.12 University of California-Davis Davis CA
12.2.12 – 12.4.12 University of California-Santa Barbara Santa Barbara CA
12.5.12 – 12.8.12 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts San Francisco CA

NAN JOMBANG

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
9.21.12 – 9.23.12 Dance Place Washington DC
9.24.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
9.26.12 – 9.29.12 FirstWorks Providence RI
10.1.12 – 10.6.12 Asia Society & Fall for Dance New York NY
10.10.12 – 10.14.12 REDCAT Los Angeles CA

PAPERMOON PUPPET THEATRE

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
9.8.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
9.10.12 – 9.12.12 Lafayette College Easton PA
9.13.12 – 9.15.12 Juniata College Huntingdon PA
9.17.12 – 9.19.12 Bucknell University Lewisburg PA
9.21.12 – 9.22.12 Great Plains Puppetry Festival West Liberty IA
9.27.12 – 9.30.12 FirstWorks Providence RI
10.1.12 Asia Society New York NY

TI-COCA & WANGA-NEGES

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
9.18.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
9.25.12 – 9.28.12 Central College Pella IA
10.1.12 – 10.5.12 University of Iowa Iowa City IA
10.7.12 – 10.9.12 Grinnell College Grinnell IA
10.11.12 – 10.14.12 Richmond Folk Festival Richmond VA

ZEB & HANIYA

DATE PRESENTER CITY/STATE
9.12.12 The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Washington DC
9.13.12 – 9.15.12 Madison World Music Festival Madison WI
9.19.12 – 9.22.12 Globalquerque! Albuquerque NM
9.25.12 – 9.27.12 Helena Presents Helena MT
10.2.12 – 10.4.12 Asia Society Houston TX
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