5 events you can’t miss at PIFA 2018

When it comes to the Kimmel Center’s fourth rendition of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts — or PIFA, as it is better known — Jay Wahl wants to keep it fresh, cool and communal. The Kimmel’s Producing Artistic Director and the creator-curator of PIFA sought to, in his words, “plug into some sort-of current and take the pulse of the city around social questions.”

Starting tonight with a black tie gala, and ending June 10 with a June 9 street fair before the big finale, this season’s PIFA (which occurs every other year) is truly community-based.

“It’s about togetherness,” said Wahl. “There’s no polemic. I’m not making a political statement. We rarely discus the empathy we should have for one another.”

The grand idea of how we build community and come together as one (“the parallel courses we’re on as fully expressed individuals living our own lives while being responsible for each other”), lends itself to PIFA 2018 epics such as American performance art god Taylor Mac’s “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” and the manner in which the audience will interact with Mac and the music.

“There’s no fourth wall with PIFA,” said Wahl. “We look for intersection points between artists and community — that’s one of my curatorial principles — and with something such as Mac there is the question of what is popular: for whom and to whom.”

Previous PIFAs celebrated Paris — its role as the birthplace of Modernism and its comparison to Philly and our artistic innovations —  time machines, and the culture of manufacturing and how the things we make define who we are.

“This year’s festival is about finding and celebrating empathy — or the empathy we should have for and toward each other,” said Wahl.

Here are some of PIFA 2018’s finest — or most empathetic — moments.

Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music
1776-1896 – June 2, 1896-Present – June 9, both starting at noon at the Kimmel Center

Teased as a “Ring Cycle for the 21st Century,” drag performance artist Mac’s merry musical, presented as two 12-hour parts, looks at how we live and love through beloved song with the help of 24 musicians, 100 local performers (including Martha Graham Cracker, Toshi Reagon,  Dan Zanes and Urban Bush Women) and countless costume changes.

Cristal Palace by Compagnie Transe Express
June 1- 10 at 8 p.m. along the Schuylkill River

This full size aerial spectacle from France dangles performers and musicians in mid-air along the banks of the Schuylkill River in Fairmont Park. Wahl says that the dance party, below and above, will make it seem as if the entire city is coming together “getting funky under the lights.”

The Fever by 600 Highwaymen
June 6- June 10 at various times throughout each evening at the Kimmel Center’s SEI Innovation Studio

This intimate assembly explores the search for empathy that Wahl discussed as equal parts campfire tale, interactive theater and Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” experience.

The Joke is Mightier than the Sword by Bassem Youssef
June 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall

Often called ‘“the Jon Stewart of the Arab World,” from his time as comic host of the popular faux news show “Al-Bernameg,” Youssef’s latest show draws comparisons between the political climate behind the Arab Spring and its parallels to Trump’s American politics.

Doggie Hamlet by Ann Carlson
June 3 to June 4 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Belmont Plateau

Several live performers host three herding dogs and a flock of sheep, in an outdoor multi-discipline performance with competitive sheep herding trials as part of its finale. Rather than be an exercise in sheep performance art Doggie Hamlet — which calls itself a “3 D poem” — asks the question “What does it mean to follow?”

For additional shows and information go to kimmelcenter.org.

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