Shows With Live Musical Theme Dominates This Year's Arts & Ideas

The 2016 International Festival of Arts & Ideas in downtown New Haven comes with plentiful musical accompaniment.

After 21 years, Arts & Ideas has this whole festival thing down to a science. Not the clinical, methodical kind of science. More like alchemy. With music.

Arts & Ideas regularly hosts premieres, new collaborations and fresh artistic concepts. Connections form, which lead to other, newer offerings and further-out experiments.

New York's neo-classical ensemble Bang on a Can, for example, has visited the festival in numerous formats, including the marching band Asphalt Orchestra and the world premiere of "Love/Fail" by co-founder David Lang. This year, the Bang on a Can All-Stars leads two "Off the Charts" concerts featuring the U.S. debuts of guest jazz artists from Poland. Bang on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe's song cycle "Steel Hammer," based on the folk legend of John Henry, is staged by Anne Bogart's SITI theater company June 16 to 18.

"Steel Hammer" is one of several Arts & Ideas events this year that combine live music with theater and dance performances. In fact, only three of the main Arts & Ideas offerings, according to the fest's organizers, don't have a live music element.

The U.S. premiere "Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour," produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and created by "Billy Elliot" writer Lee Hall (from the Alan Warner novel "The Sopranos") is about a small town Scottish girls choir on the loose in Edinburgh, and features the young darlings warbling ELO pop hits alongside classical works by Bach. It runs June 9 to 25.

The Abraham.In.Motion modern dance troupe returns to the festival June 14 to 16 with "Live Music Program," a grouping of several different dance pieces that the troupe's founder Kyle Abraham describes as "a music lover's program" with heavy hip-hop elements plus top New York jazz talent (including pianist Kris Bowers) interpreting the works of Max Roach, Robert Glasper.

"It's rare for modern dance companies to travel with live music, especially live music of this caliber," Abraham says, who adds that "Live Music Program" also features "a really wonderful collage of visuals" that references Black Lives Matter and other social movements.

Choreographer Brian Brooks has collaborated with the adventurous ballet dancer Wendy Whelan on "Some of a Thousand Words," which Arts & Ideas is premiering June 23 and 24. The project features live accompaniment by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider.

Visual arts exhibits promoted by the festival — "I Like the Sound of That" at Artspace and "On Another Note" at Yale's Holcombe T. Green galleries — have musical elements as well.

Live accompaniment is always a factor in the Yale Institute for Music Theatre presentations, which the festival has sponsored for several years now. The Institute does public readings at the festival of new musicals, which have been undergoing intensive two-week workshops on the Yale campus. This year's works-in-progress, "Blessing" and "The White City," can be seen June 24 and 25.

Another dance innovator, Yang Hao, uses the poetry of Jessica Rizzo to fuel his semi-autobiographical movement piece about East/West relations, "Pied a terre."

Arts & Ideas 2016 ends June 25 on New Haven Green with Cirque Mechanics' audacious, acrobatic "Symphony Project," in which the mechanically inclined circus troupe's antics are underscored by live classical music played by the New Haven Symphony.

Cirque Mechanics' performance connects with another theme of Arts & Ideas 2016 — bicycling. New Haven Green was the site of a famous ride by Pierre Lallement, which occurred after he'd been granted a patent for creating what historians call the "first modern bicycle" in 1866. Arts & Ideas is "Celebrating 150 Years of the Bike" June 24 and 25 with bicycling tours, exhibits, talks and other events leading up to the Cirque Mechanics show on the Green.

Transportation concerns, not to mention immigration and refugee issues, are among the many topics on the "Ideas" end of the festival. Global bicycling advocate Dan Austin declares "You Can Go Anywhere" on June 25. Author Pico Iyer explains "When Houses Are Not Homes," June 16. WNPR hosts a discussion of "Power from the Earth: The Shift to Renewable Energy in Connecticut" June 22.

Other key Arts & Ideas events include the intriguing performance project "The Money," in which audience members generate a large sum of money then figure out how to spend it (June 18 to 25); the one-man-plus-puppets literary invention "The Bookbinder" (June 17-19); the return of the clown duo Acrobuffos with a new windy work "Air Play" (June 21-25); "Square Root of Three Sisters," a remix of a Chekhov play by Russian director Dmitry Krymov and students at the Yale School of Drama; New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik's solo storytelling show "Through the Gates" June 12; and "10 Years Later," an interactive art installation by Parry Ling.

Arts & Ideas events happen at venues throughout downtown New Haven. The main locations are New Haven Green (for the free outdoor concerts). The bulk of the Ideas talks is at the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, which also hosts "The Bookbinder." Other theater shows are at the Yale Rep, the Yale Iseman Theater, and the Off Broadway Theater. Bang on a Can, Abraham.In.Motion and "Air Play" are all at the Yale University Theater, Wendy Whelan's dance piece will be at the Shubert, 247 College St. Maria Schneider plays at Sprague Hall. With the exception of the Long Wharf, all the venues are within walking distance of New Haven Green.

Many events are free. Tickets are available in packages or for individual events and performances for various prices. Discounts are also available for full-time students, youths younger than 18, and seniors 65 and older.

Find a complete schedule of locations, times and ticket prices for Arts & Ideas, which runs June 11 to 25, at artidea.org.

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