New Orleans' performing arts scene spans the spectrum of culture starting with three major organizations and a slew of theater venues. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (wwwlpomusic.org) debuts new conductor Carlos Prieto in November. Meanwhile, his predecessor, Klauspeter Siebel, kicks off the season with its Symphonic Shakespeare performance on Sept. 15 and 17; the New Orleans Ballet Association's (www.nobadance.com) dedication to presenting the best in modern dance continues with the return of Complexions, formed by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater stars Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden; the New Orleans Opera Association's (www.neworleansopera.org) season opens with the classic Otello on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1.
New Orleans also has one of the scrappiest theater communities in the nation, with several locals signed on as members of the Screen Actors Guild and working on Hollywood productions and a nice crop of college students coming up. Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carr (www.lepetittheatre.com), one of the oldest theaters in the nation, presents traditional theater including some of best musicals of the season; Southern Rep Theater (www.southernrep.com) offers the best in contemporary and regional theater, starting with the world premiere of Betsy Howie's adaptation of her best-seller, Callie's Tally, starting Oct. 5. Le Chat Noir (www.cabaretlechatnoir.com) presents a steady stream of cabaret and intimate theater offerings, not the least of which includes the late-September return of New York cabaret superstar Andrea Marcovicci, this time singing hits by Fred Astaire. The Saenger Theatre's (www.saengertheatre.com) "Broadway in New Orleans" series opens its season with the Tony Award-winning blockbuster Les Miserables on Oct. 25.
The roots of the city's African-American theater tradition run deep, starting with Jomo Kenyatta Bean's Ethiopian Theater but also including the relative upstart Anthony Bean Community Theater & Acting School (www.anthonybeantheater.com).
It may seem like a hoof to Uptown students, but Metairie's Jefferson Performing Arts Society (www.jpas.org) offers a wide array of local and out-of-town music, dance and musical-theater events; last year JPAS added a venue in nearby Westwego to double the cultural offerings in Jefferson Parish.
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The visual-arts scene has become so large that American Style magazine recently ranked New Orleans as the No. 1 arts destination among mid-sized cities. That's probably because the visual arts can be viewed at such august venues as the New Orleans Museum of Art (www.noma.org) -- which debuts its Blue Winds Dancing collection of Native American art on Nov. 13 -- and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (www.ogdenmuseum.org), which has several new exhibitions including its Recent Acquisitions of Paintings and Sculpture. The Contemporary Arts Center (www.cacno.org) is certainly well known for curating such impressive musical series as the NEA Jazz Masters on Tour series (featuring McCoy Tyner on Sept. 1) but also hosts some of the most important art-walk parties such as October's Art for Arts' Sake, which in part will help kick off the CAC's 2005 Louisiana Biennial exhibit of seven of the state's top artists. The National D-Day Museum (www.ddaymuseum.org) features rotating exhibits along with special events that study the history of World War II.
But there's also a seemingly endless array of galleries that cover the expanse of the Warehouse Arts District, long stretches of Magazine Street, and parts of Central City -- the latter area featuring Barrister's Gallery, Ash Cultural Arts Center and The Neighborhood Gallery with their focus on cutting-edge and African-American art. (Check out the New Orleans Arts District Association at www.neworleansart.org.)
New Orleans' African-American culture is unique to the rest of the United States in ways that simply have to be seen and experienced. All you have to do is find out about the traditional "second-line" season in which Mardi Gras Indians and/or brass bands roll through the streets of the city -- one of those moments that can unite the Big Easy.
Context is everything; to learn more about this culture, there are two places ripe for roaming: the New Orleans African-American Museum of Art, Culture & History (www.moaam.org), which features info on the Mardi Gras Indians, voodoo, second lines and jazz in general, and the Backstreet Cultural Museum (www.backstreetculturalmuseum.com). Both are located in the city's historic Treme neighborhood, the birthplace of jazz and just a stone's throw from the French Quarter.