AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
It may sound like an oxymoron but "Serious Fun" is the theme of this year's International Festival of Arts & Ideas and there's plenty of it planned for the 15-day event taking place June 16 to 30 on and around the New Haven Green.
The line-up includes an eclectic array of dance, music, theater, free concerts, family-friendly interactive programs and thought-provoking lectures and conversations.
"This year's festival is very participatory and energetic," says Mary Lou Aleskie, the festival's executive director. "There's a lot of 'come on in and play with us' energy. We've ratcheted it up this year."
Aleskie notes that the theme of "Serious Fun" is particularly well represented in the opening weekend, starting with the kick-off Ideas lecture by Philippe Petite titled "Nothing is Impossible." In 1974, Petit (illegally) walked a high wire stretched between the rooftops of the Twin Towers and the World Trade Center: eight crossings in an hour, one-quarter mile above the New York City sidewalks.
"He's kind of an authority on 'nothing is impossible' and has made a life out of being a wire walker," Aleskie says.
Also on the first weekend, life-like dinosaurs created by Erth-an Australian theater and visual arts company-will roam the New Haven Green in an interactive performance, followed by an opportunity for audiences to pet and play with the prehistoric creatures. The Asphalt Orchestra choreographed marching band, performing music from Frank Zappa to Bjork, will march throughout the downtown area. In Box City on the Green, kids and families can construct a model city of the future using cardboard boxes, recycled materials and art supplies-provided free.
"There's lots of participatory stuff to get people in the mood for serious fun," Aleskie says.
Along the same theme, the National Theatre of Scotland will present the American debut of "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart," staged inside the Wicked Wolf Tavern on Temple Street, June 20 to 30 (this is a ticketed event). A hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011, an audience member is brought into the action with Prudencia-a bookish academic-and, according to the festival program, "swept away on an enchanting, dream-like journey, including some wittily wild karaoke."
A secondary theme of the 2012 festival is "Freedom's Journey," a statewide culture and heritage initiative that explores the progression of civil rights in Connecticut and the United States.
"We wanted to celebrate great stories of heroism represented in our own Connecticut heritage that are important to our national history," Aleskie says.
The Freedom's Journey concept is anchored around the "Sing the Truth!" opening weekend free concert on the green. The performance features Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright. Three of today's most acclaimed female vocalists honoring the music and spirit of great women in jazz, folk, R&B, gospel and blues.
In conjunction, the festival has assembled a curriculum and resource guide for Connecticut school children to explore the lives of two pioneering Connecticut women who 'sang' the truth about justice in their times-opera star Marian Anderson and Connecticut state heroine Prudence Crandall-and a "Sing Your Truth!" poetry contest for students in grades 6 to 12. Winners will be invited to read their work at the festival and appear with "Sing the Truth!" performers.
Tied into the Freedom's Journey initiative are two programs featuring conversations with civil rights activist Rev. Bernard Lafayette and artist Winfred Rembert, who journeyed from rural Georgia in the 1960s to his studio in New Haven where he continues to create his hand-tooled leather art today.
"The mission of the festival isn't just to bring the world's best to New Haven, but to celebrate what's best about our state and tell the best stories of our heritage to the state and the world," Aleskie says. "That's what this Freedom's Journey project has been about."
Connecting music and memory
The Radio Show created by Kyle Abraham and his seven-member dance company Abraham.In.Motion brings together the themes of cultural identity and personal history. Combining influences from hip hop to ballet, the production is based on Abraham's memories of the closing of an urban Pittsburgh radio station that he grew up listening to and the resulting loss of the African American musical voice in his community. It is also a reflection of his own father's loss of identity in succumbing to Alzheimer's.
"Thinking about the effects of Alzheimer's and dementia, I found an easy correlation to the loss of a frequency in radio," Abraham says. "What it's like to drive down the street listening to your favorite song on the radio, singing along without a care in the world, only to then lose the frequency and either hear static or a completely different song or station."
Drawing a comparison between aphasia and the loss of urban radio, he says, "Losing your ability to use your voice and losing your 'voice' or the 'voice of your community' felt like one and the same to me. "
Abraham says in the three years his company has been performing The Radio Show, which received a Bessie Award in 2010, he's found "It's a work that really reaches different generations and backgrounds."
"Hopefully, people will come out and share their thoughts with us after the show," he says. "I'm always willing to hang out and talk with folks after a show."
The Radio Show will be performed June 19 to 23 (ticketed event) at the Iseman Theater.
Other ticketed events include performances by Mark Morris Dance Group, Australia's Circus Arts Troupe Circa and a solo performance of "King Lear" from Taiwan. Other free concerts on the green include The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Red Baraat & Noori and Rosanne Cash on the festival's closing night performing "The List," a paean to her father, Johnny Cash.
The International Festival of Arts & Ideas will be held June 16 to 30 at various sites in New Haven, including more than 100 free and ticketed programs, performances, and events.
For a complete schedule and to purchase tickets online, go to www.ArtIdea.org or by phone (203) 562-5666 or 888-736-2663.