Whatever July 4 says about the nation and/or the summer, the date also means I'm about to be catapulted into worlds and situations I've never known - even into places I've never known in New York.
Thanks to the Lincoln Center Festival - and I actually do mean thanks - the holiday signals the start of some of the most outrageously courageous theater, music, art and dance of the year. On Wednesday, the festival kicks off what amounts to the city's own two-week grand tour through other people's cultures.
The dry statistics include 45 performances from 12 countries in seven venues. Most of the experiences (the Beckett festival in 1996, the Pinter celebration in 2001, Ariane Mnouchkine's "Les Éphémères" last year) have been anything but dry.
Weeks ago, the festival received a special achievement award from the New York Drama Critics Circle. And, indeed, this year's theater choices are especially enticing - including a 12-hour adaptation of Dostoyevsky's "The Demons" by the visionary German director Peter Stein in his American debut (in Italian with supertitles) and "Teorema," an adaptation of Pier Paolo Pasolini's menacing and seductive film by the madly brilliant Ivo van Hove (in Dutch with supertitles).
But first, I'd like to say a few words about what the festival calls, with understated slyness, "venues." In 2003, the venue for Deborah Warner's "Angel Project" was really nine separate locations around New York, experienced as a solitary walking tour. It began on the aerial tram over the East River to the abandoned Victorian smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island, then led to a cache of old religious books behind a peep-show storefront in midtown, and on to the 67th floor of the Chrysler Building. Along the way, people in fluffy angel wings would show up, then disappear.
Yes, of course, the festival also uses the standard theaters around Lincoln Center. But two summers ago, the festival gave me another revelation - the Park Avenue Armory on the Upper East Side. We were invited beyond the sturdy brick facade and back more than a century to the enchanting and massive Gothic-revival landmark with separate rooms designed by famous architects and designers, including one just for Tiffany. "Die Soldaten," a massive 20th century opera believed to be too ambitious to stage, came alive in the cavernous drill hall. Last year, the huge space proved it could also be intimate for another riveting French epic by Mnouchkine.
So what now? Where is the festival going to take us this time? Well, I just received three pages of instructions on how to get to Governors Island, the land transferred from the U.S. government to the "people of New York" in 2003. Both "The Demons" and "Teorema" will have their North American premieres on the newly reopened island off the southern tip of Manhattan. First we'll take a free ferry, then a 25-minute hike to an air-conditioned industrial warehouse.
"The Demons," featuring a 26-member troupe in the drama about radical politics in pre-revolutionary Russia, will be performed from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. only Saturday and next Sunday with four 15-minute intermissions and two meal breaks. Stein, who now lives in Italy with his actress wife Maddalena Crippa, will be among the performers. Tickets are $175-$225.
Other theater highlights include:
"Musashi," a Noh-inspired spectacle about vengeful 17th century samurai, directed by Yukio Ninagawa, runs Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Koch Theater, Lincoln Center. Tickets are $35-$100.
"A Disappearing Number," Simon McBurney's Olivier-winning creation with British company Complicite, explores "the mathematical and spiritual nature of infinity" through a friendship between a British and an Indian mathematician. This runs July 15-18 at the Koch Theater. Tickets are $35-$100.
"Teorema," adapted from the Pasolini film and novel by Ivo van Hove for the Toneelgroep Amsterdam, runs July 15-19 at Governors Island. Tickets are $40-$65.
"The Battle of Stalingrad" is Rezo Gabriadze's puppet adaptation of the 900-day Nazi siege of Stalingrad, in Russia with supertitles. This runs July 20-25 at the Clark Studio Theater, Rose Building, Lincoln Center. Tickets are $50-$60.
Of course, theater is far from the only festival focus. The complete works of Edgard Varese will be performed July 19 and 20 at Avery Fisher Hall. (Tickets are $30-$50, with both for $60.) Bill T. Jones, who just won a Tony Award for his choreography of "Fela!" returns to his dance roots with "Fondly Do We Hope . . . Fervently Do We Pray," an exploration of Abraham Lincoln, war, race and slavery, July 15-17 at the Rose Theater. Tickets are $30-$74.
Japanese dancer Saburo Teshigawara performs "Miroku," a new solo, Friday through next Sunday at the Rose. Tickets are $30-$60.
Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra are a Serbian punk/rock band in their U.S. debut July 14 at Avery Fisher Hall. (Tickets are $30-$50). And The Blind Boys of Alabama are at the center of three different programs of gospel, pop and country, July 12, 14 and 16 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center. Tickets are $35-$45.
Contact lincolncenterfestival.org or phone 212-721-6500 for information about these and the other attractions. And I'll keep trying not to blame the festival for making it so essential that New Yorkers skip the beach and stay in town in July.