Good Vibrations

T he 2012 International Festival of Arts & Ideas has been with us for a nearly a week now. You probably know this because if you’ve been downtown, chances are good that you’ve watched, spoken to, danced along with or otherwise connected with an artist by now.

Divas and dinosaurs have walked the New Haven Green. The Sing the Truth! trio of Angelique Kidjo, Lizz Wright and Dianne Reeves, which shared the center of town with the Dinosaur Petting Zoo orchestrated by the puppeteers of Erth-Visual & Physical Inc. were certainly big acts to follow. They also set a precedent of spirited interaction.

Near the end of the two-hour Truth! set on June 16, the diminutive yet fiery African pop icon Kidjo ran down from the stage onto the grass, setting off a frenzy as wild as when a baby T-Rex towered over children at the Erth enclosure. The next night (Sunday) on the selfsame Green, the post-modern marching band Asphalt Orchestra paraded off the bandstand to blow the crowd away with trombone growls and drumbeats.

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While the various performers crooned and roared and tootled, the Green also served as the latest location of Box City, an Arts & Ideas tradition where children create buildings out of cardboard boxes, then apply for permits to incorporate their structures into a sprawling cityscape.

Over at the Off Broadway theater space, Arts & Ideas audiences took in script-in-hand performances of new musicals Mortality Play and Mighty Five’s Infinite Funk Odyssey, the latter of which exhorted the crowd to give themselves over to the non-stop flow of space music being channeled by Colonel Bootyshaker and his crew, and literally had people dancing at their seats.

Last night, The National Theatre of Scotland uncorked a ten-day performance of their original play The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart in the Wicked Wolf Tavern on Temple. Performed for an audience of dozens in a rowdy real-life Irish bar setting, the mystical, musical drama is both intimate and intense.

Dance kicked in on Tuesday with Abraham.In.Motion’s The Radio Show (through June 22 at Yale’s Iseman Theater; $35-$45), which begins with the piece’s choreographer and lead dancer, Kyle Abraham, standing amidst the entering audience, mimicking symptoms of aphasia, then coming to frenzied life and encouraging members of the audience to dance with him to old R & B songs. The Mark Morris Dance joins the A&I dance revolution June 21 & 22, with performances at the Shubert (247 College St.; $20-$35-$50). Both the Abraham and Morris companies will lead master classes this week (June 21 & 22 respectively), sharing their techniques and interests with willing pupils. There will also be master classes with Contemporary Legend Theater (whose scaled-down Mandarin language production of King Lear runs June 28 & 29 at the Yale University Theatre) on June 27 and the Australian circus troupe Circa (who perform June 26-30 in Co-op High School) on June 30.

Underscoring all those counterpoints between performers and audiences is the international harmonic exchange of the Yale International Choral Festival, which continues through Saturday with the Imilonji Kantu Choral Society (5 p.m. June 21) and the Cambridge University Consort of Voices (8 p.m. June 22), all in Yale’s Sprague Memorial Hall (470 College St.; $35-$45 each), culminating in a free concert in the larger Woolsey Hall at 6 p.m. on June 23 featuring the Yale Alumni Chorus and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

Then there’s Group Intelligence. The event, June 23 at 1 p.m. and June 24 at 2 p.m., is inspired by flash mobs, but is expanded to explore other group dynamics such as socializing, building and collective problem-solving. This “science and public art experiment” was created collaboratively by two performance groups, Out of Hand Theater (in Atlanta, Georgia) and The Lunatics (from the Netherlands) working with the National Science Foundation/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution.

Elsewhere on the “Ideas” end of Arts & Ideas are discussions of “Scientific Insights Into Cooperation and Evolution” (June 21 at 5:30 p.m. in the Yale Art Gallery); literary traditions in China (with novelist Ha Jin and playwright David Henry Hwang, June 28 at 5:30 p.m. in the Yale Art Gallery); and the concept of music as a radical, transformative force (June 26 at 5:30 in the Yale Center for British Art), plus a live version of Slate magazine’s Political Gabfest podcast (5:30 p.m. June 27, again at the YCBA), all of which will invite questions and insights from the audience.

Some Arts & Ideas acts, assuredly, are fine with people just watching or listening, rather than taking an active part in the performance. The Music at Dusk concerts (formerly the Courtyard Concert series, shifted indoors to Yale’s Morse Recital Hall, 470 College St. this year after too many episodes of inclement weather) start June 26 with the Hector Del Curto Tango Quintet, followed by an intriguing collaboration between popular poet Robert Pinsky and jazz bassist Ben Allison (who initially befriended each other at an Arts & Ideas fundraiser) on June 27 and the  interfaith-based sacred music of The Yuval Ron Ensemble June 28.

Attending the International Festival of Arts & Ideas is a performance unto itself, a chance to dance, dialogue, devise your own responses to challenges, and act as a gracious host to artists from around the world.

David Lang, the Pulitzer-winning composer and co-founder of the Bang on a Can group of new-music facilitators, is world-premiering his new music/theater piece love fail in the festival’s final weekend, June 29 & 30 at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Lang considers the openness of the festival to be one of its main distinctions. “It’s all incredibly democratic. No hidden tracks. Every community’s needs are different. We have to figure out what makes our community come alive.”

International Festival of Arts & Ideas
Located outdoors on New Haven Green and indoors in venues throughout downtown New Haven.
Tickets, schedules and up-to-date information on performances can all be found at
Outdoor events, including major concerts on New Haven Green, are free. Theater shows are generally $35 ($45 for premium reserved seating).

Written by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites and New Haven Theater Jerk (

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