We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Klay’s war writing is a must-read.
March 13 at Politics & Prose

American fiction writers caught up with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just as troops started to pull out en masse. So a writer like Phil Klay is challenged not just to capture the conflict but to sell readers on a time most would rather move past. His debut story collection, Redeployment, is bracing on both fronts: witty, empathetic, and informed about the visceral chaos of war and the bureaucratic chaos of its aftermath. Klay, a Marine vet who served in Iraq, introduces a host of soldiers whose no-nonsense voices cover up a cauldron of emotional, moral, and spiritual concerns. —Mark Athitakis

For all his classical tendencies, Mendelsohn doesn’t condescend.
March 11 at Politics & Prose

With cultural criticism increasingly defined by writers claiming narrow niches, Daniel Mendelsohn is an old-school polymath. His background is in classics, and his 2012 collection of essays, Waiting for the Barbarians, draws deeply on Greek and Latin literature. But he also applies his smarts to contemporary middlebrow material—Avatar, Game of Thrones—in a way that never snobbishly condescends and reveals something about the millennia-long traditions of archetypes and storytelling. Even when he’s taking down Mad Men, you want to binge-watch with him, see what he’s seeing. —Mark Athitakis

Nobody does pancake material like Kinane.
April 10 to 13 at DC Improv

Kyle Kinane is the sort of misanthropic storyteller who has a deep understanding of himself and human nature. He also knows how to construct a joke with multiple payoffs, so he’s already working toward his next punchline while his audience reels from his last one. In his last special, Whiskey Icarus, he spent 20 minutes talking about a man who brought pancakes onto an airplane in a plastic bag, and it’s about as funny as anything I’ve heard last year. When he comes to the DC Improv this April, he’s certain to bring the same hilarious, casual intelligence.

This all-male Brazilian troupe should be experienced live.
Feb. 28 to March 1 at Kennedy Center

About once a season, a small international dance company gets a big break and lands a booking on the Kennedy Center stage. This year, that troupe is Compagnie Käfig, an all-male Brazilian troupe that blends urban hip-hop, African dance, and the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Google them, and you’ll find very little written in English, but there are plenty of YouTube clips featuring ridiculously fit shirtless men engaged in an artful game of leapfrog. Translation: Go see them live. —Rebecca J. Ritzel

Don’t expect leotards and tutus.
March 5 to 9 at the Kennedy Center

Pop and rock music aren’t usually the backing soundtrack for ballet, but the Washington Ballet is bringing them all together in its new program, “British Invasion.” A Day in the Life, choreographed by Trey McIntyre, features the music of The Beatles, while Rooster, choreographed by Christopher Bruce, explores the battle of the sexes set to Rolling Stones hits. Don’t expect leotards and tutus; costumes will include velvet sport coats and slinky black dresses. To help cool down this battle of the Brits, the program also includes Christopher Wheeldon’s There Where She Loved, set to the music of Frederic Chopin and Kurt Weill.

These top dancers give D.C. residents a reason to hop on the Orange Line.
March 7 to 8 at George Mason University Center for the Arts

Wait. Wasn’t the Joffrey just here? It was. But Chicago’s leading ballet company was at the Kennedy Center, and all it did was The Nutcracker. The wonderful news about this program at George Mason is that the troupe will perform two nights of what should be pretty great mixed-rep programs, and tickets max out at $50. The bad news for D.C. residents, obviously, is that it’s all the way out in Fairfax. But if you want to see these top dancers perform works including Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs and Christopher Wheeldon’s stunning duet After the Rain, then start planning your trip now. —Rebecca J. Ritzel

This intriguing troupe should have been booked in D.C. years ago.
March 14 to 15 at American Dance Institute

One international dance company that should have made a local appearance years ago—ahem, Kennedy and Clarice Smith centers—will finally make its D.C.-area debut at Rockville’s American Dance Institute. Kidd Pivot is based in Vancouver and helmed by Crystal Pite, a former William Forsythe dancer who is widely regarded as North America’s leading female Gen-X choreographer. Pite founded the company in 2002, and from 2010 to 2012, Kidd Pivot was actually based in Frankfurt, Germany. Now the dancers are back on this side of the pond and have toured pretty much everywhere but Washington. Pite specializes in eerie narratives, and at ADI, the company will perform Tempest Replica, her series of abstract portraits based on Shakespearean characters.

At Atlas, Brown tells a physical story of racial stereotyping.
April 4 to 6 at Atlas Performing Arts Center

Choreographer/dancer/storyteller Camille A. Brown’s dancers don’t just glide through the air; they slice it. Brown has worked with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and on Broadway (on the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire), but she’s also done compelling work staging movements on the New York City subway. At this showcase for Brown and her company, the disquieting piece Mr. TOL E. RAncE, inspired by Spike Lee’s satirical Bamboozled, will bear witness to the history of racial stereotypes in the entertainment industry, particularly minstrel shows.

An international showcase from a daring performer
April 6 at Kennedy Center

As the Guardian tells it, British hip-hop artist Jonzi D, host of this international showcase of hip-hop dance, was once offered an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire; it’s a monarchy thing) for “services to British dance.” And he declined it, because of its symbolic association with colonization. The man is a legend. This showcase at Kennedy Center will feature performances from South Korea (Project Soul), France (Sebastien Ramirez and Honji Wang), and Brazil (Companhia Urbana), all under one roof.

A reprise of the young company’s early success
April 9 to May 4 at Meade Theatre Lab at Flashpoint

Nascent theatrical outfit Pointless Theatre Company’s first production, Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet premiered at Capital Fringe in 2010, and won a Best of the Fringe award for “Best Experimental” piece. Hot on the heels of another hit, January’s Minnie the Moocher, the sizable company now reprises its first success. Music by Tchaikovsky, ballet technique by Jim Henson.

Forgive the bad name: This is a series with bright ideas.
May 7 to 17 at Kennedy Center

“New Moves” is a lame name for what should be the coolest programming the National Symphony has performed in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in quite some time. At this 11-day festival, the orchestra will play works commissioned for or inspired by dance. The offerings go far beyond balletic chestnuts to include Michael Daugherty’s Superman-inspired “Red Cape Tango” and Duke Ellington’s “Harlem.” The NSO is also inviting three troupes to perform new works on what will be a slightly cramped stage. Those commissions went to contemporary choreographers Larry Keigwin and Jessica Lang, as well as artists from New Ballet Ensemble of Memphis. The latter is best known for spawning Yo-Yo Ma’s jookin’ pal Lil Buck. But there are more talented hip-hop dancers where he came from, and they, too, deserve a chance at classical crossover fame.

A choreographer who deserves the “genius” title
May 17 to 18 at Atlas Performing Arts Center

Choreographer Kyle Abraham received a MacArthur Foundation grant in 2013 for his innovative work blending hip-hop, ballet technique, and distinctly American storytelling. He deserves the label “genius” that comes with the grant, but so does Carla Perlo, founding director of Dance Place. Way back in 2011, she had the foresight to sign a contract with the young choreographer and present his company, Abraham.In.Motion, three years in a row. Thus far, we’ve seen Pavement, a rumination on street violence set to Vivaldi, and The Radio Show, an ode to Abraham’s father and old-school African-American radio. Now comes Live: The Realest MC, a fusion of the Pinocchio tale and a coming-out story. If these combos sound improbable, they are. But what puts Abraham in the “genius” category is that he makes them work. —Rebecca J. Ritzel

Time. Resources. Both overrated when it comes to filmmaking.
The competition runs from May 2 to 4; films show at AFI Silver Theatre May 8 to 11

The rules are simple: Local directors compete to see who can make the best film in the span of 48 hours. What do you have to do in those two days? To paraphrase Gary Oldman: “EVERYTHING!” Write a script, cast actors, shoot, edit, tear at the fragile pieces of your remaining sanity. Is it worth it? Well, if you win, you get a trophy and more film equipment. If you don’t win, your work will still get a screening at the majestic AFI Silver Theatre. But heck, you’ll probably be too exhausted to care.

They’re watching.
Feb. 13 to July 26 at the Library of Congress’ James Madison Memorial Building

Before the National Security Agency, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) was listening. Not to determine whether you were planning terrorism or downloading porn illegally, but to make sure its members were paid when their works were broadcast, be it via radio, online, or in a restaurant. The Library of Congress’ “ASCAP: One Hundred Years and Beyond” exhibition features 45 items, including sheet music, photographs, and more, from artists such as Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, Garth Brooks, and Ne-Yo. But will royalties be paid for the audio and video clips? We’ll check with Big Brother.

Amid a conservative museum season, the modernists bring the action.
March 1 to Aug. 31 at Phillips Collection

In a season with a high rate of snoozy work (Andrew Wyeth and Degas/Cassatt at National Gallery of Art, for example), it’s a relief that unsung modernist painting will get its due somewhere in the city this year. To be sure, “Made in the USA: American Masters From the Phillips Collection, 1850–1970,” is a remix of the permanent collection. But it’s one in which artists such as Arthur Dove, Milton Avery, and Stuart Davis will take pride of place in the museum. This is a macho painting show, featuring all the usual names: Rothko, Still, Motherwell. If those painters strike you as overexposed, go instead for Stefan Hirsch and Allen Tucker, also-ran painters who never quite had their day, or the Ashcan school’s John Sloan, painters no one ever sees enough.

A major retrospective from a master of street photography
March 2 to June 8 at National Gallery of Art

When the National Gallery of Art mounts a major retrospective of the work of Garry Winogrand (1928–1984) in March, expect a reconsideration of what we thought we knew about the photographer most famous for his rapid-fire, shoot-from-the-hip, crowded street scenes. “The idea that he was an extraordinarily prodigious shooter, a ‘carpet bomber,’ is actually a myth,” Leo Rubinfien, who helped curate the exhibit for the NGA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, told Aperture magazine last year. “From the time he started until 1971 … he was shooting 500 rolls of film a year on average, which is not very much: a roll and a half a day. The large numbers came much later. In fact, when they did come, that’s when the quality of the work fell off sharply, almost as if Winogrand knew that he was weakening and was struggling furiously against it.” Rubinfien had to make sense of an archive of 250,000 images Winogrand left behind when he died at 56; about half of the photographs in the exhibition have never previously been shown or published.

’70s and ’80s gender play goes on glorious display.
March 7 to April 25 at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions

Local artist, DJ, and schoolteacher Adrian Loving says that because his 2012 “Broadcast Unsafe” video-art exhibit explored how audio/visual technology has changed, he wanted to go with a more human theme for his next show. “Fade 2 Grey” will use a provocative one, looking at how musicians from the late ‘70s through the mid-‘80s toyed with gender. Installations will include video pieces focused on David Bowie, Grace Jones, Sylvester, Boy George, Prince, and Patti Smith, as well as album covers by new-romantic, hair-metal, and Jheri curl-funk bands alike. Loving promises more than just stock images of Prince in bikini briefs; he plans to alter and color the videos and show some of them on a white-fur-covered screen.

The shimmering video installation returns.
March 14 to April 20 at Corcoran

One of the best works to ever grace the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s famed rotunda, “Loop,” a collaboration between artist Jennifer Steinkamp and composer Jimmy Johnson, returns to the space this spring. The piece is a six-channel video installation that projects shimmering neon loops of light on the circular walls of the rotunda, to the mesmerizing soundtrack provided by Johnson. When the piece debuted at the 2000 “Media/Metaphor” biennale, it could almost be read as an homage to Gene Davis, who, in 1975—for a much earlier biennale—painted the walls in his signature vertical stripes. Plenty has changed since 2000, but this remains the best rotunda piece in recent memory. This time, though, you get to take your selfie with it.

Pop, large and small, and on paper.
March 21 to Aug. 31 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

While the term “pop art” isn’t one that many so-called pop artists were comfortable with, many of those artists had at least one thing in common: printmaking. “Pop Art Prints” is the latest in a series of rarely exhibited works on paper that the American Art Museum will host in a small suite of three galleries on its second floor. The exhibition will consist of works from the 1960s and include the usual suspects, like Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol, as well as the odds and ends of pop, like James Rosequist, Tom Wesselman, Jim Dine, and Allan D’Arcangelo. “Pop,” of course, never had to mean popular.

Contemporary Argentinian art at an underrecognized D.C. museum
March 27 to July 6 at Art Museum of the Americas

The District is a wonderful place to see art from across the world—though it means that you need to keep track of 176 different embassy calendars to find it. More of the world’s transnational unions should build institutions like the Art Museum of the Americas, a product of the Organization of American States and a place D.C. residents should make it a point to see a couple of times a year. “Territories and Subjectivities: Contemporary Art From Argentina” is the sort of exhibition that could have been held at Argentina’s Dupont Circle embassy, but the OAS has provided a museum that’s up to the standards of 33 innovative contemporary artists working in diverse media. So what say you, European Union? African Union? ASEAN? Time to step up.

Figurative paintings that explore troubling waters
April 12 to May 31 at Connersmith

It is important to note that painter Katie Miller is drawing directly from artists who are so large they are practically commercial brands, namely John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage. Her artworks—typically, realistic paintings of babies with distorted features—tap into the same Freudian themes while diverging into self-referential territory to question painting and its modes. Is it also important to mention that she’s autistic? Maybe not, but it isn’t something that the artist would shy away from: She’s an activist in the neurodiversity movement, which aims to expand the normative boundaries of mental health. With her figurative paintings, though, she dives deep into troubling waters.

Soak in the sounds.
April 24 to Aug. 10 at Artisphere

In music, the fermata symbol tells the performer to sustain a note or rest beyond its normal value. At Artisphere, “Fermata” means a sound-art exhibition curated by Cynthia Connolly and the Bluebrain brothers, Ryan and Hays Holladay. Sonic sculptures from the likes of electronic-music pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto and NASA Kepler scientist Lucianne Walkowicz will utilize a wall of speakers designed by sound artist John Henry Blatter. The exhibit is structured in three movements, with the sound works revolving through approximately three-week cycles. Imagine a fermata over the speakers as you soak in the sounds for as long as you choose.

A look at the artist after her Surrealist beginnings
April 25 to Sept. 14 at National Museum of Women in the Arts

Meret Oppenheim is best known for her work “The Object”: a fur-lined teacup and saucer crafted during the height of Surrealism. It ended up in Alfred Barr’s Museum of Modern Art, and eventually overshadowed her remaining 50 years of art-making. A year after an international celebration of her 100th birthday, the National Museum of Women in the Arts will open “Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships” this April, and it will feature the Furtak collection—works and objects recently acquired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Several of the pieces will reflect the influence that friendship had on Oppenheim’s work, much of it made long after her Surrealist beginnings.

When it comes to Wyeth, don’t hate. Appreciate.
May 4 to Nov. 30 at National Gallery of Art

Andrew Wyeth often got a bad rap from critics in the late 20th century. When art trends shifted from AbEx to Pop to Minimalism, he stuck to representational works, often painted in watercolor and tempera. Derided as sentimental, he would have argued that he simply painted what he saw, what he liked, and what he knew. This May, the National Gallery of art mounts “Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In,” an exhibit of 60 Wyeth works. Centered on NGA’s acquisition of “Wind from the Sea,” the show focuses on Wyeth’s use of the window in his compositions, a device Hollywood often uses to frame dual action, or to psychologically contrast interior from exterior. Since Wyeth’s works were often painted in a remote coastal town in Maine, the only psychological contrast available would be that of two screaming silences. —John Anderson

Local greats return for DC9’s anniversary.
Feb. 14 at DC9

Happy Valentine’s Day, D.C.: This week, DC9 celebrates its 10th anniversary with a week’s worth of shows featuring reunions of the area’s best bands of yesteryear. The V-Day edition features D.C.-founded stoner/psychedelic band Dead Meadow, who returned back to its original lineup for last year’s Warble Womb, a 70-plus minute outing that finds the trio embracing its psychedelic experiments more than its heavy riffs. Dead Meadow hasn’t played locally in more than two years, but that’s recent compared to opener Apes, who hasn’t toured much since 2008 but reunited in 2013 to record with its original lineup, including singer Paul Weil. True love, indeed.

The East Coast debut of an opera based on a novel about… oh, you know.
Feb. 22 to March 8 at Kennedy Center

It’s a promising sign for the art form’s relevance that the highlight of Washington National Opera’s current season is an opera written in 2010, even if it’s based on an 1851 book that we all trudged through in high school and whose plot we only vaguely remember featured a white whale that served as a metaphor for…something. The show is not brand new, having premiered at the Dallas Opera, which co-commissioned the work by composer-librettist team Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer. But it’s an East Coast debut, involves a shipwreck, and is in English. I’ll forgive that the whale doesn’t make an onstage appearance.

Way back when, when lyrics mattered…
March 2 at Howard Theatre

Not too long ago, kiddos, lyrics mattered in mainstream hip-hop. Forget hooks and trunk-rattlers—it was the era of wordplay. That made New York rappers Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch two of the best. As fixtures of the Lyricist Lounge era, Kweli and Monch told stories of love and city life, and spit fluid, battle-ready bars about, well, nothing in particular. Though the MCs are now considered rap veterans, the fact that they’re still viable is a pleasing sign for aging hip-hop bohemians. It seems to say: Substance never goes out of style.

Why hasn’t he taken over blue-eyed soul yet?
March 3 at 9:30 Club

For a while there, Mayer Hawthorne seemed forgotten in the pantheon of modern blue-eyed soul. While Justin Timberlake was off making movies, and before Robin Thicke blurred lines, Hawthorne made ripples with his 2009 debut, A Strange Arrangement, on which the Ann Arbor, Mich., native sounded steeped in 1960s Motown. No, Hawthorne isn’t as flashy as Timberlake and his dad doesn’t know Kirk Cameron, but Hawthorne’s style is more nuanced. Since finally hitting it big(ger), Hawthorne has aligned himself with big-name producers, but he has yet to saturate the culture. The next opportunity he gets to grind on Miley Cyrus, he should seize it. That’ll do the trick.

Two generations of Slumberland collide.
March 3 at Black Cat

Buried vocals accompanied by guitarists stomping on pedals during emotional sonic crescendos never went away. But enough bands are doing it well that record labels and the media are taking notice of shoegaze once again. For this show at Black Cat, two generations of Slumberland bands—the newish Weekend and original gazers Lorelei—will be joined by Nothing, an act led by Dominic Palermo, formerly of the hardcore bands Horror Show and XO Skeleton. Nothing releases its debut LP, Guilty of Everything, the next day on the veteran metal label Relapse. It goes to show that disappearing into the haze is not just for frail indie folks.

All hail D.C.’s best new rock band.
March 5 at Black Cat

Fact 1: On Feb. 10, 1988, the BraveStarr character Tex Hex introduced a wild guitar-like instrument called the Black Widow. Fact 2: On April 19, 2005, singer/guitarist Mary Timony released a really good indie-rock record titled Ex Hex. Fact 3: On June 12, 2007, Secret Key Motion Pictures released Sex Hex, a film about a lesbian vampire. Fact 4: In late 2013, Timony founded a D.C.-based band called Ex Hex, with drummer Laura Harris (Aquarium) and bassist Betsy Wright (The Fire Tapes). Fact 5: Ex Hex will release an album later this year on Merge Records. Only Facts 2, 4 and 5 are related.

Catch ’em here before they hit Lollapalooza.
March 6 at Black Cat

The members of Speedy Ortiz, who are all in their early- to mid-20s, barely knew how to talk in 1991, the Year That Punk Broke. Yet this Northampton, Mass., quartet speaks alternative fluently. Major Arcana is an alt-rock record that I might’ve expected to see Matt Pinfield pimping on 120 Minutes back in the day, but the band’s full-length debut, released last year on Carpark Records, shot up the 2013 Pitchfork charts instead. “No Below,” a representative (and standout) track, finds singer Sadie Dupuis whispering grunge-y lyrics like she was Liz Phair while the band serves up soft-loud dynamics just like Pavement taught ’em. Speedy Ortiz played a memory-making show at a house in Trinidad in January; better catch the band at the Black Cat this time—before they hit Lollapalooza.

One of Puerto Rico’s premier dance groups touches down in D.C.
April 4 at Howard Theatre

In 1962, pianist and arranger Rafael Ithier founded the band that would become one of Puerto Rico’s premier dance groups. More than 50 years later, the 80-something Ithier is the only original member of El Gran Combo still in the band, yet the group retains its strong reputation. This is not marvel-at-how-many-notes-I-can-play Latin jazz; El Gran Combo specializes in melodic, vocal-led salsa tunes. If you get tired of dancing to the relentless clave, you can always marvel at the veteran vocalists’ Puerto Rican take on Motown choreography.

Surprisingly upbeat music from Mali’s desert north
March 22 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

The old Onion story about the confused record-store clerk who puts all music by black artists in the “urban” music section could apply equally to the ridiculous “world music” label, applied willy-nilly to any musician from outside North America or Europe who sounds vaguely traditional and/or is produced by Manu Chao. Yet of course the variety of music within any one country can be immense, particularly in the case of Mali, which has given the world—among many other artists—the sparkly pop of Amadou & Mariam (who were, indeed, produced by Manu Chao) and the blues of Ali Farka Touré. Tinariwen has more in common with Touré, as both hail from the desert north. Its music can be remarkably mischievous and upbeat for a band whose members grew up as refugees and were trained as Tuareg rebels by Gaddafi. Their last album won the Grammy for Best World Music Album, of course. —Mike Paarlberg

2 Chaaaainz!
March 24 at 9:30 Club

Who hasn’t at least heard of 2 Chainz at this point? In this era of turn-up rap, 2 Chainz is a forefather; his “2 Chaaainz!” bellow is somehow just as hypnotic as his Southern drawl. After years of moderate underground success, the rapper hit the mainstream with the release of 2011’s T.R.U. REALigion. From there, Chainz linked up with Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne, and the Georgia native has gone broad, making crab cakes on The Chew and gabbing about himself on MSNBC. Call him gimmicky, but there’s no denying his grind—and the catchiness of that bellow.

A true bassist to the core.
March 26 at Bethesda Blues & Jazz

Just 29 years old, bassist Linda Oh has a quality that’s increasingly rare and underrated in young jazz musicians: the confidence to play her bass as though it were a bass. She has a commanding touch and can play her lyrical melodies with the best of them, but her leadership comes through best when she’s working the strong supporting lines that her music calls for. Ironically, then, it’s Oh’s willingness to stay in the back of a tune that puts her front-and-center. That’s the surest sign of a great bassist in the making. —Michael J. West

Illmatic goes symphonic.
March 28 to 29 at Kennedy Center

Ever wanted to see an iconic rapper perform alongside an orchestra? If the answer to that question is a thunderous “YES!” followed by a succession of droning “Braaaveheaaart!” chants, then your prayers have finally been answered. This spring, the National Symphony Orchestra’s NSO Pops welcomes hip-hop titan Nas to the Kennedy Center to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his masterful debut album, Illmatic. Kicking off the center’s weeklong festival “One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide,” Nas will be the first notable rapper to play the prestigious venue since Snoop Dogg’s tribute to Herbie Hancock back in December. —Harold Stallworth

A (possible?) goodbye to one of garage rock’s finest bands.
April 5 at Black Cat

When San Diego’s Rocket From the Crypt played what was billed as its last show in 2005, the proceedings were appropriately raucous, a beer-soaked carnival celebrating one of the hardest-working punk bands in matching outfits. The ersatz Viking funeral—documented on the excellent R.I.P. live album/DVD—was a fitting salute to a band who, although never reaching the upper echelons of popularity, inspired a fervent cult of followers, many of whom tatted themselves with Rocket’s iconic logo. The band’s future after this tour is unknown, but now, at least, D.C. fans have an opportunity to pay what could be their final respects. —Matt Siblo

The violinist’s imagination knows no bounds.
April 6 at Birchmere

The violin isn’t as obscure in jazz as you might think. It was fairly common in the early days of the music, for example, and Duke Ellington kept one violinist on staff well into the ’60s. What’s not common is a violinist as accomplished and perceptive as Regina Carter. She’s the kind of player who can perform a jazz improvisation on a traditional African folk song, or interpret an Ennio Morricone film score using a 300-year-old violin once owned by Paganini (which, by the way, she did). That is to say, she has deep respect for all musical traditions, tremendous resources and repertoire, and limitless imagination.

A great contemporary composer gets a well-deserved fest.
April 6 to 13 at Atlas Performing Arts Center

This spring, two great living composers will be fêted in D.C. at the same time: Oliver Knussen at Library of Congress and Louis Andriessen at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, a remarkable act of both forward thinking and bad planning by the D.C. music establishment. For many composers like Andriessen, there is a lazy tendency to equate atonal or otherwise experimental doodling with minimalism, particularly in this country. And the Dutch composer, with his affinity for repetition and electric guitars, invites such comparisons with Steve Reich. But Andriessen’s music is hard to pin down, so the two nontraditional groups that bookend the festival, D.C.’s Great Noise Ensemble (April 6) and the Bang on a Can All-Stars (April 11), are natural fits. —Mike Paarlberg

The new-music baron gets a week all his own.
April 7 to 12 at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress’ press announcement calls Oliver Knussen a “baron” of new music for no obvious reason, but I presume it’s because he’s British. Knussen is indeed a catch for the library’s composer residency program, which has seen many famous names pass through it, in a field—contemporary classical—where there aren’t very many. He’s been composing since he was 6 years old, though he may have had some extra help—father was chairman of the London Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Britten was a childhood mentor—and has since written more than 30 major works, including an opera version of Where the Wild Things Are. One wonders what he’d have to do to make it to archduke.

The goregrind/melodic death metal titans return.
April 13 at Fillmore Silver Spring

When Carcass released the album Swansong in 1996, the United Kingdom’s forefathers of goregrind and melodic death metal were clear: The band had broken up. In 2008, a brief reunion tour foreshadowed what fans had been hoping for—a new album, which Carcass finally delivered last year with Surgical Steel. With the band’s modern lineup solidified (and an appearance at the 2013 Maryland Deathfest under its belt), death-metal fans are finally getting a full Carcass tour, with classics from every era of the band’s varied history. —Catherine P. Lewis

The Jerseyites make their sweaty return.
April 19 at Rock & Roll Hotel

In the early 2000s, Rye Coalition was, like its album title, On Top: Jersey City’s favorite cock-rock band had worked its way up from basements to stadiums and signed a deal with Dreamworks. The quintet had earned it too; it wore its love of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Shellac proudly and bellowed with a sweat-drenched energy live. But after Dreamworks folded, the band almost crumbled under the weight of major-label drama; Rye Co’s appropriately named Curses finally came out in 2006, but the group went on a years-long hiatus not long thereafter. After a few one-off shows, the band is back for its first tour in almost a decade. Prepare to be cock-rocked. —Catherine P. Lewis

He’s more than mom-friendly slow jams.
May 9 at DAR Constitution Hall

The radio ads for Charlie Wilson’s show at DAR Constitution Hall are promoting it as a potential Mother’s Day gift, and the former Gap Band frontman indeed croons firmly within the adult-R&B format. But his influence extends well beyond the world of mom-friendly slow jams: He’s been a secret weapon of sorts for Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, and other rappers, probably because his voice is classic and confident, with very few quirks. He’s a scene enhancer, not a scene stealer, and in R&B, it still pays to handle your business straight-up. —Joe Warminsky

It’s bigger and grimmer than ever.
May 22 to 25 at the Edison Parking Lot, Rams Head Live, and Baltimore SoundStage

Now in its 12th year, Maryland Deathfest continues to expand: three stages at an outdoor lot a few blocks from the fest’s former home of Sonar in Baltimore, with additional bands at Rams Head Live every night. Meanwhile, hardcore and grind bands will play all day and night down the street at the Baltimore SoundStage. While big names like Sweden’s At the Gates and England’s My Dying Bride are standard for MDF, the fest’s real strength is booking surprise reunion gigs (Dark Angel) and bringing underground bands from overseas for exclusive (and, in many cases, first) United States appearances, such as Iceland’s Solstafir, Norway’s Ulver, Russia’s Pseudogod, and Bangladesh’s Orator. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is never as grim (or as flooded with black T-shirts) as it is on Memorial Day weekend.

The name’s changed, the mission hasn’t.
May 23 to 24 at Kennedy Center

It’s already a controversial year for the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival—entirely because, as you may notice, it dropped “women” from its name. The Kennedy Center’s season-ending jazz event, formerly the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, will remain predominantly a women’s festival, as its late founder, Dr. Billy Taylor, envisioned. But it will refocus some of its energies on paying tribute to its namesake while including performances from male headliners. Whether the newly added Y chromosomes pose a problem remains to be seen, but highlighting Williams’ exceptional and tradition-defining musical legacy—she was a prolific pianist, composer, and mentor who had a hand in every style from early jazz to the avant-garde—can only beget good things.

The Estonian composer makes a rare U.S. visit.
May 29 at the Phillips Collection

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s classical and sacred music embraces a minimalistic style he developed called tintinnabuli (from the Latin word for “bell”). This tintinnabuli style is characterized by simple rhythms and harmonies, influenced by medieval tones and Gregorian chants. Pärt’s recent work, as The Arvo Pärt Project, is a collaboration with the St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., to compile a program of Pärt’s compositions that “best evokes his roots in Orthodox Christianity.” On this rare visit to the United States, Pärt will perform with musicians from the Tallinn (Estonia) Chamber Orchestra, and the program will be followed by a panel discussion on spirituality and music.

This novelty performance is not just a gimmick.
Feb. 17 at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop

At first, it sounds a bit gimmicky. For one night only, a new play is handed to an actor (in this case Lise Bruneau), who proceeds to perform it without having read it before. But there’s more here than a stab at novelty. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a new piece by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour that’s been produced all over the globe (including two other D.C. stages, Anacostia Playhouse and the Kennedy Center). Soleimanpour writes about his experience as a late-20-something stuck in Tehran unable to get a visa, in the process touching on what it’s like to be a product of the Gulf War generation (the first Gulf War, that is). And knowing Taffety Punk, anything could happen.

Green Day songs narrate the lives of disenchanted suburban youth.
Feb. 18 to 23 at National Theatre

In 2010, Green Day decided that the only way to one-up its 2004 concept album American Idiot was to take a page from The Who and turn it into a rock opera. The stage version follows three disenchanted suburban youths: One stays home to tend to a pregnant girlfriend, one joins the Army, and the third gets hooked on drugs in the big city. Like many musicals, the plot here is more about the journey than the destination, and the score travels through all of the album’s songs and then some (there’s an acoustic number after the final bows that’s either nostalgic or incredibly hokey, depending on your perspective).

A gun violence incident drastically alters the lives of a mother and son and causes others to consider the consequences of loneliness.
Feb. 20 to March 15 at Forum Theatre at Round House Theatre Silver Spring

Pluto, aka Hades, is “a terrible, not an evil god.” So writes Edith Hamilton in her book Mythology. It’s a provocative distinction to bear in mind when considering Steve Yockey’s new play Pluto, a mother/son drama set in motion by a tragic incident of gun violence at a community college. Forum Theatre’s artistic director, Michael Dove, is at the helm of D.C.’s iteration of this National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. In quick succession, different productions of Pluto will debut in four cities across the U.S. Dove says the play is “steeped in mythology,” but it’s also innovative. For Dove, the show is an opportunity to “explore how inner loneliness leads to outward violence.”

When playwright Sarah Ruhl and local actress Sara Baker collaborate on this Virginia Woolf adaptation, the results will be anything but dull.
Feb. 21 to March 24 at Theatre on the Run

For Orlando, Sarah Ruhl, the playwright behind In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play and Dead Man’s Cell Phone, adapts the 1928 Virginia Woolf novel that launched a thousand gender-studies seminars. Assaying the gender-swapping title role is Sara Barker, who was so great in Mary Stuart and as Algernon in Scena Theatre’s gender-flipped The Importance of Being Earnest three years ago. With that playwright and that actor and that source novel, only dullness seems an impossible outcome.

More than 20 countries descend on the Kennedy Center for this theatrical celebration.
March 10 to 30 at Kennedy Center

Reading the Kennedy Center notes and schedule for this international array of plays (pulled together by curator/Vice President of International Programming Alicia B. Adams), for a theater lover anyway, is a little like watching a trailer for a classic superhero movie when you’re a kid. THRILL at 13 fully staged productions! MARVEL at seven U.S. premieres! LEARN about the 20 participating countries! STARRING modern marriage in Iceland! Dame Janet Suzman in post-Apartheid South Africa! Israel’s Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble! The people who did War Horse! Pick three shows and you get a “theater passport,” lowing the price of each ticket to $29. Pow kapow.

When a man and a woman fight over control of their imaginary world, there’s no way things end well.
March 18 to May 11 at Signature Theatre

Here’s the other play on a D.C. stage this season in which the characters don’t get names, nor do they get a specific setting or time period or plot. In playwright/screenwriter/children’s book author/performance artist Philip Ridley’s 2011 two-hander, two lovers—“Man” and “Woman”—engage in a verbal and physical battle to control the narrative of their imaginary world, constantly one-upping each other in their threats and endearments the way children revise the rules of their games even as they play. Matthew Gardiner, Signature’s associate artistic director, is promising a bold spin on Ridley’s already-forbidding, already-confrontational experiment.

Supreme Court justices and go-go dancers have never fit together so well.
April 1 to 20 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Hey, remember 1991? The fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the machines in T2…and the Supreme Court’s heated debate over whether a ban on nude dancers in Indiana violated the performers’ First Amendment rights. Don’t remember that last one? Well you will now that Elevator Repair Service—famous for staging a nearly seven-hour unabridged reading of The Great Gatsby at the Public Theater in New York—is bringing Arguendo to Woolly Mammoth. The play uses verbatim transcripts from Barnes v. Glen Theatre (choice excerpt: “being ‘in a state of nudity’ is not an inherently expressive condition”) and projections and movements by the justices (which Ben Brantley wrote “suggest a kind of orgiastic ballet”) to reflect on—and poke fun at—the priorities and values of the highest court in the nation. If that’s not enticing, we hold you in contempt.

Motherhood is displayed in all its forms in this exploration of domestic life.
April 24 to May 18 at Gala Hispanic Theatre

Living Out follows the intersecting lives of two mothers: a Salvadoran nanny named Ana and her employer, a white, well-off lawyer named Nancy. The experience of motherhood, and how motherhood manifests in different communities, is familiar territory for Lisa Loomer, a Los Angeles-based playwright, whose Expecting Isabel was a Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays grant recipient at Arena Stage in 1998. Loomer is also an actress and a stand-up comic, and she penned the screenplay for Girl, Interrupted.

Ovid’s tale of mutilation and redemption gets the theatrical treatment.
April 24 to May 25 at Constellation Theatre at Source

Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker isn’t one to let anybody off the hook. Her adaptation of Ovid’s sixth book of Metamorphoses implicates all of her characters—and even the audience—in the tragic events she is exploring. Philomele suffers rape and mutilation at the hands of her brother-in-law Tereus, and knowledge of the crime is violently and systematically silenced. Ultimately, the truth comes out, but at great cost. Like The Ramayana and Metamorphoses of previous seasons, The Love of the Nightingale offers director Allison Arkell Stockman and her company the opportunity to tell a story through both poetry and dance, and to highlight the contemporary relevance of the most ancient of themes.

A man must choose between his long-term male partner and a female fling. Yeah, it’s complicated.
May 14 to June 22 at Studio Theatre

David Muse directed big shows at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and elsewhere before he was tapped to succeed Studio Theatre’s founding Artistic Director Joy Zinoman four years ago, but he’s always been at his best working on a more intimate scale. British playwright Mike Bartlett’s emotionally brutal 2009 drama Cock, about a love triangle involving a man who must choose between his long-term male partner (identified only as “M”) and a woman (“W”) with whom he’s had a brief unexpected fling, is precisely the sort of emotionally denuding showdown at which Muse excels.

Man’s most intimate gland. Let’s talk about it.
May 30 to June 29 at Theater J

The prostate typically does not inspire a lot of conversation unless something is wrong with it, so you’re safe in assuming that The Prostate Dialogues is about cancer, and not just the significance of a man’s most intimate gland. Oh, and the show is actually a 90-minute monologue, so any dialogues are handled completely by master storyteller Jon Spelman, who indeed survived prostate cancer and has been shaping the script at small performances for a few years (including a 2012 workshop for Theater J’s Locally Grown series). By all accounts, it’s a moving and humane performance, with a full complement of dark humor.