Philadelphia International Festival, a Big Bang of Arts

Dan Deacon's "SENDMSG," at the Perelman Theater on April 12, is inspired by online pioneer Ray Tomlinson's sending the world's first e-mail on Oct. 9, 1971.
Dan Deacon's "SENDMSG," at the Perelman Theater on April 12, is inspired by online pioneer Ray Tomlinson's sending the world's first e-mail on Oct. 9, 1971. (SHAWN BRACKBILL)
Posted: March 30, 2013

So much to see and hear. So little time. Or maybe a surfeit of time.

That's the promise of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, which begins its second monthlong citywide splash this week - two years after a rousing debut of more than 135 performances and events wrapping up with a street fair on the Avenue of the Arts that drew more than 200,000.

This time, the festival, though smaller, returns with a bang, as in the Big Bang of almost 14 billion years ago, although this weekend the oldest moment being evoked is only between three and four billion, when life emerged from the primordial soup. Savion Glover, tap dancer extraordinaire, celebrates that moment Saturday with an original solo work called 3.8BYA at the Academy of Music.

Dancing, singing, acting, painting, talking - all will fit into the PIFA's elliptical 2013 theme: "If you had a time machine . . . " There's a lot of imaginative territory in that sentence fragment, and artists from more than 50 regional arts and cultural institutions are taking advantage of its limitless possibilities.

Yes, the Big Bang is featured, by Philadanco. So is the far, far distant future, in a clutch of one-acts by Luna Theater Company. Many moments major (the Crucifixion) and minor (the death of a circus elephant) fall in between.

So let's hop to it, there's no time to lose. This, the opening weekend, gives a heady glimpse of the wild time travel in store for the city through April 27.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, the American Boychoir, and the Westminster Symphonic Choir dive right into Bach's St. Matthew Passion, an evocation of the Crucifixion (Verizon Hall, through Saturday).

Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret features the Bearded Ladies Cabaret in a post-punk, pint-size Gone With the Wind epic, a musical extravaganza that suggests the Civil War is an ongoing part of American life (Innovation Studio in the Kimmel Center through April 7).

The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini, EgoPo Classic Theater's world premiere, portrays Houdini through his magic acts and in a world of seances and absinthe, love, faith, and chains (Plays & Players Theatre through April 7).

Everyone and I, Azuka Theatre's new work (in partnership with the American Poetry Review), explores poet Frank O'Hara, his great poem on the death of Billie Holiday on July 17, 1959, and the music she made (Hamilton Garden, Kimmel Center, through April 7).

 From the Swamp to the Stars, by No Face Performance Group, is a self-described "fever dream" about Ronald Reagan's presidency and the attempt to assassinate him (Aux Performance Space/Vox Populi Gallery, through April 13).

Dance Space finds superstar tapper Savion Glover presenting an improvised solo performance that will travel from the era of gospels and spirituals all the way back to the beginning of life, nearly four billion years ago (Academy of Music, Saturday).

Berlin: Landscape of Memory is a show of photographs by James B. Abbott of the wall's fall and the scene two decades later. Fall of the Berlin Wall is a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the Mendelssohn Club. The two are linked by a multimedia presentation of Abbott's photos during the performance (exhibition at 237 S. 18th St. through April 26; performance at the Kimmel Center on April 7).

Looking beyond this weekend, events and exhibitions will cover the historical and urban maps.

The Big Bang is a Philadanco world premiere at the Perelman Theater (April 19 to 21). Theater artist Ain Gordon's If She Stood, inspired by the founding of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (1833), premieres at the Painted Bride Art Center (April 26 to 28). Last Call at the Downbeat takes a look at Dizzy Gillespie and jazz, performed at Society Hill Playhouse (April 5 and 6, 12 and 13).

Artists Aaron Cromie and Gwen Rooker use theater, music, visuals, and puppets for The Trial of Murderous Mary, based on the death of circus elephant Mighty Mary in 1916, at Kimmel Center's Hamilton Garden (April 11 to 14, and 17 to 20). Interdisciplinary artist Sebastienne Mundheim and White Box Theater will take over the reading room of the venerable Historical Society of Pennsylvania for ArkHIVE, a look at history via puppets, sculpture, dance, sound, and light (April 13 to 16). The future plays out in Tribe of Fools' Shut Your Wormhole (Kimmel Center, April 4 to 26) and Luna Theater Company's FutureFest Play Festival (at the Adrienne, through April 13).

Some performances are pricey. But there are free and low-cost performances and events every day of the festival. Many take place at the Kimmel Center, where an elaborate, interactive time machine, 100 feet long and 16 feet in diameter, has been installed in the lobby for visitors to explore. The machine even has a performance linked to it - Flash of Time.

So much will be going on that it is imperative to check the festival website,, for the latest scheduling, prices, times, and details about events. And, yes, all will conclude, as did the first PIFA, with a big Avenue of the Arts street fair on April 27.

Better hurry - remember what Dr. Seuss said: "How did it get so late so soon?"

EgoPo Classic TheaterThe Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini. A play about the great magician's struggle to escape death and the inescapable, and a biographical tour through a charmed and tormented life. (Plays and Players Theatre, through April 7.)

Bearded Ladies Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret. This gender-bending collective offers a musical battle of bizarre production numbers from the American Songbook, North and South. Always fun, always startling, and featuring Dixie and her gigantic Southern-belle frock. (Innovation Studio at the Kimmel, through April 6.)

Applied MechanicsVainglorious. An epic show with a cast of 26 in an immersive waltz through the Napoleonic era, a "movement opera" in which audience members choose whose story to follow: Napoleon, Josephine, Tallyrand, Beethoven, Mme. de Stael - quite a crowd. (Christ Church Neighborhood House, April 9 to 13.)

Dan Deacon SENDMSG . Baltimore electronic composer and indie dance-rock showman Deacon  was inspired by online pioneer Ray Tomlinson's sending the world's first e-mail, on Oct. 9, 1971.  (Perelman at the Kimmel Center, April 12.)

 Robert Glasper and Special Guests Songs in the Key of Life. Commissioned by Harlem Stage, it celebrates Stevie Wonder's 1976 masterpiece with trailblazing pianist Robert Glasper, new arrangements and compositions, and guests including Derrick Hodge, Lalah Hathaway, and Eric Roberson. (Verizon Hall, April 14.)

Danilo Perez and the Panama 500 BandVasco Nuñez de Balboa's Discovery of the Pacific. No, not Rocky Balboa - Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, who in 1513 became the first European to lay eyes on the Pacific. Panamanian pianist-composer Perez leads a five-piece jazz band. (Perelman at the Kimmel Center, April 26.)

Penn Dixie ProductionsAnimal Animal Mammal Mine. This dance-theater piece - inspired by the changes wrought by the Pill, enriched by interviews with 50 childless women, and involving an installation by sculptor Martha Posner - creates a vision of female fertility and ecological collapse. (Underground Arts, April 10 to 20.)

Taller PuertorriqueñoSounds of Rhythm and Resistance. With a nod to the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico in 1873 and a stomp to Afro-Puerto Rican bomba, Pleneros de la 21's music foments Kulu Mele African Dance and Drum Ensemble and Familia Rojas' multigenerational ensemble to dance the drums. (The Barnes Foundation, April 12.)

PhiladancoThe Big Bang! To Max Richter's music Infra, choreographer Christopher Huggins creates another stirring work, in which the energy of relationships between people since the beginning of creation circle and cycle through multiple pas de deux. (Perelman Theater, April 19 to 21.)

David Patrick Stearns: Classical

Network for New Music The Arc of Curiosity traces the progression of American electronic composers from the first-ever computer (1946) to present-day composers such as James Primosch and Paul Lansky. So the music will be far more than experimental. (At Penn’s Rose Recital Hall, April 5.)

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge The venerable group performs Benjamin Britten’s beloved A Boy Was Born (written when the composer was 19, in sophisticated eight-part harmony), along with works by Byrd, Blow, and Purcell. (Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, April 6.)

Orchestra 2001 Two seldom-performed masterworks commemorate depths and heights: Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”) with texts taken from scrawlings on the walls of Gestapo prisons, and George Crumb’s Night of the Four Moons, inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing. (Holy Trinity Church, April 13.)

For performance details and other information at

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

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