Arts festival outlines plans for next spring's events

"The Life (and Death)of Harry Houdini " willbe among the works.
"The Life (and Death)of Harry Houdini " willbe among the works.
Posted: September 29, 2012

The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, which drew 200,000 people to Broad Street for a street fair ending its month of 130-plus events in 2011, will return next spring with a more compact set of programs involving less than half as many arts groups.

Organizers at the Kimmel Center have released a partial list of about 50 events for the March 28-to-April 27 festival, all loosely inspired by the theme "If you had a time machine... ."

The Philadelphia Orchestra, the theater artist Aaron Cromie, the clown actress Gwendolyn Rooker, the theater troupe Tribe of Fools, and a host of other regional performers and venues were to be announced Friday.

More performances - many involving organizations from around the country and overseas - remain to be announced.

Like its $10 million predecessor - funded with a gift from the late Leonore Annenberg with the proviso that it all be spent in one year - next spring's $5.5 million festival will feature several unusual pairings of organizations, performances, and venues, as well as a number of events commissioned or produced by the Kimmel Center itself.

Overall, according to Anne Ewers, Kimmel president and chief executive, about 75 percent of performances will be new works. Although most of these will not receive direct funding, all will benefit from festival marketing dollars.

"This will take us a step forward with collaborations and unique combinations of entities," Ewers said. "It's thrilling."

Examples?

The Kimmel will join with the Philadelphia Science Festival to present the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra in a performance of Icarus at the Edge of Time, with music by Philip Glass and an animated film directed by the British filmmakers Al+Al. The piece, based on a children's book by physicist Brian Greene, ventures out to the beginnings of time in the far reaches of the universe. This will be its Philadelphia premiere.

A virtually unprecedented venue transformation will turn the reading room at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania into a theatrical space for ArkHIVE, a multimedia show that weds Sebastienne Mundheim's sculptural and shadow-puppet work with music and dance, all inspired by William Penn's founding of Philadelphia in 1682.

The Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will serve as a venue for Taller Puertorriqueño's Sounds and Rhythms of Resistance, a work inspired by Puerto Rico's African slave Emancipation Day (March 22, 1873), featuring Caribbean music and dance.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan serve as inspiration for a collaborative taiko drumming performance, Hiraki: Tsunami Loss and Hope, a newly commissioned work uniting Settlement Music School, the Japanese House and Garden, and KyoDaiko.

The festival's time-machine theme - lies somewhere behind all the events, and in announcing the first group of participants, the Kimmel tied each performance to a specific moment.

This thematic stretch extended even to the Philadelphia Orchestra's festival performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, which, according to a Kimmel Center release, "explores the crucifixion of Christ (33 AD)." The orchestra's performance launches the festival on March 28.

Festival works (and marketing) evoke events stretching across two millennia, from the Crucifixion to the day the singer Billie Holiday died (Azuka Theatre and the American Poetry Review), from Harry Houdini's last magic performance (EgoPo Classic Theatre) to the Holocaust (Wolf Performing Arts Center), from Richard Allen's break with St. George's Church and the founding of the A.M.E. Church to the American Civil War and the civil rights movement.

Allen's break with the Methodist Church in 1793 serves as inspiration for dancer/choreographers Germaine Ingram and Leah Stein's multidisciplinary dance work Where Heaven's Dew Divides.

The Civil War and the civil rights movement inspired performances by the Bearded Ladies cabaret, the animator Kara Crombie, Singing City choir, and others. Kariamu and Company's African dance performance of Countdown to "Boom" We All Fall Down, is tied to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

The festival will again conclude with a street fair, with details to come. And the lobby of the Kimmel Center, dominated in 2011 by an 81-foot-tall mock Eiffel Tower, will feature some kind of "time machine" in 2013. What that might mean, Kimmel officials said, must be left to the imagination for the moment.

The festival budget comes from a number of sources, officials said, with about $2 million still to be raised. Ewers expressed confidence that fund-raising would be successful. The Kimmel will produce five works and coproduce eight with local arts groups, officials said.

For information on all performances and groups and for tickets to those events now on sale, visit the festival website, www.PIFA.org.


Contact Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594, ssalisbury@phillynews.com, or @SPSalisbury on Twitter.

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