An International Festival Celebrating the World’s Rivers and Their Cultures March 22 (World Water Day)–April 22, 2023 (Earth Day)
(WASHINGTON)—The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is proud to announce a full decade of programs dedicated to the protection and conservation of our environment, including biennial international festivals that will make the Kennedy Center a global stage for powerful works by artists who are shedding light on these issues and inspiring solutions.
The series kicks off this spring with RiverRun: arts nature impact, a celebration of the world’s rivers, the cultures they have spawned, and their role as life-sustaining and art-inspiring arteries that course through our planet. Fittingly, the festival will run from World Water Day (March 22) to Earth Day (April 22) and will feature hundreds of extraordinary international talents—musicians, actors, dancers, visual artists, authors, filmmakers, and chefs.
Rivers have historically been vital to mankind, connecting cultures and providing essential benefits such as food, trade, travel, energy, and innumerable other valuable resources.
“Our rivers have long played an important dual role as sources of inspiration, and as sources of life,” said Alicia Adams, Vice President of Dance and International Programming at the Kennedy Center. “I’m looking forward to welcoming audiences to RiverRun as we celebrate the history of many of the world’s significant waterways and the fascinating examples of how they are inspiring current and future generations.”
For four exciting weeks, RiverRun will carve an artistic path through the stages, grand halls, and terraces of the Kennedy Center as well as the studios and green spaces of the REACH—which links the Center to its own river, the Potomac. From a jazz concert that pays tribute to the Mississippi River and its influence on Louis Armstrong, to an art installation composed of river detritus, to classical Indian dance that honors the sacred Ganges, each event will convey the tremendous cultural impact of the world’s rivers. RiverRun will also present stimulating opportunities for dynamic interactions between artistic creativity, social responsibility, and community well-being, and will involve local, regional, national, and international participants.
The next international festival in the series will explore Space and is slated for 2025—the year that humankind aims to return to the moon. In 2027, the theme will be Movement and Energy; and in 2029, in the lead up to the 2030 goal set by the United Nations to find climate solutions, the focus will be Making Peace with Nature.
In even years (2024, 2026, 2028, and 2030), the Kennedy Center will host Art Biennales featuring visual and performing art that will develop the themes of each preceding festival, further exploring the connections between art, culture, and the environment.
All of these events will harness artistic creativity to address the challenges foreseen by President Kennedy six decades ago when he addressed the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations:
“Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world—or make it the last.”
“Throughout its history, the Kennedy Center’s remarkable International Festivals have celebrated the people of the world and their art. Now they are taking an exciting new turn, using the arts to explore humanity’s relationship with our planet and beyond,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter. “I am proud of the work and the vision of our team as we seek to utilize our platform as an arts leader to celebrate our planet and highlight the urgency to find global solutions to protect it.”
A listing of RiverRun programming as of January 24 follows, and is subject to change. Programming can be found HERE.
Armstrong by the Delta (WORLD PREMIERE)
April 4 | Eisenhower Theater
Celebrating the Mississippi River
In this world premiere, Grammy Award® winner Nicholas Payton leads a 12-member jazz band in a multimedia musical tribute to Satchmo’s formative years spent on Mississippi riverboats with bandleader Fate C. Marable.
Our Blue Planet: A Celebration of Earth and its Waters
April 5 | Terrace Theater
An exciting multi-media concert with music and video images from NASA and National Geographic will dramatize the story of rivers and climate change over the last 20 years on Planet Earth. The nationally acclaimed Catholic University Orchestra, Howard University’s Afro Blue, and young leaders of the environmental movement will tell the stories of the indispensable role of water in our lives with music designed to inspire and activate audiences. The concert will feature internationally recognized guest conductor Emil DeCou who led the Vital Signs of the Planet concert at the UN COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.
Malavika Sarukkai: River Sutra (WORLD PREMIERE)
April 5 & 6 | Family Theater
Celebrating the Ganges
The Ganga (Ganges) is the sacred river of India—flowing from the magnificent Himalayas, gathering tributaries, and streaming across the fertile plains of North India. As she flows through the subcontinent, she represents many facets simultaneously—human and divine, physical and metaphysical, worldly and spiritual. River Sutra traces these shifting dimensions of the Ganga—sinuous, complex, and mysterious. Presented in the language of classical dance from India with a unique sound and light design, River Sutra attempts to create for the viewer the fullness and depth of human experience, beauty, and the sacred associated with the River Ganga. For three decades, Malavika Sarukkai has been a hallmark dancer and choreographer in the traditional bharatanatyam style. She has been honored with numerous Indian awards including the Padma Shree from the President of India.
Scott Silven: Wonders
April 5-9 | Studio K at the REACH
As an acclaimed illusionist, mentalist, and performance artist, Scott Silven pushes the boundaries of his craft by creating stylish, smart, and uniquely immersive performances that mesmerize audiences across the globe. Hailed by Vogue as a “world-renowned mentalist,” his work has been described as “a marvel” (The New York Times), “truly astonishing” (The Daily Beast), and theater that “wows everyone” (The New Yorker) through a combination of “elegance, sheer mind power, and profound philosophical insight” (Manhattan Digest).
Vân-Ánh Võ: Mekong: SOUL (WORLD PREMIERE)
April 7 | Terrace Theater
Celebrating the Mekong River
In Mekong: SOUL, Emmy Award®–winning musician Vân-Ánh Võ, composer Jonathan Berger, and the Apollo Chamber Players tell three powerful and multi-sensory stories about life on the Mekong River of Southeast Asia. With music, audiences will follow a journey along the river and hear the sounds of Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai, Lao, and Burmese communities. With dance, they will see the pains of departure from the homeland and the struggles faced by those torn from the river. With spoken word and moving images, all can appreciate the bonds of the mother who sustains life whether on the river or in diaspora.
Social Tango Project
April 8 | Eisenhower Theater
Celebrating the Rio de le Plata
Originating in the 1880s along the Rio de la Plata between Argentina and Uruguay, the tango has since spread to the rest of the world, winning the hearts of dancers around the globe. A social dance, tango enables people of different ages, cultures, and backgrounds to meet in an “embrace.” In the U.S. premiere of this stunning interactive and immersive dance performance from Buenos Aires, Social Tango encourages the audience to embrace the tango and make it their own.
Youth Orchestra Tom Jobim with Special Guest, Eugenia León: The Amazon Concert
April 11 | Eisenhower Theater
Celebrating the Amazon River
São Paulo’s Youth Orchestra Tom Jobim presents this concert celebrating the Amazon River and the exuberant beauty of Brazilian nature. The concert will include pieces by icons of Brazilian popular music including Tom Jobim, Dori Caymmi, Chico Buarque, and Milton Nascimento. Founded over 20 years ago, the Youth Orchestra Tom Jobim is dedicated to highlighting Brazilian composers. Special Guest: Renowned Mexican singer and Latin Grammy Award® winner Eugenia León
A Moonlit Night on the Spring River
April 12 | Terrace Theater
The enchanting and diverse landscapes and rivers of China have inspired and shaped Chinese art and music for centuries. In this unique concert, curated and led by composer/conductor Huang Ruo, landscape and soundscape merge. As ancient and new music come together in performance, reflecting the influence of these elements through history, space and time also converge to create an unforgettable experience of the beautiful waterways, geography, and rich culture of this vast continent.
Works will include pieces for voices, pipa, violin, cello, and piano. Program highlights include the Yellow River Piano Concerto (4th Movement), A Moonlit Night on the Spring River, and “Seascape” from Ruo’s Angel Island Oratorio.
Rolling on the River
April 12 | D.C. Wharf
A free, 60-minute outdoor pop concert on the floating stage at the D.C. Wharf celebrating life on the Potomac River with music, storytelling, and Broadway and Helen Hayes Award-winning musical stars performing your favorite “river songs.” Presented in collaboration with DC’s environmental, cultural, and community groups that link us to our own Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.
Heather Raffo: Tomorrow Will Be Sunday
April 13 | Family Theater
From the Tigris to the Detroit River, Tomorrow Will Be Sunday is an epic map of a play linking the world’s migration patterns to the daily transactions of our lives. An ambitious theatrical experiment, this staged reading of a new work by Iraqi-American playwright Heather Raffo invites us to imagine a new relationship to human value, by first unpacking what we value in a world where all populations must confront not only global migration, but their own.
LEONARDISSIMO! — Leonardo da Vinci’s World and Its Waters
April 14 | Eisenhower Theater
Part of RiverRun’s “FLOW” Literary Series curated by author Marie Arana, this stunning multimedia presentation about Leonardo da Vinci delves into the great master’s obsession with water. From the rivers that course through his paintings to his well-documented scientific experiments with the Rio Arno, Leonardo was centuries before his time in understanding the power and dynamics of water. LEONARDISSIMO! will feature celebrated biographer Walter Isaacson as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s world-renowned specialist on Leonardo, Carmen Bombach. With footage from Ken Burns’ forthcoming documentary on Leonardo (scheduled for a 2024 release) and lively commentaries from astrophysicist Mario Livio, internationally-renowned Cuban sculptor/painter Roberto Fabelo, and Francesca Fiorani, professor of art history at the University of Virginia, this show promises to give us an unparalleled view of an obsession.
Terje Isungset Ice Quartet
April 14 & 15 | Terrace Theater
Internationally-known as the pioneer of Ice Music, Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset creates musical instruments—harps, drums, percussion, horns, and an “iceofone”—from blocks of natural ice harvested from rivers and lakes. He and his Ice Quartet allow the ice to “sing” in this innovative performance dedicated to nature with music from Isungset’s albums Winter Songs and Beauty of Winter.
Afropop Worldwide: The African Rivers Project
April 15 | Eisenhower Theater
Celebrating the Congo and Niger Rivers
This evening of music focused on two great African Rivers, the Niger and the Congo, will be hosted by Georges Collinet, a veteran broadcaster best known to Americans for his 35-year run as the host of public radio’s Peabody Award–winning program Afropop Worldwide, and Banning Eyre, a writer and producer for Afropop Worldwide since its beginnings in the late 1980s. The first part of the evening will present a journey along the Niger, featuring an ensemble of world-class traditional musicians from Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. The second part of the evening presents the contemporary music of Congo, joyous sounds from a region with a troubled history.
The music will be enhanced with visual imagery of these two spectacular rivers.
More performances will be announced at a later date.
March 22–April 22, 2023
Portraits of Wisdom
by Raiz Campos (Amazon/Brazil)
Hall of States
One of the greatest expressions of graffiti in the North region of Brazil, Raiz Campos’s work transforms the imaginary into pieces that represent the Amazon’s flora, fauna, and native peoples’ lives, outlined in vibrant colors and mixed techniques on walls, floating houses, and overpasses throughout the Amazon region. His greatest contribution is in portraying indigenous characters in their daily life, as a way of recognizing and of showing respect to native peoples.
Paraná de las Palmas River
by Alexandra Kehayoglou (ArgentinaGreece)
Hall of States
Kehayoglou’s installation is a large immersive textile work, a hand-tufted wool carpet that is an outcry against deforestation and devastation. Renowned for her call for environmental awareness, Kehayoglou’s repertoire includes memories of various native landscapes that the artist has visited and desires to preserve over time. Her “pastizales” (grasslands), fields, and shelter tapestries are like sublime realities that the viewer can contemplate or utilize.
Flying Rivers (Festival Commission)
by Kaarina Kaikkonen (Finland)
Hall of Nations
Kaikkonen’s installation addresses the “flying rivers”—major air currents that carry vital water vapor from forested regions to distant water basins, determining rainfall patterns around the globe. Kaikkonen will use thousands of shirts collected from Kennedy Center staff and volunteers, plus donations from the D.C.-area.
Mississippi Colors (WORLD PREMIERE)
by Nicholas Floc’h (France)
Hall of Nations
Nicolas Floc’h is a French photographer and visual artist working with installation, photography, sculpture, and performance to question our changing times. He seeks to create socially engaged work that can create awareness around social, environmental, and economic issues. The artist traveled 12,500 miles along the Mississippi watershed to document the water cycle and the impact of humans on their environment through photography.
Survivors (Sobrevivientes) (WORLD PREMIERE)
by Roberto Fabelo (Cuba)
Fabelo’s installation is a herd of life-size rhinoceroses that are tied with ribbons as symbolic gifts from nature. Rhinos are unable to survive without water, depending on it for temperature control, digestion, and scent communication. Internationally acclaimed Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo is known for his illustrations, ceramic work, sculpture, and paintings. His work has been exhibited worldwide and he is the recipient of numerous awards.
The Shape of Water (Festival Commission)
by Celia Ledón (Cuba)
REACH Welcome Pavilion
Ledón’s installation draws inspiration from the female figure as a vessel and as a personification of the many mythological deities associated with water. This work will represent the Potomac River and will be created from plastic waste collected from the river in a collaborative process with students from the Innovation Center at the George Washington University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science under the direction of Dr. Erica Cusi Wortham. This exhibit is in partnership with the Potomac Riverkeepers, and the Chesapeake Potomac Dolphin Project.
Literature + Film
April 9 & 16 | Justice Forum
Selected films will be screened, followed by Q & A sessions with directors, environmentalists, and artists. Films to be announced at a later date and will be listed on the Center’s website.
“FLOW”—A Literary Series
April 15 | Family Theater
Rivers and waterways have inspired storytelling since human history began on the banks of majestic estuaries. RiverRun’s Literary Series, curated by author Marie Arana, celebrates great written works that reflect the beauty and importance of our waters. “FLOW” is a three-part series that looks at writing about water from markedly different perspectives, including science, art, fiction, adventure, and the environment.
In addition to LEONARDISSIMO! in the Eisenhower Theater on April 14, two programs will feature distinguished writers who address rivers and oceans in distinct ways. The Waters We Seek to Master will focus on adventure, fiction, and memoir. The Waters We Need to Save will address exploration, history, and climate change. Among the many stars of these programs are Candice Millard, author of River of Doubt and River of Gods; Sylvia Earle, the most extraordinary explorer, marine biologist, and oceanographer of our time; Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News as well as her brand new Fen, Bog & Swamp; Simon Winchester, journalist and author of The River at the Center of the World, and releasing this year, Knowing What We Know; science and travel writer David Quammen, author of The Chimp and the River and The Tangled Tree, as well as hundreds of published articles on the earth’s natural wonders. Other authors featured will be Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing; W. Ralph Eubanks, memoirist and novelist of life along the Mississippi; and Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River, whose work explores the intersection of social justice and environmental issues in the borderlands. Book signings will follow the events in partnership with Politics and Prose.
Weaving the Ocean (WORLD PREMIERE)
by Ari Bayuaji (Canada/Indonesia)
April 4–16 | Location TBD
A native of Indonesia residing in Canada, Ari Bayuaji is known mainly for his art installations that incorporate the use of found and ready-made objects that he finds in different parts of the world, thereby exposing himself to the different mechanisms of the cultures. Weaving the Ocean addresses pressing environmental and social issues—marine pollution and the destruction of aquatic life—but through a conciliatory approach that endeavors to transform the “negative” into a “‘positive.”
Spiral (WORLD PREMIERE)
by FABELOHUNG (Roberto C. Fabelo Hung) (USA/Cuba)
April 4 – 16 | REACH Grounds
FABELOHUNG’s large metal sculpture is covered with UV impressions and resin that symbolize the waves of the headwaters of rivers, flowing with vivid colors. FABELOHUNG’s work includes performance art, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video art, virtual reality, and robotics.
Regatta for Solutions
April 4–16 | Skylight Pavilion
This interactive exhibit showcases innovation and creativity in the face of environmental challenges across the centuries. It will feature individuals who have come up with inspirational solutions for the climate crisis.
River Island | Isla de Ríos
April 4-16 | PT-109 at the REACH
Created in collaboration with award-winning author and illustrator Edwin Fontánez, River Island will be an immersive play space for children—featuring books, videos, and activities about nature and the environment—inspired by the culture of the Taínos, the indigenous inhabitants of Puerto Rico.
More exhibits will be announced at a later date.
Dates and locations to be determined
This series of special culinary events, each associated with a particular river, features special guests including chefs, artists, and environmentalists in conversation about the river and its associated culture and cuisine. Dates and locations to be announced.
River Ballroom: Social Tango Milonga
Skylight Pavilion | Studio K at the REACH
This interactive dance event from Social Tango Project will offer guests demonstrations and instruction on Tango with live music.
April 6, 7, 8, 13, 14 & 15 | Locations around Washington, D.C.
Ferry Tales is a series of site-specific performances celebrating the Potomac watershed. At locations along the river, storytellers will share short tales with passengers and passers-by. Woven from community interviews, science, local history and legend, these performances honor the depths of DC’s waters and the many forms of life that call them home. Come listen to the river!
Presented in partnership with the Kennedy Center’s International Programming and Social Impact departments, The Laboratory for Global Performance & Politics, The Earth Commons—Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment & Sustainability, and with support from Georgetown Heritage.
Potomac River Plein Air Outdoor Painting
April 8, 9, 15 & 16 | REACH Grounds
This event pays homage to the painters who confront the many challenges of working en plein air in order to better capture the beauty of nature on canvas. Guest artists will paint the Potomac River from various points on the Kennedy Center grounds. Visitors will have the chance to observe the artists as they paint on location and discover the skills and techniques used to work outdoors. The completed artwork will be displayed in a virtual gallery on the Kennedy Center website.
April 10-16 | Studio K at the REACH
Throughout the second week of the festival, the River Club in Studio K will host events themed around rivers. Celebrations will include a Congolese Dance Party with Afropop Worldwide.
Dates Theater Show
April 4, 2023 Eisenhower Theater Armstrong by the Delta
April5,2023 Terrace Theater Our Blue Planet
April 5 & 6, 2022 Family Theater Malavika Sarukkai: River Sutra
April 5-9, 2023 Studio K Theater at the REACH Scott Silven: Wonders
April 7, 2023 Terrace Theater Vân-Ánh Võ : Mekong: SOUL
April8,2023 Eisenhower Theater Social Tango Project
April 11, 2023 Eisenhower Theater Youth Orchestra Tom Jobim with Eugenia León
April 12, 2023 Terrace Theater A Moonlit Night on the Spring River
April 12, 2023 D.C. Wharf Rolling on the River
April 13, 2023 Family Theater Heather Raffo: Tomorrow Will Be Sunday
April 14, 2023 Eisenhower Theater LEONARDISSIMO!
April 14 & 15, 2023 Terrace Theater Terje Isungset Ice Quartet
April 15, 2023 Eisenhower Theater Afropop Worldwide: The African Rivers Project
Literature + Film
April 9 & 16, 2023 Justice Forum Documentary Series
April 15, 2023 Family Theater “FLOW”—A Literary Series
April 6, 7, 8, & 13, 14, 15 Locations around Washington, D.C. Ferry Tales
April 7, 2023 Skylight Pavilion River Ballroom: Social Tango Milonga
April 8,9,15, & 16 2023 REACH Grounds Potomac River Plein Air Outdoor Painting
April 10-16 , 2023 Studio K at the REACH River Club
Date TBD Location TBD Culinary
The festival will also feature a series of panel discussions, film screenings, and activities for children and families to be announced at a later date. Visit Kennedy-Center.org/RiverRun for the most up-to-date schedule.
Support for international programming at the Kennedy Center is provided by the Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts.
Member On Sale: 10 a.m., ET Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Public On Sale: 10 a.m., ET Tuesday, January 31, 2023
For more information about the Kennedy Center, please visit our website.