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

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
6.19.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
6.21.12 – 6.22.12Rockingham Arts & Museum ProjectBellows Falls VT
6.24.12Silvermine Arts CenterNew Canaan CT
6.26.12River to River FestivalNew York NY
6.28.12Portland Performing Arts FestivalPortland ME
6.30.12Chester Meeting HouseChester CT
7.3.12River to River FestivalNew York NY
7.4.12 – 7.5.12Visit to Bloomington, INBloomington IN
7.6.12 – 7.8.12Old Town School of Folk MusicChicago IL

NOORI

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
6.19.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
6.22.12Huntington Arts FestivalHuntington NY
6.24.12International Festival of Arts & IdeasNew Haven CT
6.26.12International Festival of Arts & IdeasNew Haven CT
6.27.12Ann Arbor Summer FestivalAnn Arbor MI
6.28.12University of MichiganAnn Arbor MI

BELO

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
10.21.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
10.24.12 – 10.25.12Academy of MusicNorthampton MA
10.26.12 – 10.27.12Hibernian HallRoxbury MA
10.28.12 – 10.30.12Massachusetts College of Liberal ArtsNorth Adams MA
11.2.12Boothbay Opera HouseBoothbay Harbor ME
11.3.12Bay Chamber ConcertsRockport ME
11.4.12 – 11.5.12Portland OvationsPortland ME
11.7.12 – 11.9.12Connecticut CollegeNew London CT
11.12.12 – 11.14.12University of FloridaGainesville FL
11.16.12 – 11.17.12Kravis CenterPalm Beach FL

COMPAGNIE DE DANSE JEAN-RENE DELSOIN

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
10.16.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
10.18.12 – 10.20.12South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts CenterMiami FL
10.22.12 – 10.24.12Coker CollegeHartsville SC
10.29.12 – 11.2.12University of North Carolina-WilmingtonWilmington NC
11.5.12 – 11.7.12University of NebraskaLincoln NE
11.8.12 – 11.10.12Johnson County Community CollegeOverland Park KS

JOGJA HIP HOP FOUNDATION

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
11.15.12Lincoln Center AtriumNew York NY
11.16.12Casity Maria Center for Arts and Education Dancing in the StreetsBronx NY
11.20.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
11.26.12 – 11.28.12Scottsdale Center for the Performing ArtsScottsdale AZ
11.29.12 – 12.1.12University of California-DavisDavis CA
12.2.12 – 12.4.12University of California-Santa BarbaraSanta Barbara CA
12.5.12 – 12.8.12Yerba Buena Center for the ArtsSan Francisco CA

NAN JOMBANG

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
9.21.12 – 9.23.12Dance PlaceWashington DC
9.24.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
9.26.12 – 9.29.12FirstWorksProvidence RI
10.1.12 – 10.6.12Asia Society & Fall for DanceNew York NY
10.10.12 – 10.14.12REDCATLos Angeles CA

PAPERMOON PUPPET THEATRE

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
9.8.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
9.10.12 – 9.12.12Lafayette CollegeEaston PA
9.13.12 – 9.15.12Juniata CollegeHuntingdon PA
9.17.12 – 9.19.12Bucknell UniversityLewisburg PA
9.21.12 – 9.22.12Great Plains Puppetry FestivalWest Liberty IA
9.27.12 – 9.30.12FirstWorksProvidence RI
10.1.12Asia SocietyNew York NY

TI-COCA & WANGA-NEGES

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
9.18.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
9.25.12 – 9.28.12Central CollegePella IA
10.1.12 – 10.5.12University of IowaIowa City IA
10.7.12 – 10.9.12Grinnell CollegeGrinnell IA
10.11.12 – 10.14.12Richmond Folk FestivalRichmond VA

ZEB & HANIYA

DATEPRESENTERCITY/STATE
9.12.12The Kennedy Center Millennium StageWashington DC
9.13.12 – 9.15.12Madison World Music FestivalMadison WI
9.19.12 – 9.22.12Globalquerque!Albuquerque NM
9.25.12 – 9.27.12Helena PresentsHelena MT
10.2.12 – 10.4.12Asia SocietyHouston TX
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