Dianne Reeves, backed by New Haven Symphony Orchestra. The Events, backed by six New Haven choirs. Erik Friedlander, acknowledging an exhibit of his father’s photos at Yale Art Gallery. Jack Hitt, talking about being on the road in his hometown.
Arts & Ideas 2014 begins about ten weeks from now, on June 14. It’ll feature five free concerts on the Green by national artists; dozens of other events on the Green, including local bands most weekday nights; tours of the city, master classes, family activities. You know, arts festival stuff.
This year the festival seems to have gone out of its way to create collaborations between homegrown talent and visitors from other lands.
At an announcement event Thursday night at The Study Hotel on Chapel Street, Mary Lou Aleskie dubbed this year’s edition a “celebration of transformation and tradition.” Aleskie’s marking her ninth festival as Arts & Ideas’ executive director this year; the fest itself has been going since 1995.
Beyond the international acts implicit in the festival’s very title, Aleskie noted that the International Festival of Arts & Idea also “celebrates our city and our state,” with local artists and with “thought leaders of national resonance who happen top live in New Haven.”
Often, at this time of year, only key events are announced, in a press release. On Thursday, young adults who’d been a part of the Arts & Ideas student fellowship program were at the announcement to help distribute the complete 48-page A&I brochure booklets.
Jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves (who was previously at the festival in 2012 in a special show alongside Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright) will use the New Haven Symphony Orchestra as her back-up band when she performs a free concert on New Haven Green 7 p.m. June 21. The orchestra used to play frequently in the summertime. Now such gigs are fewer and further between, so this is a gift. The concert’s preceded by an “all-musicians play-in” on the Green where the public can download sheet music, bring an instrument and play along. It’s similar to a play-in held at last year’s festival by Music Haven. This time, it’s a collaboration between Music Haven and NHSO. Music Haven’s Haven String Ensemble will also be tooling around town again in its popular String Quartet Truck, playing five performances in different New Haven neighborhoods between June 14 and 19.
The U.S. premiere of The Events, a “daring new play” about grief and community by David Grieg which was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland last summer, will feature six local choirs singing music composed for the show by John Browne. The Events gets six performances between June 24 and 28 in the Yale Repertory Theatre.
Experimental filmmaker Alan Berliner is granted a festival of his work, with six screenings and two panel discussions June 13-15. Berliner will attend the weekend-long event, which is being co-presented by the Yale Summer Film Institute and is titled Family Matters; The Personal Cinema of Alan Berliner.
Clowning will be paramount. Wet clowning, to be precise. By two-person clown troupes. Compagnie Barolosolo performs their show Ile O atop scaffolding over a shallow pool on New Haven Green June 14 & 15. Acrobuffos toss water balloons at each other, and at suitably attired audience members, June 27 & 28, also on the Green.
Beyond Reeves and the NHSO, other free concerts on New Haven Green for A&I include:
• singer/pianist Lalah Hathaway and American Idol second-season winner Ruben Stoddard, both performing June 14
• The Martha Redbone Roots Project, with opening act Cry You One, June 15. Redbone’s current set takes William Blake poems and set them to Appalachian folk music, while Cry You One spotlights songs and dances from the “vanishing coastal communities” of South Louisiana.
• Country music star Brandy Clark with opening act Bronze Radio Return, June 22.
• La Santa Cecilia (winner of the Best Latin Rock album Grammy Award for 2014) with the New Orleans-based Brazilian band Nation Beat, June 28.
The Weekday “Noon to Night” concerts on the Green are a prime gig for local and regional bands. This year the slots went to The Asberry Boys (noon, June 17), Mikata (6 p.m., June 17), Roosevelt Dime (noon, June 18), Tangolando (6 p.m. June 18), Asylum Quartet (noon June 19), Novela Sin Tiempo (6 p.m. June 19), Kaleidos Duyo (noon June 20), Benyoro (6 p.m. June 20) Val Ramos’ Flamenco Ensemble (noon June 21), The Lonesome Sparrows (6 p.m. June 24), Daniel Boucher (noon June 25), Voci Angelica Trio (6 p.m. June 25), griffindance and Grant Jacoby& Dancers (noon June 26), U.S. Coast Guard Dixieland Band (6 p.m. June 26), The Bummy Brothers (noon June 27) and Dara Tucker (6 p.m. June 27). A “Weekend Showcase” schedule of other community-based acts playing on the Green will be released in May.
Theaterwise, besides The Events, A&I’s indoor, ticketed events include one rapid return, of an act that played the festival just last year. The Canadian acrobatics troupe Les 7 doigts de la main (aka 7 Fingers), which performed Sequence 8 at the festival last year (while their work for the Broadway revival of the musical Pippin was earning acclaim in New York) is back, but with a different show: Traces (while Pippin is earning acclaim on its national tour). Having the same act at consecutive festivals isn’t unheard of, and in fact was a regular feature of early Arts & Ideas festivals back in the ‘90s; Cirque Baroque and the Royal Shakespeare Company are among those who came more than once, with different shows each time.
There are fewer indoor classical music events this year, but experimental composer and cellist Erik Friedlander is a highlight of the whole festival, bringing his concert event Block Ice & Propane: Taking Trips to America to the city where photographs taken by his father, Lee Friedlander, are part of a jazz photo exhibit currently at the Yale Art Gallery. Block Ice and Propane contains other images: “haunting road films” made by Bill Morrison.
Jazz violinist Regina Carter performs her Southern Comfort set of Cajun fiddle music, gospel strains and other Southern sounds, June 17 at Yale’s Morse Recital Hall.
The all-star Irish folk ensemble The Gloaming gets an indoor concert June 19, also at Morse Recital Hall.
Yale Choral Artists, the vocal ensemble which has taken part in the festival before, sings June 20 at the Church of St. Mary on Hillhouse Avenue.
Aguendo (June 18-22 at the Yale Repertory Theatre) is a new experimental piece about an important U.S. Supreme Court freedom-of-speech decision from 1991, involving erotic dancers in Indiana. The show was created and performed by the New York-based Elevator Repair Service, which caused a splash a couple of years ago with its six hour long version of The Great Gatsby, Gatz.
The hip-hop monologist Lemon Anderson odes his County of Kings show June 14 & 15 at the Yale University Theatre. An autobiographical piece with stand-up comedy elements, County of Kings was conceived and directed by Elise Thoron.
As in other years, Arts & Ideas is making sure that modern dance is very much in the mix. Choreographer Reggie Wilson’s Fist and Heel Performance Group kicks it up June 18-21 with Moses(es), a recent work inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain. Wilson and the Fist and Hell troupe will also take part in pre- and post-show discussions at various performances, and there’ll be a panel discussion on June 19 at Yale’s Beinecke Library where Wilson will be joined by several Zora Neale Hurston scholars.
Another dance event with unusual source material is Adele Myers & Dancers’ Einstein’s Happiest Thought (June 24-27 at Yale’s Iseman Theater on Chapel Street). The dance is drawn from “the charged physical states of risk and anticipation.” The troupe is Connecticut-based but has rarely performed in New Haven.
The Ideas side of the Arts & Ideas festival includes a return appearance by New York Times Magazine writer and New Haven resident Jack Hitt, who co-hosts the monthly Amateur Hour discussion series at the Institute Library on Chapel Street. Last time he was at A&I, Hitt had a one-man theater show. This time, it’s more of a talk, on his experiences with electric cars and his researches into the future of transportation. Jack Hitt: From Electric Car to Obsolete Highways is June 15 at the Yale University Art Gallery.
Other Ideas talks range from The Cooking Gene: tracing My African-American Story Through Food by Michael W. Twitty to Thinking About Sports with sportswriters Frank DeFord and Mike Pesce, poet Elizabeth Alexander and author Nicholas Dawidoff and “The Art of Bibliotherapy, or How to Match-Make Between Books and Readers” with British bibliotherapist Susan Elderkin. Journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault discusses South Africa Now: Reflecting on 20 Years of Democracy. As always, many of the Ideas lectures involve artists who are performing at the festival. Reggie Wilson’s doing one. So is composer John Browne. There are 15 “Ideas” talks in all.
Some familiar family events are returning. Box City is back. So is the Children’s Film Festival. So are the bike tours and the gallery tours and the “Food Experiences” tours.
As it was last year, the Arts & Ideas festival has been selected to host the ceremony for the Governor’s Arts Awards, which are presented to Connecticut residents of national renown in the arts. The award recipients have yet to be announced. The ceremony happens on the festival’s opening day, June 14. Another opening day event is a “gala kick-off dinner” held fire festival patrons and sponsors at the Beinecke Library.
The festival’s had to do without one of its main venues this year. The Shubert is closed for renovations this summer as it prepares for a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of its opening. Yale University venues are handling the lion’s share of indoor events.
Ticketed events tend to cost $35-$65—less than these same shows charge when they play other cities on tour. The shows on the Green, including the concerts and clown shows, are free. Ideas events are free, but an “Ideas Fast Pass” is for sale at $50 which guarantees the holder a seat at the more popular talks.
The complete Arts & Ideas schedule is on the festival’s website, here.