T he first big event of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas happened last night, months before the festival actually takes place June 16-30. It was a standing room-only smash hit. It was the announcement of the festival’s main acts.
The “oohs” and “aaaahhhs” from a room full of politicians, arts patrons and festival fans at the Study at Yale Hotel was a show in itself. The festival’s executive director, Mary Lou Aleskie, conducted the unveiling of the 2012 schedule with the aplomb of an orchestra leader. Picking up on opening remarks made by Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Aleskie exclaimed that “We are authentic and we are welcoming.”
Under Aleskie’s stewardship, the festival remains unpredictable, cutting-edge and affordable. One of the key events, a concert on the Green featuring three international pop/jazz divas, has commanded high ticket prices everywhere it has played; in New Haven, it will be a free outdoor show on New Haven Green.
Arts & Ideas 2012 will reconsider artists and traditions from the past, explore new horizons, and offer dynamic combinations of artists and speakers from different disciplines. It will bring back A&I alums such as Angelique Kidjo, choreographer Mark Morris and Bang on a Can founder David Lang, and continue the tradition of bringing notable new theater pieces direct from Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Kidjo, the legendary West African last played Arts & Ideas in 2007. This time, she’s performing alongside jazz diva Dianne Reeves and eclectic singer/composer Lizz Wright. The co-headlining concert, 7 p.m. June 16 on the Green, is part of the touring Sing the Truth!series which honors major African-American female vocalists of the 20th century. This show pays tribute to Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln and Odetta, with further shout-outs to such icons as Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill.
The International Festival of Arts & Ideas
June 16-30, 2012
Various venues around downtown New Haven.
(203) 562-5666 or (888) 736-2663
Other free concerts on the Green include the new-music ensemble Asphalt Orchestra June 17; the African-American fiddle-happy jug band Carolina Chocolate Drops on June 23; and a genre-jumping double bill of two South Asian bands: the Brooklyn-based Indian jazz/funk band Red Baraat and the Sufi-Rock act Noori from Pakistan.
The final free concert, June 30, returns to the concept of tributes, with Roseanne Cash honoring her father Johnny Cash and sharing some of his influences as well. Her show is called The List and, like her 2009 album of the same name, is drawn from a list of 100 essential country songs the legendary Man in Black gave to his daughter when she went on the road with him in the 1970s.
Indoors, theater and dance events include:
• The American debut of the National Theatre of Scotland’s site-specific fringe-festival hit The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, performed at the Wicked Wolf Tavern on Temple Street June 20-30.
• Kyle Abraham and his dance theater troupe Abraham.in.Motion, bringing his acclaimed 2010 piece The Radio Show to Yale’s Iseman Theatre June 19-23; it’s Abraham’s first evening-length piece, about the closing of a revered black radio station in Pittsburgh.
• The Mark Morris Dance Group (whose Dido & Aeneas was a highlight of Arts & Ideas 2009) returns with three repertory works—“A Lake,” “Jesu. Mein Freude” and “Gloria”—with live musical accompaniment by the Yale Collegium Players and Yale Choral Artists.
• The dance/acrobatics/circus ensemble
Circa, from Australia, June 26-29 at Co-op High School.
• The world premiere of love fail, a romantic pastiche of classical and modern love stories compiled and collaged by composer David Lang, June 29 & 30 at the Yale Repertory Theatre.
• The previously announced one-man adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, performed by Wu Hsing-Kuo of the Contemporary Legend Theater of Taiwan, June 28 & 29 at the Yale University Theater.
• A&I has again partnered with the Yale Institute for Music Theatre, which develops new musicals from young talents. Those titles won’t be announced until April.
Concert events include an intriguing collaboration between two Arts & Ideas veterans, jazz bassist/bandleader Ben Allison and poet Robert Pinsky June 27, the Argentine tango group 34 Punaladas June 26 and the Yuval Ron Ensemble’s multi-denominational spiritual blend of music and dance June 28. There’s also the IFAI debut of the Yale International Choral Festival, with choirs from Indonesia, China, South Africa and the UK, plus two from Yale itself.
The Ideas component of the festival involves a range of speakers, among them: Dr. Daphne Miller discussing “The Wisdom & Science of Traditional Foods”; editors of Slate Magazine (including New Haven resident Emily Bazelon) doing a live recording of their Political Gabfest podcast; local artist Winfred Rembert; World Trade Center wirewalker Philippe Petit; Yale Cognitive Science professor Tamar Gendler sharing advice from ancient Greek philosophers; Graham Sheffield, Director Arts of the British Council explaining international arts and culture “From Soft Power to Global Connectivity”; and several conversations related directly to festival performances.
The festival has yet to announce details of its free weekday “Noon to Night” concert series on the Green, its popular restaurant tours and a few other events. But this announcement should be plenty to tide us over until June.