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Arab artists "ready to engage in US dialogue" with showcase of culture, art

By Heather Yamour WASHINGTON, March 8(KUNA) -- As the political climate in the United States has changed, over 800 artists from across the Arab world have come together at the Kennedy Center to "engage Washington in a new dialogue" by showcasing arts from a region that is often overshadowed by conflict in the eyes of the American public.
The John F. Kennedy Center's three-week Arabesque festival, lasting from late-February to mid-March, is one of the largest and most ambitious endeavors to bring the best in theater, dance, music, fashion, literature, and cinema from 22 Arab countries to the US.
It brings to the stage for the first time many prominent Arab performers such as the Lebanese Caracalla Dance Theatre, Iraqi piano virtuoso Tami Meekoo, and Kuwaiti writer and director Sulayman Al-Bassam's adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III: An Arab Tragedy.
After five years of careful planning, the center's top curator Alicia Adams told KUNA, in an exclusive interview, that the timing of the festival has been good. Encouraged by President Barack Obama's administration's announcement that it would "start by listening" regarding America's relations with the Muslim world, Adams said the artists are very excited to take part.
"The artists say it's a different country with the new administration and they feel that it is more open, more receptive," said Adams, vice-president of international programming for the Kennedy Center. "They are all very anxious to engage in a new dialogue with Washington." The US audience is eager to participate too, according to organizers. Tickets for most of the performances have been sold out and the audiences have been "huge and seemingly very happy with the exhibitions as well as the performers," said Adams.
Aside from a strong presence from the US-Arab community, organizers said the festival has drawn one of the most diverse audiences ever seen at the Kennedy Center in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and age.
"People are very surprised at the works," according to Adams, who added she sought to make the arts of the Arab world resonate with the American public. "Certainly it's one step along the way to change the conversation about Arab people and culture." Arabesque, presented in cooperation with the League of Arab States, is the latest in a series of annual international festivals at the Kennedy Center to spotlight those regions of the world, as Adams describes, that have been "underserved" by the US in terms of presentations on stage.
She added "this is a region that needs further exploration." Past festivals have included Africa, Latin America, China and Japan.
For many of the Arab artists, the festival signals the start of a relationship with the US.
"This festival is a beginning for the artists. We now have a sense of who the artists are, where they are, and how to engage them here at the Kennedy Center." The festival also offers many traditional and contemporary art exhibitions featuring wedding dresses from the Arab world, as well as a 3-D film "Exploratorium" highlighting the Arab contributions to math, science, medicine, and astronomy during the 8-15 centuries.(end) hy.wsa KUNA 080941 Mar 09NNNN