Arts Desk

Talk About Options: Atlas’ Intersections Festival Starts Today

Today is the start of the Intersections Festival at H Street’s Atlas Performing Arts Center, a multi-medium event that’s going to continue for the next three weekends. I have to say, it looks pretty damn impressive. According to the publicity materials, the festival includes 600 D.C. artists in 100 performances spread out over nine days. The underlying theme is crossing and connecting, and all the performances reflect that in some way, either by combining genres or mixing people of different races/ages/classes.

The list of performances fairly boggles the mind. Tonight, for example, prior to the official kickoff party at 9 p.m., there are free concerts at 6:30 and 8, a performance by the storytelling organization SpeakeasyDC at 7; and a play by New Galaxy Theatre Group at 8:30.

Spoken word and music seem to be the best-represented genres, but I’m happy to report that there’s also a decent amount of dance in the mix. Tomorrow night at 7 p.m. is the Dinner Party, a mixed-medium performance event that’s usually pretty heavy on the movement. The Dinner Party is normally a place for Washington artists to show uncurated, in-progress work, but tomorrow night is an exception; it’s called the Gourmet Menu, and will include a selection of the series’ best performers.

On Sunday, local poet-performer Holly Bass, together with Margot Greenlee and Matt Mahaney, who’ve both danced with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, will show “First Gen,” a “docu-dance” created together with Sidwell Friends' dance ensemble.

There are several other interesting dance performances over the next few weekends, including an intriguing collaboration next weekend between the In Series, which puts on small operas, and the Washington Ballet’s Studio Company. They’ll be performing two Mozart operas, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte.

What strikes me as cool about this festival is the organizers’ decision to overlap performances and schedule free concerts and other events in the lobby—all of which encourages hanging out at the Atlas, making it more of a scene, rather than simply a performance venue. I’ve been struck over the past few years by how little seems to occur there, despite the fact that it’s a beautiful space with a few different stages and a lot of versatility. The center might be a hub for H Street denizens, but its events don’t often seem to draw folks from outside that area.

In part, maybe that’s a distance thing: getting to H Street is a bit of a haul if you’re coming from Northwest. That doesn’t seem to factor in when people want to go out drinking and barhopping—and the distance certainly didn’t stop people from coming en masse to the H Street Festival last September, which was packed with thousands of bodies. Maybe that’s because H Street itself is a bit of a scene, a place to hang out with a lot of options. So taking the “scene” route and making the festival something of an all-day, all-evening event strikes me as a good call.

The Atlas just formally promoted its interim director, Sam Sweet, to the executive director position last week; Sweet has extensive experience working with the Shakespeare and Signature theaters, and specializes in organizations in transition. So I’m hoping that, with Sweet at the helm, the Intersections Festival will mark the start of a new, dynamic period for the Atlas.

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