The Virginia Arts Festival’s 24th season will bring Norfolk State University Theatre alumni back home to the area and take the rest of us far away—to Wonderland, no less. Among the wide array of music, theater, dance and visual arts offerings from the VAF this winter and spring are Hong Kong Ballet’s Alice (in Wonderland) and Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play.
A Soldier’s Play, Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, confronts racism and explores power against the backdrop of a murder mystery set on a Louisiana army base. The play is said to have launched the careers of Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson when they performed in the Negro Ensemble Company’s first New York production in 1981.
A Soldier’s Play is a co-presentation between the Arts Festival and Norfolk State University. VAF Artistic Director Rob Cross said that he’s excited about the collaborations involved in the project. “One of the festival’s great successes is our partnerships with local arts organizations,” he said.
Norfolk State’s Professor Anthony Stockard, director of NSU’s theater company, said the idea to produce the play evolved as he and Cross discussed the number of NSU alums who have succeeded in the wider world of theater.
“Rob and I were talking about how many of our alumni have moved on to professional theater,” Stockard said. “There is a long legacy of high-quality theater at Norfolk State. Many of our students move on to regional theater and beyond. Rob and I started talking about the idea of a homecoming.” A Soldier’s Play will be performed from May 28–31 at Brown Hall Mainstage Theater at NSU.
If A Soldier’s Play offers a homecoming, Hong Kong Ballet promises the other aspect of VAF’s mission, a dazzling performance whose artists come to Coastal Virginia from across the globe. The company’s artistic director Septime Webre has choreographed a production of Alice (in Wonderland) that transports the audience to a different world.
Presented April 17–19, the ballet promises the company’s usual blend of classical and contemporary ballet traditions with a production full of a feverish, dreamy excitement to capture Lewis Carroll’s magical tale. Bikes and ballerinas will fly from the ceilings, flamingos and hedgehogs will scamper about, a sultry Queen of Hearts will command a playing-card corps, and a jabberwocky puppet will glide through the forest, held aloft by a team of dancers.
Cross says that it’s particularly meaningful to have the dancers of Hong Kong Ballet come to Virginia this season in light of the ongoing political situation in the company’s home city.
Another highlight of the VAF season is the final performance of local luminary JoAnn Falletta as music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Falletta, who has transformed the local arts scene with legendary talent, creative vision and elegant graciousness, will end her tenure conducting the Virginia Symphony Orchestra with a bang as the VSO presents the virtuosic tours de force of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and his Emperor Piano Concerto with guest artist Olga Kern on May 15–17.
From Béla Fleck to Wynton Marsalis with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, from Sound of Music sing-alongs to a sultry cabaret by Meow Meow, the music offerings of this year’s VAF lineup have their usual something-for-everyone appeal. Other dance offerings include the dynamic Collage Dance Collective based in Memphis and the all-male delights of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
The Attucks Theatre will host The Black Mozart and Attucks Jazz and the Virginia International Tattoo will offer its majestic celebration of patriotism, music and international friendship with more than 1,000 performers from around the world. In May, the VAF will present Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition at MacArthur Center—the visual feast uses state-of-the-art technology to bring the Renaissance ceilings to Norfolk. Rob Fisher will lead the VSO in a production of “Victory at Sea.”
As always, the VAF will pair many of its productions with educational offerings, reaching tens of thousands of students every year through performances, classes and residencies. Last year, more than 20,000 students attended VAF productions through student matinees. “It’s a season of joy,” said Cross.
For tickets and information on the Virginia Arts Festival’s wide array of offerings, visit VaFest.org, call 757-282-2822 or visit the VAF box office at 440 Bank St., Norfolk.