Philadelphia arts festival to feature 24-hour musical history of U.S.

The 24-hour performance,

"Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music," will be performed over 24 hours in the Meriam Theater during the Kimmel Center's Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA). (Courtesy of the Kimmel Center)

A 24-hour drag performance of the history of the United States told through music is among the events planned for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts set for the first week of June.

The Kimmel Center on Friday announced the lineup of the biennial performance art festival, which will also include a South Korean dance company premiering a new work made for the pipe organ in Verizon Hall, and musicians playing music for social dancing while dangling from a gigantic chandelier over the Schuylkill River.

Nearly all of the nine productions — more to be be announced as the festival approaches — ask audiences to do more than watch and applaud. Interaction is key, as festivalgoers will have to participate and think creatively on their feet — sometimes literally.

One of the works, “Doggie Hamlet,” is a dance piece involving five performers, a flock of sheep, and three highly trained herding dogs. The dogs are part of the choreography, forcing the sheep and the audience to move around an open field in Fairmount Park.

“It asks: When are we part of a group together? When are we not?” said the Kimmel Center’s producing artistic director Jay Wahl. “When is that shift? When are we in control?”

Choreographed sheep herding will be part of the performance of "Doggie Hamlet" at Fairmount Park during the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
Choreographed sheep herding will be part of the performance of “Doggie Hamlet” at Fairmount Park during the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. (Kelly Fletcher)

PIFA has downsized since it made a huge inaugural splash in 2011 with 135 events over a monthlong festival. Now a 10-day festival with about 50 performances, the scale of each show remains formidable. Many of the performances use the city itself as both stage and script.

“The public space is the work,” said Wahl. “How do we understand each other through public space? How does the artist electrify the space between us in the public sector, to make us think about who we are?”

Currently scheduled performances

“Cristal Palace” (world premiere) by Transe Express
June 1–10, live performances at 8 p.m. (excluding June 4)
TBD outdoor location on the banks of the Schuylkill River
These French aerialists who performed above Broad Street in 2011 for awed audiences return with this piece to be suspended above the banks of the Schuylkill River, commissioned by the Kimmel Center.

“Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” (Philadelphia premiere) by Taylor Mac
PART I (1776 – 1896): June 2, noon to midnight; PART II (1896 – present): June 9, noon to midnight
Merriam Theater
Glam-drag performer and MacArthur genius Taylor Mac brings his 24-hour extravaganza, using popular music from throughout the history of the United States, to tell the story of its oppressed and dispossessed citizens.

“Water on Mars” (Philadelphia premiere) by Plastic Boom
June 1, 7 p.m.; June 2, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; June 3, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center
This Swedish company comes to town with a circus show of comedy, athletic tricks, and theatrical acrobatics.

“My Organ My Seoul” (world premiere) by Ambiguous Dance Company & Ahreum Han
June 3, 3 p.m.
Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center
This South Korean dance company was commissioned by the Kimmel Center to create a new work exploring individual rhythm and freedom of expression, to be accompanied by Verizon Hall’s pipe organ.

“Doggie Hamlet” (Philadelphia premiere) by Ann Carlson
June 3, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.; June 4, 6 p.m.
Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park
A dance performance involving five dancers, three dogs, and a flock of sheep. The trained herding dogs move the sheep — and the audience — around an open field to follow the choreography.

“SEA (Singular Extreme Actions)” (Philadelphia premiere) by Streb Extreme Action
June 5–7, 7 p.m.
Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center
Elizabeth Streb, a second MacArthur genius in this year’s PIFA, created this acrobatic dance work of heroic proportions.

“Tape Riot” (American premiere) by Asphalt Piloten
June 5–8, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Secret locations revealed to ticket holders
Created by Swiss artist Anna Anderegg, Asphalt Piloten involves dancers, a mobile DJ with a belt-mounted rig, and a graffiti artist armed with strong adhesive tape. The ensemble takes the audience through selected parts of Philadelphia’s urban landscape, which have been overlaid with an alternative landscape outlined with tape.
“Tape Riot” is made possible by In Situ, a consortium of European arts, presenters of which the Kimmel Center is the only American member.

“The Fever” (Philadelphia premiere), by 600 Highwaymen
June 6, 7 p.m.; June 7, 7 p.m.; June 8, 7  and 10 p.m.; June 9, 7 and 10 p.m.; June 10, 2 and 6 p.m.
SEI Innovation Studio at the Kimmel Center
This New York-based company leads audiences through participatory performance. “A lovely, haunting meditation on human connection, and disconnection,” wrote the New York Times.

“Bassem Youssef: The Joke is Mightier Than the Sword” (Philadelphia debut) by Bassem Youssef
June 6, 7:30 p.m.
Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center
An Egyptian heart surgeon who became “the Jon Stewart of the Arab world,” explains how he stumbled into political satire following the Arab Spring — and why he now lives in exile in Los Angeles.

PIFA Street Fair
June 9, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Broad Street
The PIFA festival winds down by closing seven blocks of Broad Street for a street fair of entertainment, food, and vendors.

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