Twelve Shining Moments from the 2012 International Festival of Arts & Ideas

I have no doubt that there were several dozen other such moments. I wasn't at every event in the festival, and particularly fell short in the Ideas, walking tour and foodie categories. But I was at most of the major indoor performance events and a ton of things on the Green.

Here’s a dozen of my own prevailing memories:


1. Angelique Kidjo dashing into the crowd during the 20-minute one-song finale of Sing the Truth! I was standing near the stage, and that bit of planned crowd-hugging spontaneity took some doing. Kidjo had to rush to the side of the huge A&I bandstand, hop down some stairs, enter The fenced-in VIP enclosure, and be escorted through a gate out onto the Green—all quickly enough that the impulse would seem fresh and momentum would not be lost. The singer, aided by a phalanx of festival volunteers, had a determined look on her face throughout the journey. Once she arrived amongst the people, her face lit up and she broke up into a frenzied dance.

The very next night, the post-modern marching band  Asphalt Orchestra marched directly into the crowd a number of times, with a lot of fervor, but a single Angelique Kidjo has the energy of several ensembles.


2. The new Arts & Ideas information booth. The pageantry and a uniting aesthetic  design sense for Arts & Ideas has risen and fallen over the years. The original arches and decorative wooden boxes/seats got old and familiar, then weren’t replaced by anything anywhere near as magisterial. This year, that changed with the introduction of a new A&I information booth on the other Green.

Previous info areas, including the old sales booth in the lobby of the bank building at the corner of Temple and Elm, all had an old-world lemonade-stand or PTA-event feel. This one’s artsy, shiny, trim, sleek and provides shelter from the storms or sun. Designed by Yale Arts & Architecture students, it’ll be years before we’re truly used to it.


3. The hula hooper in Circa.

Hoops have become emblematic of the big outdoor New Haven Green events at the festival. There’s usually a dedicated hooper (more often than not Lisa Spetrini) who has brought along a pile of the things for others to rock their hips within.

This year there was a hoop onstage as well—a member of the Circa circus-theater troupe from Australia, who twirled half a dozen hoops at one point, then shrugged them off nonchalantly with a attractive clatter. The hula hoop segment was neither the most memorable nor the most audacious of the acts in Circa, but I thought it captured the casual air of the whole show, where amazing things were done with poetic grace and deadpan expressions, to remarkable effect.

4. The spoons solo by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

This one was a credit to the festival’s sound system, and the acoustical qualities of downtown New Haven. You could hear the delicate percussion of body-struck spoons clearly, clear across the Green. The whole Carolina Chocolate Drops set, in fact, was a tribute to intimacy, closeness, cultural unity. They might as well have been playing on a back porch in the South, and we might as well have been listening over the picket fence next door.


5. The overflow crowd for the Slate Political Gabfest.

Every year there’s an unexpected crowdpleaser which reminds us of the need for the word after the ampersand in the festival’s title. A special live version of Slate online magazine’s weekly Political Gabfest was held in the lecture hall of the Yale Center for British Art. The hall filled quickly, so a second room had to be accessed with a video feed. But folks kept coming—nearly a hundred had to be turned away. The program came off characteristically low-key and unflustered despite what must have been some wild ushering woes in the hall.

I didn’t attend, but you and I can hear the whole episode here.