International Festival of Arts & Ideas 2012

Reflections: A view of the Arts & Ideas Festival on the Green

The Arts & Ideas Festival is international in scope, using the unique geography of New Haven as a venue through which to showcase artists and academics from around the globe. But on a recent Saturday, in the heart of downtown, these roles were reversed as the festival played host while New Haven showed off a little of what it has to offer. That day saw a day-long showcase of musicians, dancers, and community groups from New Haven and across the state in the form of two performance stages and a line of family-oriented activity tents.

Kicking off the day was the sixth annual Channel 1 Block Party on Temple Street, hosted by New Haven's Channel 1 Showroom & Gallery. From noon till six, the street filled with the sounds and movement of DJs, break dancers, and live sets from Waterbury's Sketch tha Cataclysm and New Haven's Political Animals. Two mural walls were gradually covered by the intricate chaos of graffiti art, with special guest and legendary New York artist Cey Adams watching from the wings.

“This generation is becoming more homogenized, more separated,” says Channel 1 co-owner Lou Cox, recalling the diversity of the neighborhood block parties he experienced during his youth in New Haven. “The idea is to do one of these in every neighborhood in town, and at the end of the summer do one big event to bring everyone together. This is the kick-off for all that.”

Leslie Cohen, Cox's wife and other Channel 1 co-owner, puts it perhaps more succinctly when she says, “People walk by who might never see another break dance competition in their lives.”

At the Family Stage across the Green the afternoon saw a line-up of world music acts including Connecticut's Oboe Duo Agosto with Yovianna García, folk group Echo Ugunda from East Africa by way of Wesleyan University, and the Jolly Beggars, a Celtic band out of Hartford.

While the Beggars played upbeat arrangements of traditional Irish songs about the Troubles and conflict with the English, the tent hosted by New Haven organization Promoting Enduring Peace saw 5th grade students from the King/Robinson School performing a self-penned song entitled “Save the World,” with heartfelt lyrics pleading for an end to violence and warfare. Balloons were given free to children, on the sides of which were drawn symbols of peace in magic marker.

“It's a festival about Arts and Ideas, and we're really blending each,” said one volunteer, “You'd be amazed how many kids know how to make a peace sign. Even the really little ones.”

Next door at the West Haven Students Art Show artwork from K-5 students at West Haven Head Start was displayed, with father and son volunteers Kenny and Kenny Jr. providing free coloring and origami lessons (this reporter made a somewhat functional flapping crane). “We need art shows for kids,” said Kenny the elder, in his seventh year bringing just that to Arts & Ideas. “We need to support the arts in our communities and our school, to support our art teachers and show kids that this is important. This is a great outlet.”

The day’s main attractions were a series of dance performances on the Elm Street Stage, kicking off with a series of series of pieces by students of the New Haven Ballet. Of particular note was a piece by New York based choreographer and performance artist Katie Rose McLaughlin. In a man’s suit from the waist up and wearing only white briefs from the waist down, McLaughlin performed an interpretive dance set to a monologue that ranged from academic lecture to free verse poetry to post-modern exercises in self-reference, read live by a man seated far stage right. The performance was refreshingly unique, and would have seemed more at home in an after-hours gallery than the main stage of “Weekend Afternoons.” Nevertheless old men, young children and scatterings in between sat on the grass and watched, rapt.

University of New Haven students Eric, Paul, Nicole, and John caught McLaughlin’s set front and center after coming down to Arts & Ideas to break the monotony of their summer break. “This shows New Haven has a lot of personality,” said Eric of the festival, a native of Milford, New Hampshire. “There's more than just its reputation as a violent place, there's culture here. It's really changed my opinion of the town.”

“I feel like people who are born and raised in Connecticut a lot of times are afraid to come into New Haven,” said New York native Maxine, voicing a similar sentiment. “This brings people in.”

She checked out the Elm Street Stage with her sister Sara, a Bethany transplant, and Sara’s neighbor Mauren. “We came for the music,” said Sara. “The acts are interesting,” agreed Mauren. “There's so much to see.”

The trio chatted and indulged in with wine and hors d'oeuvres laid out in front of their camp chairs as dusk began to settle and the dense crowd got ready for the main event, a performance by New Haven’s favorite Gypsy- swing export Caravan of Thieves and Grammy-winning Black roots band the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Maxine beamed, “I love it, it reminds me of something in Central Park.”

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Remote Happiness: David Lang's 'love fail' is a meditation on love

The story of Tristan and Isolde (or Iseult) is one of the greatest love stories in Western literary history, forming not only the basis for Wagner’s opera, but also playing its part in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and providing inspiration for other tragic tales of love. For his composition/theater piece love fail, Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang searched through various texts that tell the story, particularly Gottfried von Strassburg but also Sir Thomas Malory, Marie de France and others, looking, as he says, for “weird incidents.” Stripped of all reference to Tristan, Isolde/Iseult, King Mark or any other elements that would make the piece seem merely a dramatization of the age-old story, love fail is a fascinating meditation on love’s lyricism, its almost mystic force, and its surprising moods and shifting desires.

Sung by the female vocal group Anonymous 4, noted for their adaptations of medieval compositions, such as plainsong, for female voices, love fail is a stunning exercise in vocal precision, polyphony, overlapping voices, and hypnotic variations on simple lyrics. The piece begins with “he was and she was,” in which descriptive terms for the two lovers are sounded against a backdrop of voices, including percussive whispers. With the stage set for intensive listening, the evening becomes an occasion for marveling at what the four gifted singers—Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek—are able to do with their voices, creating layered effects that are—no doubt because of the medieval associations of the music—spiritual and meditative.

There are also humorous elements—mostly provided by texts taken from MacArthur fellow Lydia Davis. Wonderful examples of precision and compression in their own right, Davis’ writings add a wry, modern touch to the piece. Perhaps my favorite segment, “right and wrong” (following “the wood and the vine,” adapted from Marie de France, which is also particularly strong), provides convoluted R.D. Laing-like reflections on how being right doesn’t make one right if, “in some cases,” it is wrong to be right. The “right and wrong” instances are in reference to a female, making the piece a subtle comment on sexual politics as well as a general moral consideration. As sung, the interplay between the lead voice and the accompanying voice is riveting: the lead sounds a single note/word at intervals, and in those intervals the accompanying voice must sing through the text to the next interval. Pacing was everything in this unusual form of call-and-response; the call was almost a punctuation of the response while also acting as an introductory note for each sequence.

The texts are projected on a transparency behind the singers, making it easy to follow the words. There are also large projections showing male and female faces, made-up to appear as if they are in a fantasy film, that are more or less moving portraits. Primarily static, the images move slowly, and are more of a distraction than an illustration. Jim Findlay’s set design is simple and elegant, able to look at home in a concert hall, a theater stage, or a church, but his video design was the least inspiring aspect of the piece. The lighting and look of the faces put me in mind of the recent Cindy Sherman retrospective—not an association I would normally bring to this work.

While each segment of love fail has its own significance, the 12 parts, taken together, yield a progression from introduction of the lovers to reflections on love’s durability, and on the heart’s forgetfulness toward the arguments the head furnishes against love. Musically, we might say it moves toward transcendence of the sorrows of love, though—again, due to medieval associations—the idea of true happiness on earth is remote, and so love and sorrow must be inextricably linked.

A vibrant work for voices, love fail does not fail to provide thought about love, evoking love’s higher aspirations as well as some of its darker reaches. The masterful Anonymous 4 are not to be missed.

IF YOU GO: What: love fail by David Lang performed by Anonymous 4 When: 4 p.m. June 30 Where: Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St. Tickets: $35-$45 Info:

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Still Don't Know How He Did It: Wu Hsing-kuo's one-man 'King Lear'

The production of King Lear by Contemporary Legend Theater of Taiwan mixes the ancient and the modern to startling effect. As a one-man show featuring Wu Hsing-kuo, who also directed the show and adapted it from its source, King Lear becomes a series of vignettes that dramatize both the high theatricality of Shakespeare’s play as well as what might be thought of as its folklore elements, and ends with a reflection on theater itself.

The story of a king who ill-advisedly chooses to divide his kingdom among his daughters -- Goneril, Regan and Cordelia -- King Lear is also a story of the aged being mistreated by the young.  The harsh treatment of Lear by Goneril and Regan is matched by the story of Gloucester, who foolishly trusts his illegitimate son, Edmund, and becomes a blind and broken man, assisted by his legitimate son Edgar in the disguise of a mad beggar.

Condensing the plot and subplot into a three-act structure running under two hours in length requires a certain skill in dealing in broad strokes. Wu Hsing-kuo’s Lear begins with the madness of Lear, and the scene of his frantic condition in a thunderstorm. Having banished his loyal daughter, Cordelia, and been mistreated by his other daughters, Lear wanders a heath, calling on the gods for comfort. Screens to the right and left of the stage translate the Chinese dialogue, but words are less important in this opening scene than the stylized acting, an interplay of gesture and music. The rapid rhythms of the Lee Yi-Chin’s score create an anxious texture that seems to surround Lear, producing an atmosphere of confusion and conflict.

Costumes (by Tim Yip) are also of great importance to the production, as the long flowing hair and beard of Lear are expressive devices as used by Wu, as are his truly majestic robes. Seeing such an impressive figure flail about the stage, wringing his hands, doing flips and falls, we know at once he’s mad and the entire scene becomes a great man’s struggle with his own nature. If the great can become the low, where can certainty be found? Wu’s Lear is a study of warring mannerisms that finally ends with the king humbled, placing flowers in his hair while recalling giving a flower to his youngest daughter whose loss he now mourns.

At this point Wu emerges from his King Lear costume and speaks to us an actor or, as he says, Lear’s storyteller. Having set aside the costume of Lear he indicates that there is more to the story, and the first act ends.

The second act is all about transformations as Wu begins in the character of Lear’s Fool who enlivens the tale from the perspective of the lowly. At first he was no better than Lear’s dog, but now he sees Lear as a foolish king, reduced to a figure of fun. Wu’s monologue as the Fool skillfully establishes satire as an attitude toward Lear’s court, and this view is extended into his enactments of the three daughters. This part of the play, in which Wu costumes himself in the regal trappings of the emperor’s daughters, and depicts the vain and deceitful characters of Goneril and Regan, with all the  grace of Beijing opera, is striking, creating a world of ritual manners, in contrast to the lowly Fool’s bent-knee postures, that is beguiling but also comical.

After Cordelia strikes a sincere contrast to her sisters, Wu transforms again — giving us in brief the story of Edmund’s false defense of his father Gloucester, Edgar’s transformation into “poor Tom,” and finally, and most dramatically, Gloucester’s search for death on a high cliff. Having said that, I still don’t know how Wu managed to recreate all these scenes in such rapid succession; I do know that the image of Gloucester on the rocks surrounded by mist and the surging sounds of the ocean will stay with me for a while.

Gloucester’s leap to darkness is followed by a voice narrating the eventual reconciliation of Gloucester and Edgar, and this introduces the last act: Wu Hsing-kuo in his own character as the Actor. Speaking still within the stylized context of the play, Wu addresses us as an actor who is a character and a character who is an actor. At once, the skillful transformations we have watched become a series of artificial identities that trap the Actor.

The final speech comments on a quality of the play that is hard to pin down: these roles are not only Shakespeare’s, but were selected by him from older sources, and, in this current form, now translated into the words and rhythms and costumes of Chinese theater, they take on a wider application, a global reach we might say. And this new formulation of Lear shows how the situations in the play—the family drama, the generational tensions, the class elements, the archetypal nature of a blind man being led by a mad man—have become emblematic myths told about the human condition. Wu’s final statements struck me as a realization not only of the tragedy of Lear, but of the sorrow of theater itself as a world that can only pretend to be true.

Wu Hsing-kuo and the Contemporary Legend Theater of Taiwan have memorably transformed King Lear into an experience of theater as both timeless and contingent.


IF YOU GO: Who: King Lear by the Contemporary Legend Theater of Taiwan When: 8 p.m. June 29 Where: University Theatre, 222 York St. Tickets: $35-$45 Info:

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A Cash of American Music: Rosanne performs from her newest record

As a teenager, Rosanne Cash went on tour with her father, the rockabilly and country legend Johnny Cash, where she says she was first formally exposed to country music standards as a musician.

“My mother had her favorites that she would always play around the house, like Patsy Cline and Ray Charles, and of course those musicians influenced me,” she says. “But when I started buying records, I wasn’t checking out country. I was a huge Beatles fan. I loved Elton John, Buffalo Springfield, you know, the popular music of the time. I was re-educated in country music when I went on the road with my dad after high school.”

Cash’s latest record, The List, is a collection of country standards compiled on a list of essentials to know and learn by her father.

Cash grew up in Los Angeles and Ventura, Calif. She started making records in 1979 and has had No. 1 singles on both the pop and country charts. She considers herself a singer-songwriter rather than a country musician, but in general resists labels and classifications; even when describing her new record, which has a pronounced influence from her father.

“I don't think that all the interpretations could be classified as country,” Cash says. “The songs on The List are not just country, but borrow from a lot of traditions: Appalachian music, American roots music, classic soul, and protest songs. They are not all strictly country songs.”

Cash goes on to explain that American music generally draws on a number of influences.

“There was a lot of feeder streams that went into country,” she says. “It was influenced by everything around it.”


IF YOU GO: What: Rosanne Cash When: 7:30 p.m. June 30 Where: The New Haven Green Tickets: Free Info:

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Feats of Timing: Circa defies gravity, easy interpretation

ARTS & IDEAS: Circa is billed as “movement at its most adventurous and dangerous,” and it lives up to its billing, but it’s also more than that. It’s also kinetic sculpture, physical theater, poetic gymnastics, breath-taking and mind-bending acrobatics.

The troupe displays a mastery that is hard to rationalize at times: You see it, but you don’t quite believe it. At the end of some particularly audacious stunt, you find yourself marveling at the powers of mind over matter. The body, we might think, has no choice but to do what the brain tells it to do, unless it can’t do it and simply fails. The bodies of Circa don’t fail, but perform what’s demanded of them and what’s demanded of them is thrilling and beautiful to behold.

Like what? Feats of timing, of extension, of more or less levitating—they’re called “handstands” but you haven’t seen handstands like this. Dancing with hoops (to the tune of Jacques Brel’s ever-accelerating “Le valse à mille temps”), ballet moves suspended on a rope, nimble use of hands that gives prestidigitation a new meaning. And, most memorably, lots of stepping on, climbing on, swinging on and throwing each other.

That description makes the show sound very much like circus stunts, and, of course, that’s what it is. Circa, though, has more on its mind than simply amazing us with its incredible tumbling, balance, and handstand skills. Each segment has musical accompaniment that adds dimension and theatrical purpose. We’re invited not simply to marvel at what we’re watching but to consider what it means.

A case in point, and probably my favorite sequence: Stylized as a pas de deux, the interaction between Freyja Edney and Darcy Grant became an amazing display of . . . the eternal patient suffering of women? Grant climbed all over Edney, at one point standing on her head. Of course, if it were the other way around, and she were climbing all over him, we would probably be less engaged. Seeing the woman “on the bottom” in this way gave the stunt a theatrical meaning beyond its skill.

Another example: Casey Douglas did a handstand on a sawhorse, then on one hand. Members of the company brought him blocks. By the time he was doing a handstand on two columns of three blocks on a sawhorse, we saw his point: At what point is he too high, when does “what goes up must come down” take effect? His dismount after letting the towers crumble wasn’t simply a dismount, it was a plunge.

Or, if the idea of a man treading on a woman makes you uneasy, how about a woman in heels (Emma Grant) literally walking all over a man (to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s sardonic “I Came So Far For Beauty”)? You might think of S&M routines (he probably loves it), but with that song playing, there’s time to reflect on what Cohen means in another song when he speaks of those “oppressed by the figures of beauty.”

The point is that every routine is interpretive, as dance or theater, and not only circus stunts. The audience, provoked into awe and pleasure, gasped, laughed, and applauded the amazing feats, but sometimes that distracted from what the piece was saying. Like skilled mimes, the show implies more about the human condition than one expects. With its many exuberant moments of the full company flowing and flying and undulating and contorting around the stage, Circa is a good show to see if you want to feel proud of and humbled by the powers of the human body.


IN YOU GO: What: Circa, directed by Yaron Lifschitz When: 8 p.m. June 28 and 29; 2 p.m. June 30 Where: Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, 177 College St. Tickets: $35-$45 Info:

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The Humanist: Yuval Ron brings the Middle East to New Haven

ARTS & IDEAS: When Yuval Ron was 17 years old, he ventured out from his home in Israel into the Sanai Desert with a guitar. There he met the Bedouin, a nomadic people with a distinct musical tradition.

“I played music with them and they embraced me, because I could play the guitar, and they could play the oud, which I play now,” Ron says from his Los Angeles studio. “They are tribal from this remote desert. My connection to them was through appreciating their music, but that made me appreciate them as a culture, as a people. It made me realize that culture and people and environment are one in the same. If you mistreat the people or the environment, you lose the culture.”

Ron has been playing sacred and folkloric music from the Middle East with his ensemble for 12 years. On June 28, the Yuval Ron Ensemble will perform a sold-out performance at Morse Recital Hall on College Street. On June 29, the group will perform a free concert of upbeat dance songs from the Middle East on the New Haven Green.

The members of the group and the songs they perform are as diverse as the region itself. Growing up in the conflict-torn region as an Israeli, Ron said he was raised with one specific nationalistic and religious perspective. His music is in part a reaction to that, and Ron says he deliberately tries to transcend national borders and what he calls “artificial” divisions.

“The music that I do does represent a global perspective, but it starts with a regional perspective: a Middle Eastern perspective, which is where we are from. We embrace all the beauty in that region,” Ron says. “The perspective that I have is more humanistic than nationalistic. I am interested in using the information and research I do to bring out the human expression from both sides of the border to point out their commonality, and to show their commonality across borderlines is greater than the things that separate them.”

For Ron, this was a radical realization that he came to at the end of his teenage years.

“I can tell you that growing up in Israel, each side of the divide has a different narrative of what happened—not just in the last 30 years or 50 years—in the last 200 years, even 500 years. So it’s a very complex issue and when you grow up,

you only hear one side of the story,” Ron says. “I didn’t have any Arabic friends, any Christian friends, any Muslim friends. I didn’t meet anybody who was any different from me. I was 19 or 20 when I started meeting people who have a different heritage, a different narrative from mine.”

When asked if there are parallels between U.S. society and the Middle East, Ron says the most striking similarity is the opportunity for cultural cross-pollination.

“The U.S. is a melting pot as well. They are very similar societies here in the U.S. and in Israel. There is no other country on earth with so many people from different countries and religions living side-by-side than in the U.S. and Israel, and any time you have that meeting of cultures you have an opportunity for combinations and fusions of music. In the States, look at jazz, it is a fusion of different cultures that clashed and met in the U.S. Jazz didn’t happen in Africa, it happened in the U.S. with African roots mating with Celtic roots and German roots.”


IF YOU GO: What: The Yuval Ron Ensemble When: Noon, June 29 Where: the New Haven Green Tickets: Free Info:

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Joy of Man's Desiring: Mark Morris Dance Group with Yale ensembles

ARTS & IDEAS: The Mark Morris Dance Group performed three classics of the choreographer's repertoire Thursday night at the Shubert Theater. Each was accompanied by the Yale Choral Artists and the Yale Collegium Players, respectively the home-town baroque orchestra (with period instruments) and choir (with countertenors and all). Mark Morris himself conducted the ensembles.

"A Lake" was first performed in 1991 and has lost none of its freshness or charm. It seamlessly combines modern-dance movement with ballet, and the effect is like watching troupe of 18th century court dancers that lost interest in the trappings of point shoes a long time ago. Set to one of Haydn's Horn Concertos, "A Lake" had a feeling of effervescent, especially during the French horn's jaunty cadenzas. It took a while for the horn to hit its stride, but once it did, its bounding lines were a delightful accompaniment to the swishing frocks of the dancers.

That Morris's choreography is like watching a fugue unfold one layer at a time was evident in 1981's "Gloria," the show's final piece. On the surface this is a humoresque of sorts, beginning with a female dancer imitating the movements of something like a marionette. Another gag was dancers pushing their prostrated selves along the floor like salmon swimming upstream.

But when the laugh wore off I was struck by a profound thought. If you take the dancers not as individuals but as an organic whole, they moved like flocks of migratory birds or large herding animals, which, if viewed from a distance, can be said to possess a logic of their own that must work its way through a fugue-like process to a logical end. While Vivaldi's "Gloria" sings praises to the Lord, Morris seems to sing praises to nature. Or maybe it's just me.

Which brings me to the second work, Bach's "Jesu, meine Freude" (1991), the one I'll end with, because it was the most gorgeous of the three works and the most overtly religious (in the pan-theistic, non-denominational sense).

It began with a big blast from the Yale Choral Artists and two men wearing nothing but flowing linen slacks, one behind the other, standing still but for hand gestures suggesting a four-armed priest delivering a homily. I was reminded of Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a beautifully brutralist tribute to the heavenly host. Morris's movement was as spare as it was laden with rich religious sentiment, two opposing feelings finding wholeness in one.

The company performs again tonight at the Shubert.


IF YOU GO: What: The Mark Morris Dance Group When: 8 p.m. June 22 Where: Shubert Theater, 247 College St. Tickets: $20-$50 Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

With All My Hart: The National Theatre of Scotland at Wicked Wolf

ARTS & IDEAS: Writer David Greig and director Wils Wilson have created a touring production that brings a bit of Scotland to this year’s Arts & Ideas. The National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart mixes scholarship about border ballads with folklore about unwary travelers snagged by the devil, incorporates romantic comedy situations and also tweaks the twee staples of Scots culture as well as the tweeting tendencies of our global moment. And what’s more, most of the show is in rhyme, and heavily inflected by Scots’ accents—ta buute!

Staged at the Wicked Wolf Tavern (all productions of the play on tour will take place in taverns or in tavern-like settings), Prudencia Hart is a good night out, managing to be funny, brainy, bawdy, spooky, sexy, silly, and a wee bit longer than it needs to be. It tells the tale of a scholar, Prudencia (Madeleine Worrall), who goes to a conference in the sticks, only to be ruffled by a rival colleague, the hip-as-can-be Colin (David McKay), and then subsequently—to avoid close quarters with him at a B&B—gets lost in the snow, only to encounter mysterious characters such as the Woman in White (Annie Grace) and an affable fellow (Andy Clark) who may have dark designs.

The cast is joined by Alasdair Macrae, the award-winning composer and musical director of the play, who aids in sundry ways by bringing in music, playing an emcee, and helping to keep things rolling with his manic presence. If fatigue sets in, it’s probably going to be during the lengthy masked bit, which has the feel of one of those interminable drinking games that are better experienced far from sober—the topic here is the debauchery of some locals in the town of Kelso, and is perhaps the sort of thing that might play better not so far from home. As it is, for comic purposes, I was much more entertained by the mock-ups of the kind of local jokes posing as talents one would be likely to find in a Scots pub on a cold winter’s night, flailing the hide off over-familiar folk tunes.

Another longueur surfaces in Act 2—and part of the trouble is right there: it’s a two-act play that has to pad itself a bit to sport a proper length—when our heroine Prudencia is imprisoned in a hellish B&B (though the extensive library makes it heavenly to our ever curious lassie) and the exchanges between Prudencia and her host resort to prose.

There’s no way this part isn’t going to seem flat after all the sprightly rhymes and bouncy rhythms of Act 1. The slowing of the pace serves a purpose, but it has the feel of a glass of bubbly after the bubbles have gone.

The game cast makes the most of the space, moving about among the audience, jumping up on the tables, and coming at us from all sides. One improv moment I particularly enjoyed occurred when Colin greeted a fellow seated at my table (Broken Umbrella Theatre’s Ian Alderman) as “Hamish”; Hamish-Ian greeted him back and was told “ah, you’ve lost your accent.” Without missing a beat, Alderman replied, “I’ve had amnesia.” Again, most of this sort of hijinks occurs in the first half when we’re all still delighted with each other’s company. In the second half, there’s an attempt to bring the energy back up to the raucous by having McKay, in his underwear, cavort karaoke-style for the worshipful locals, but I found him more entertaining bickering over the deconstructive tendencies of modern scholarship rather than loutishly strutting.

Andy Clark’s sinister host was well done and Annie Grace’s spooky lady—lit only by the light (“once a Girl Guide always a Girl Guide”) on Prudencia’s head—memorable with her keening vocals. As Prudencia, Madeleine Worrall embodies perfectly the stodgy intellectual who ends up finding a bit of peril, a bit of fun, and a whole lot of new material for her research; she boasts a wonderfully settled composure no matter how wacky or other-worldly the goings-on might be.

As a staging space, the Wicked Wolf leaves a bit to be desired. The lighting is, for the most part, restaurant houselights, not great at setting a mood. The part in total blackness, but for Prudencia’s beacon, was a welcome change, as were the candlelit bits. There’s also the large brick pillar in the center of the playing space to be considered, and where you sit in relation to it will affect your access. The National Theatre of Scotland has no home base and so presents its moveable feasts all over the country and all over the world in site-specific locations. The benefit of avoiding the tired old distance between audience and actors is the feeling of lively impromptu in a shared space.

More than anything, Prudencia Hart is to be relished for its language, for the lilt of the accents, for its music and voices and many clever asides. It also managed at times—miraculously—to transport us to cold and snowy Kelso on a very hot June night in a not overly air conditioned New Haven establishment.

And that strange doing was most welcome.


IF YOU GO: What: National Theatre of Scotland's The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart When: June 22-23 & 26-30 at 7 p.m.; June 23, 24, 27 at 1 p.m. Where: Wicked Wolf Tavern, 144 Temple St. Tickets: $34-$45 ($15 food and beverage minimum) Info:

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Put It on My Gab: Slate magazine's popular political 'Gabfest'

ARTS & IDEAS: Remember back when the internet was young? Like, 1996?

So a guy named Bill Gates had this notion that people would actually read articles on their web browsers (Yahoo, Excite, Lycos). And he hired the famous editor Michael Kinsley to build him a web magazine.

They called it, and it was based in Seattle. It was such a novel idea — with such uncertain prospects for success — that they also made a weekly print edition, a low-fi stapled affair, that they mailed to subscribers who were unsure about this whole internet thing.

Well, made it. It is now owned by The Washington Post, and it has been through a couple re-designs. But it has persevered and become a web must-read.

One of its most popular features is the "Gabfest," which was to political podcasts what the magazine itself was to web magazines: one of the first, and still one of the best. On Wednesday evening, the "Gabfest" comes to New Haven.

This week's panelists will be Slate editor David Plotz; senior editor (and New Haven resident) Emily Bazelon; and political writer John Dickerson (who's also political director of CBS News). They will talk election, Obama, and whatever else moves them ... and who knows, there may be room for audience participation.

Show up with something witty to say.

And it's the web, so it doesn't matter how you dress.

IF YOU GO What: Slate's "Gabfest" When: 5:30 p.m. June 27 Where: British Art Center, 1080 Chapel St. Tickets: Free Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

Leaving Eden: Carolina Chocolate Drops remember weird America

ARTS & IDEAS: For the past few years, you could say there's been a bit of a resurgence in interest in traditional American musical styles, and with it, a move to do to American music again what Dylan did to it a generation ago: to combine the sounds of old, weird America and the music lots of people listen to today.

Buck 65 took a stab at it with Talkin' Honky Blues in 2003. The Low Anthem has been steadily rising since 2007 by using the sounds of old country, gospel, and blues in ever new ways. And, of course, there was Mumford and Sons' breakout performance with Dylan at the Grammys, turning the stage into a 1960s-style hootenanny, which hearkens back even further into the past.

One of the more interesting groups going after the ancient-modern alchemy is the Carolina Chocolate Drops—Grammy winners themselves for their 2010 album Genuine Negro Jig—and if you were to describe the various musical acts as a race to perfect the formula, to my ears, the Chocolate Drops might be in the lead.

The Chocolate Drops, then composed of Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, and Justin Robinson, started off almost like historians. The band's first album, Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind, found them paying homage to the great black fiddle-banjo duo Joe and Odell Thompson (the title of the album is taken from one of the Thompsons' signature tunes) while also placing them in the context of other string band and jug band acts that were, more or less, the Thompsons' contemporaries. But even on that first album, there was a hint of what was coming: the Chocolate Drops weren't just recreating old recordings, but playing them like they wanted to, infusing the old music with their own spirit, energy, and sensibility.

They followed that up with years of relentless touring, during which they grew and developed their sound. A lot. A collaboration with the Luminescent Orchestrii, a band doing similar things with Eastern European music as the Chocolate Drops were doing with Americana, led to some of the most hip hop-inflected work for both groups. Giddens proceeded to work with Sxip Shirey, guitarist for the Lumiis and a composer in his own right, and appeared on Shirey's Sonic New York. The result of all this for the Chocolate Drops was Genuine Negro Jig, and the Grammy that followed.

Justin Robinson left the band after the Grammy win—he's currently heading up this fascinating project—and Flemons and Giddens took on Hubby Jenkins to round out the trio, with support from beat-boxer Adam Matta and Leyla McCalla on cello.

The project recorded with this lineup, Leaving Eden, is their strongest album to date. The sound still partakes heavily of the old American music the Chocolate Drops have been swimming in, but the modern elements are stronger and everything comes together even more seamlessly than before, in a more compelling way.

They're right to put "Country Girl" forward as a single. The unusual instrumentation—fiddle, banjo, mandolin, cello, and beat box—lays down an unmistakably modern groove, letting Giddens's beautiful voice slide and soar. But then the album's opener, "Riro's House," marries stringband music to a rolling snare that shows the connection between Appalachia and New Orleans while also rocking pretty damn hard. "West End Blues" delivers a spare slink. And the title track is a moody slice of gorgeous country.

Leaving Eden is another step forward in the band's evolution, another signpost in these musicians' pilgrimage across the American landscape, and New Haven should consider itself pretty lucky that we're one of the stops. Fittingly, opening for the Chocolate Drops will be Caravan of Thieves, one of New Haven's most successful musical exports in recent years.



IF YOU GO: What: The Carolina Chocolate Drops with Caravan of Thieves When: 7 p.m., June 23 Where: The New Haven Green Tickets: Free Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

Blood, Sweat and Tears: Bassist Ben Allison plays poetry of Robert Pinsky

I didn't have a proper appreciation for On the Road until I saw a video excerpt of its author, Jack Kerouac, reading an excerpt of the novel on Steve Allen's variety show. Allen made a habit of interviewing guests while vamping at the piano. Turns out it was a perfect setting for Kerouac, and he used it. [youtube][/youtube]

Words and music have a history together, as Ben Allison reminded me recently. And it's a continuation of that history that Allison, a native of New Haven and one of the hottest bassists around, is going to do this week with none other than Robert Pinsky.

Pinsky is well known as a former poet laureate of the United States, a frequent commentator on PBS on poetry, art and culture, and a translator of Dante's Inferno. He is generally a spokesman for poetry though he once lent his voice to an audio book of a biography of legendary pitcher Sandy Koufax.

More importantly, at least where this latest project is concerned, is Pinsky's background as a musician. He once said that while he was translating the Inferno, he'd take a break to blow a few licks on the tenor saxophone, which always sat by his desk.

"Words and rhythm together are as old as words are," Allison says. "But over time, the poetry has been separated from the performance and Robert is doing what he can to bring that back."

Allison met Pinsky some years ago at the Arts & Ideas Festival, where Allison has played many times. Its director, Mary Lou Aleskie, introduced them with the hope that something would spark between them. He really didn't know Pinsky or his work, but Allison had worked with poets in the past. Just before Allison was set to go on stage, they improvised a little set and knew something sparked.

"His poems have a kind of Americanness to them," Allison. "It's very New Jersey, lots of subtle and not-so-subtle elements that I love. I'm a big fan of high art and low art and everything in between. Simple words carry a lot of meaning with Robert."

Allison is no stranger to poetry. His mother is an English teacher. His brother is a poet. But the musicality of poetry escaped him. It wasn't until he started working with Pinsky that he realized that poetry had to be performed to really come alive.

"It's like reading a screenplay or watching the movie," he says. There's really only one way it's meant to be.

Just before our conversation, Allison testified before the U.S. Congress on the unfairness of royalties. Currently, radio stations pay songwriters for the rights to broadcast their music, but they do not pay the performers who made the recordings.

He wrote on his blog after testifying: "What we’re talking about here is whether people believe that music has value – that after all the blood, sweat and tears that American musicians pour into their craft, they should be afforded the same rights enjoyed by musicians throughout the rest of the developed world."

Amen to that.

Click here to hear Pinsky read "Samurai Song." Samurai Song

Then play the video below to hear the same poem with Allison's group.

IF YOU GO: What: The Ben Allison Band with Robert Pinsky When: 8 p.m., June 27 Where: Morse Recital Hall, 470 College St. Tickets: $35-$45 Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

Blossoms of Sound: Red Baraat and Noori bring the world to New Haven

ARTS & IDEAS: If the Arts & Ideas Festival is any indication, brass bands are having a moment. On Sunday, Asphalt Orchestra played two full sets of delightfully raucous horn and drums on the New Haven Green, including a bit where they left the stage and rioted through the audience; your correspondent's son had the honor of being chased by a saxophone player.

Asphalt Orchestra covered everyone from Thomas Mapfumo and Charles Mingus to Frank Zappa and David Byrne and St. Vincent, in addition to deploying several original compositions. It all felt of a piece, and it should have: Brass bands, after all, have a rich and astonishingly varied tradition to draw on. They can pull from Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, or Benny Moré, then turn around and dig deep in New Orleans, or Eastern Europe, or Mexico—really, just about anywhere in the world.

For Sunny Jain, the dhol player and MC of Red Baraat, a nine-piece brass band playing on June 24, the starting point was the brass bands he heard a lot of in India: "a baraat," he explains to me over the phone, "is a procession that happens for a wedding in North India—it’s something I’d seen since I’d been going back to visit, which I'd done since I was 5 years old."

As he grew as a musician in the United States, he played across multiple genres, as many professional musicians do, but that sound stayed in his head. "I wanted an acoustic band that was primarily horns and drums," he says, "drawing from the Punjabi and North Indian rhythms." But his idea quickly began to develop outward from there, since the horn players he knew had experience with jazz, funk, reggae, ska, R&B, and classical music, "more reflective of being Indian-American," Jain says, than of recreating an Indian marching band in Brooklyn.

Developing the band's material likewise has "always been a collaborative process"; some composition is involved, but the pieces really come into their own by being played in front of crowds, improvised on, pushed and pulled to let happy accidents happen and be used to make the compositions better.

"When you open yourself up to that, things really can blossom musically," Jain says.

Then he stops and laughs.

"You know, I can sit here and talk about the music in an intelligent and analytical way, but ultimately that’s not what it’s about. We’re here to deliver emotion, and that’s something that’s universal. We're to create a global dance party—it’s just music, and the only political message is to understand that the highest religion is humanity."

He talks just like I hoped he would when I was listening to Red Baraat before interviewing him, because all of that comes through in the music. You can hear North India in it, and jazz and funk and ska, too, and it's fun to nerd-out over it and figure out where it all comes from and how it fits together.

But in the end, the genre labels don't mean all that much; what matters is that big, propulsive groove, the energy that rolls off the band time and time again, whether they're playing in a club, at a big festival, or in a church.

"Brazilian people say it sounds like samba, Caribbean people say it sounds like soca, and D.C. people say it sounds like go-go," Jain says. That's how accessible the music is. People find what's familiar to their ear in it and let themselves be carried away by the rest.

In an intriguing scheduling turn, Arts & Ideas has paired Red Baraat with Noori, a Pakistani rock band formed by two brothers—one a trained lawyer and the other a business-school graduate—who left their professions behind to become one of Pakistan's most successful rock acts, putting out a slew of recordings, performing hundreds of shows, and winning a few awards. They're on their first-ever tour of the U.S., and Jain is excited to be splitting the bill with them.

"Maybe we'll get to jam a little together," he says.

That could be something to hear.



IF YOU GO: What: Red Baraat & Noori Where: New Haven Green When: 7 p.m., June 24 Tickets: Free Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

Mind in Motion: Kyle Abraham and his acclaimed troupe dance to the memory of his father

ARTS & IDEAS: Choreographer Kyle Abraham ran an errand up to Massachusetts before arriving in New Haven. He had to collect a check for $25,000, part of an annual award given by the renowned Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires of Western Mass. The prize is one of the biggest in the perennially cash-strapped world of dance, and past recipients are among the giants of the art form, including Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones and Crystal Pite.

"I was so surprised to see the past winners," says Abraham, whose seven-member dance troupe has a five-night engagement at this year's Arts & Ideas Festival. "I don't really belong on that list."

Well, he does. But no one minds a little modesty.

Abraham is acclaimed for combining elements of ballet, modern dance and hip hop into seamless aesthetic. Dance magazine named his an artist to watch in 2009. His newest production, called The Radio Show, takes its inspiration from an AM-FM radio station that's no longer in operation in his native Pittsburgh. It used to broadcast classic soul, contemporary R&B and call-in talk shows that offered advice on sex, politics, and whatever was vital at the time to the local African-American community.

Abraham uses the idea of radio signals fading in and fading out in time and space as a metaphor for his father's aphasia (a disorder that debilitates language) and Alzheimer's disease. The entire work is an attempt to express the cultural identity of his neighborhood and themes of family and memory.

"I wanted to talk about the pain of loss, of losing a radio station that served so many for so long and of losing my father and his memories," he says. "I decided to focus on memory, the memory of road trips where all there is to do is listen to the radio, hearing it go in and out. I remember my father, how his mind would come and go."

How does a choreographer begin creating a show that's really an abstract narrative about the loss of communication, one set to soul, R&B and recording of those call-in shows? Easy. From the beginning.

He says the process starts with improvisation, but ends with collaboration. It sounds a more hippy-dippy than it is. Duke Ellington wrote scores with individual soloists in mind, like Johnny Hodges and Cat Anderson.

"The question is how to create movement that addresses issues of father and family," Abraham says. "So I improvise with an objective, an objective geared toward something. I clear my mind to generate material, a free-flow of thoughts. Then I get together with my dancers and we dissect what I've come up with.

"It's all relationship-oriented and it all tries to tell a story."


IF YOU GO: What: The Radio Show by Kyle Abraham and When: 8 p.m. June 19-22; 4 p.m. June 23 Where: Iseman Theater, 1156 Chapel St. Tickets: $35-$45 Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

What Befell the Towers: A documentary on Philippe Petit, a man on a wire

ARTS & IDEAS FEST: Metaphor for life? Existential act of faith? Amazing, perhaps foolhardy, display of skill and courage? Illegal act of art terrorism? Phillippe Petit’s tightrope act between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on August 4, 1974, might well be all these things and more. One thing for sure: it defined the idea of “working without a net.”

As told in Man on Wire, the Oscar-winning film by James Marsh, Petit’s act is the logical conclusion of a life spent creating great public spectacles of derring-do. As he says “there is no why,” which might be another way of saying “because it’s there,” the classic reply to the question of why one attempts Mt. Everest. Unlike some accomplishments in that vein, though, Petit’s 40-minute catwalk on a cable stretched the 200 feet between the towers and a quarter of a mile in the air was on view to the world.

The film, which also won the World Cinema Jury Award and the Audience Award at Sundance 2008, lets us get to know Petit without trying to explain him or his art. Marsh recreates the event as a “heist film”—it’s apt, since planning and executing this act required the kind of stealth and security-thwarting smarts needed for a successful bank robbery.

Or, we might think, for a terrorist assault. Though the ultimate fate of the towers is never mentioned in the film, it’s hard to watch the film now without thinking about the implications of how easily these guys got in there and did their thing. How do you get a 450-pound cable and 26-foot balancing pole to the top of the World Trade Center in the dead of night? It took six years of planning and many visits to the towers while under construction.

We might shake our heads now over lax security, but things were different in 1974: the towers had only been open for a little over a year when Petit made his wondrous walk, and weren’t the symbols of our national wound or of much of anything other than the will to build higher. The bravado of Petit’s act matches the bravado of building something so high in the first place, which did have its critics at the time. The reminiscences of the participants have an air of wondering disbelief even at this remove, but for Petit the act is simply the culmination of a life’s work, and the dream of walking between the towers began around the time their construction commenced.

Along the way to the goal, there are also great walks, also depicted here, between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in 1971 and between two of the pylons on the Sydney Harbor Bridge in 1973. Each is impressive, but it’s the dance between the World Trade Center towers that, even then, had the feel of an ultimate stunt. Now, a film on the act can’t help being freighted with so many feelings about what befell the towers—the film benefits from the sense of magically resurrecting the towers and showing a skilled, almost pixie-ish Frenchmen levitate between them.

Unfortunately, the person who was to film the event at the time failed to do his job—perhaps the only part of the stunt that didn’t go according to plan—and so there’s less footage of the event than one would like. What we do see is so compelling, as a visual image and as an act of human ingenuity and grace, that one wishes there were more, particularly as we know this is a once in a lifetime event that could never happen now.

Check out this classic news footage of Petit's wire-walk. [youtube][/youtube]



What: Man on a Wire and "Nothing Is Impossible," a lecture by Philippe Petit When: June 16, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively Where: Yale University Art Gallery, 111 Chapel St. Tickets: Free Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

Where the Wild Things Are: Kids events at the A&I Fest

ARTS & IDEAS FEST: Face it: Your three children under 7 probably aren’t going to wait as you soak in the riches of Tamar Gendler’s lecture on ancient philosophy, and they can’t stay up until the end of one of the fabulous performances on the Green. Doing Arts & Ideas with kids is its own thing: You won’t get to all the stuff your retired or empty-nester or pre-procreation 20-something friends will get to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fabulous time, tykes in tow. Here are some of your best bets for when A&I hits town, organized according to what kind of kid you have.

  • for the Maurice Sendak lover: ERTH, the Australian troupe that brought gargoyles to town in 2001 is back with a menagerie of dinosaurs for its Dinosaur Petting Zoo. This is scratching one of those itches straight out of your best night-time dreams, like the one you wake from to think, “Dang, I wish I could really fly!” Well, walking with big, furry, real-seeming dinosaurs is pretty cool, too — and even cooler for your 5-year-old who won’t shut up about T. Rex. Six afternoon show times, June 16-17, New Haven Green.
  • for the music lover: The Imilonji Kantu Choral Society, or, If the Music Won’t Get Them, the Outrageously Beautiful Costumes Will. But don’t worry — the African classical music will get them. 5 p.m. June 21, Morse Recital Hall, 470 College St.
  • for the crunchy kid: Box City is an interactive world of recycled cardboard and other art supplies that participants use to structure a city of the future. Do it for the memory of Ray Bradbury, who was all about alternative worlds that maybe could come true. Probably not for your toddler, but definitely for your teenager (or your wiseacre 12-year-old who thinks he is a teenager). 1-5 p.m. June 16-17, New Haven Green.
  • for the kid who likes to dance: Crazy Great Music on the Green. OK, we named it that. It’s actually called Family Stage. It’s a series of performances of high-end music accessible to low-end age groups, as well as their parents, as well as their dogs. In some ways, this is kind of music you just happen by downtown, which seemingly never ends for the duration of the festival, and it's the best part of A&I. It’s the stuff you don’t plan — you just hear it from your rolled-down window and have to pull over. Look for Bob Bloom’s interactive drumming, 1:15 p.m. June 20; or Hip-Hop Dimensions (with break dancing, too!), 1:15 p.m. June 21; or Annalivia, 1:15 p.m. June 26; New Haven Green.
  • for the kid who is not scared of the circus: Submerged!, Antfarm’s Circus for a Fragile Planet. In which overfishing and rising sea levels are lead characters. 1:15 p.m. June 22, New Haven Green.
  • for the active child: Bike tours! Helmets! Wheels! Spokes! Those crazy contraptions that hipper parents than you use to tote their kids who are better dressed than yours! About a dozen different velocipedic experiences, including safety training (1 p.m. June 16, on the New Haven Green); a trip down the Farmington Canal Greenway (9 a.m. June 16, leaves from the Green, and you need “moderate ability”); and trips to East Rock and West Rock (5:30 p.m. June 20, leaves from the Green).



Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.

Jazz Singer Dianne Reeves: Women are 'the balance of the world'

ARTS & IDEAS FEST: Dianne Reeves is relieved I haven't asked the question journalists always ask. Until I ask it: How does she get along with two other divas in a tribute to the jazz world's greatest divas? Reeves, along with Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo, open the 2012 International Festival of Arts & Ideas with Sing the Truth!, a celebration of legendary women such as Odetta, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln, and many others.

"Oh, that's such a small-minded question," says the four-time Grammy Award winner who can sing anything. "They're always hoping for a cat fight. But we're sisters, mothers, daughters, the balance of the world. It seems like this would be a better place if women were in charge."

Which, in retrospect, seems incontrovertibly true.

Sing the Truth! has been touring for the last three years and Reeves has been with it the entire time. In the past, she has shared a stage with Dee Dee Bridgewater, a theatrical powerhouse, and Cassandra Wilson, an ingenious interpreter of American pop songs. In New Haven, she'll perform with Wright, a Georgia alto with roots in R&B, and Kidjo, a native of Benin steeped in Afropop and soul.

"We come from different places musically," Reeves says, but together they create a tapestry of jazz singing styles. "In the end, we rub off on each other. We want people to leave with anuplifted feeling, to celebrate the words of these great women and unite us in a spiritual place."

I suggest it's like leaving church on Sunday. "Well, we talk about a lot of other things, too, believe me," she says.

Variety is the spice of Sing the Truth!, which showcases the pioneering work of Odetta, Makeba, and Lincoln as well as the work of conventionally non-jazz composers such as singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco. A good song is a good song, regardless of genre.

"Joni Mitchell's music reaches generations of listeners because it is beautiful poetry set to elegant music," Reeves says. "We have our favorites, then we talk about why we picked that music and why it touches us personally."

I saw Reeves perform in 2003 after she won the third of three consecutive Grammys, the only time a jazz singer has done that. What I remember is an exquisite performance by a musician who pushes away the tensions of the day and creates a space of tranquility and joy. In particular, I recall her singing Abbey Lincoln's classic "Throw It Away," a sensuous restating of "If you love something, set it free."

"Abbey Lincoln sang her truth," Reeves says. "In 'Throw It Away,' she says that all things in this life are passing through us, we can't own them, we must give to others."

Lincoln died in 2010 after a long illness, ending a groundbreaking life as a performer, actress, and civil-rights activist. She was featured on her former husband's seminal 1960 record, We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. She stood out by writing her own songs when singers typically sang other people's tunes. Reeves along with Wilson and Bridgewater celebrated Lincoln's life at the Kennedy Center earlier this year.

"I knew her," Reeves continues. "I had many conversations wit her where I was really listening more than speaking. It was sage advice. It gave you an opportunity to heal."




What: Sing the Truth! with Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo When: 7 p.m. June 16 Where: New Haven Green Tickets: Free Info:

Why are we doing this? Click here to find out more.