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Arnott’s Arts & Ideas Diary: Installment Two

by Chris Arnott | Jun 16, 2014 1:08 pm

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Posted to: Arts & Culture, Dance, Music

Two hundreds of pounds of kettle corn were sold by a single food vendor on the Green Saturday. That’s what we call economic impact, folks.

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On Father’s Day Sunday, you could eat at a food truck called “Dad’s” on New Haven Green. Parenthood inspired the performers on the Green as well; Martha Redbone, headliner on New Haven Green Sunday night, spoke of her African-American, Cherokee and Choctaw heritage.

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Cry You One worked the crowd mightily as the warm-up act for Redbone’s Roots Project Sunday evening. The Louisiana band did a whole set of folk-dance instruction, then a regular set—all the while raising awareness of vanishing cultural traditions and environmental devastation in the wetlands near New Orleans.

During the dance-lesson set, I noted someone dancing in the crowd and asked the woman her name. “Nivea? Well, the name of that dance is now the Nivea Shuffle. That’s what you’re like in New Haven.” Carl Testa, who was introduced as a “New Haven gentleman” and who indeed is well known in these parts for his Uncertainty Music Series, joined in for part of Cry You One’s main set.


***
Martha Redbone took a different multicultural path, setting William Blake verses to Appalachian folk music and teaching the crowd Native American chants. (Redbone’s heritage is both African American and Cherokee.)

“So how about those William Blake poems? Any William Blake fans out there? We are at Yale, you know.”

Redbone’s set blazed through several Blake/folk blends but also featured several strident cover tunes. Peter LaFarge’s social protest song “Drums,” instance. A rendition of “Eyes on the Prize” somehow segued into the tail end of Led Zeppelin’ s “Whole Lotta Love.”

***

The biggest splash made on the Green in A&I’s first weekend was Barosolo, the French clown duo who cavort over a small pool of music in their 45-minute show Ile O. Arts & Ideas has a long history of supporting wet-clown acts on the Green, including the unforgettable Spurting Man in one of the festival’s earliest years. Barosolo’s show was beautifully balanced, and I don’t just mean how they were able to clamber around each other’s bodies or dangle from the scaffolding above that central wading pool. The slapstick aspects of Ile O were tempered by music—cello, guitar, steel pan drum, recorder, kazoo. When the instruments weren’t being played, sometimes they would just float away.
Following their floating frolics, the Barosolo boys took off their makeup and hung out backstage at the Martha Redbone/Cry You One show. The French troupe has a couple more U.S. gigs, then heads north for a big annual circus theater conference in Montreal.

***

Earlier Sunday afternoon, I made it to the second of the two readings staged by the Yale Institute for Music Theatre, Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon by Tidtaya Sinutoke (music) and Ty Defoe (book & lyrics). This was a work-in-progress about two teenage girls, one a Native American who grew up on a reservation and the other an exchange student from Thailand, who bond when they being bullied as outsiders in a Catholic school in Chicago.

At yesterday’s reading of the other YIMT musical, Afterland by Benjamin Velez and Kathryn Hathaway, I recognized Steven Skybell, an actor I’d seen in student productions and yes, readings, nearly 30 years ago when he was a student at the Yale School of Drama.  The cast of Clouds included Krysta Rodriguez, who’d played the scheming diva-wannabe Karen on the second season of the TV show Smash. Both readings, as is usually the case with Yale Institute for Music Theatre offerings, offered opportunities for current and just-graduated students at the Yale School of Drama. One member of the the Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon ensemble who’ll be moving on to the New York theater realm soon is Chris Bannow, a New Haven native who distinguished himself in student productions of Cloud Nine and The Visit at the School of Drama, got to appear in works by Shakespeare and Chekhov at the Yale Rep and both acted and directed in the Yale Summer Cabaret a year ago.

The YIMT readings have fit smoothly into the overall Arts & Ideas atmosphere. You exit the Off Broadway venue onto a lawn where cheese and crackers and other snacks have been laid out for you, and where you can discuss the show-in-development that you’ve just seen. Shared experiences and open conversations are a hallmark of A&I. Some performances (such as Lemon Andersen’s County of Kings) have talkbacks after every performances. Others simply provide a suitable place for audiences to pause and reflect before they go home. Usually, what you get to do is compare A&I experiences with other people you’ve noticed at multiple A&I offerings. Recommendations and reminiscences abound. That sort of community consciousness is what really makes the International Festival of Arts & Ideas a festival and not just a stray aggregation of events.

***

Mondays are dark at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas; the action picks up again Tuesday with the start of this year’s “Noon to Night” music series on the Green, Regina Carter’s Southern Comfort concert at Yale’s Morse Recital Hall and other delights. The full schedule is here.

One Arts & Ideas –related event that’s not taking a day off is Music Haven’s String Quartet Truck, which makes stops today (Monday, June 16) 12:30 p.m. at Cedar Street between Congress and York, at 2 p.m. next to the Yale School of Architecture at the corner of York and Chapel, and 3:30 p.m. in Scantlebury Park (near New Haven Reads and the Rose Center, on Ashmun Street). It’s the second year of classical musical mobility for the tireless Haven String Quartet. Roll on, Beethoven!

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