Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Festival ‘a world tour’ in back yard

By Donna Doherty
Register Arts Editor
— The themes of art and spirituality, art and technology and the aesthetic of the future and events exploring them were revealed Monday like so many Russian nesting matrioshka dolls, for the 13th annual International Festival of Arts & Ideas, which runs June 14-28.
Calling the festival “a world tour in your back yard,” Executive Director Mary Lou Aleskie, shown above, outlined the ambitious festival program that launches on the Green with the culmination of The Big Read event, which this year is examining author Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
“This year, all the work will be influenced by two cornerstone projects,” said Aleskie, “The Big Read, which kicks off May 1 at the Shubert Theater with scholar Mark Schenker, and from that you’ll see themes about liberties and the future that permeate the festival. And Liz Lerman Dance Exchange’s ‘613 Radical Acts of Prayer,’ a community project which looks at prayer and social action.”
The latter event will run throughout the festival and bring together hundreds of “citizen-dancers” for the festival’s grand finale.
Bookending the festival start and finish are American premieres of two acclaimed theater events from Ireland and Great Britain, two of four major theater events added in response to media and public feedback from last year.
Aleskie said because of the city’s rich cultural offerings, the festival needs to stretch itself. “It’s very hard for us to add value unless, in fact, it’s extraordinary, and that’s what we try to do,” she said, noting two Pulitzer Prize winners, a Nobel laureate and a former U.S. Poet Laureate among participants.
The festival renewed its relationship with Long Wharf Theatre, which is co-producing and providing the venue for three of the theater events — most notably, the American premieres of Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company’s production of “The Burial at Thebes,” the new translation of Sophocles’ “Antigone” by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, on the opening weekend, and Sebastian Barry’s “The Pride of Parnell Street,” from Dublin’s Fishamble Theatre, running the second week through the closing weekend. Eastern European playwrights will be featured in the Long Wharf co-produced “Global Scenes” international play reading series. The playwrights, as with many of the major events, will also be featured in corresponding ideas forums.
Among notable figures, who this year will examine topics from the presidential election to Muslim identity, is boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in a panel discussion about habeas corpus, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon.
Other dance highlights include Australian dance company Chunky Move’s “Glow,” in which every performance is unique, and Apparatus Theatre Group’s “Doors,” which Aleskie called “surreal and whimsical.”
Musical heavyweights include Rosanne Cash, “cello goddess” Maya Beiser and jazz musician Ben Allison. Opera lovers will have their choice of the traditional, with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, or the funky, with the East Village Opera Company’s rock versions of classic arias that Aleskie called “Puccini meets Freddy Mercury.”
Also, free daily events on the Green, the Courtyard Concerts and the restaurant and walking tours are back.
Donna Doherty may be reached at (203) 789-5672 or ddoherty@nhregister.com.

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