Catch these highlights as PIFA kicks off Thursday

Tap dance legend Savion Glover is debuting Tap dancer Savion Glover is debuting “Dance Space” this weekend.
Credit: Kimmel Center

The third Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts kicks off Thursday, with a theme that participants are actually sticking to this year.

“PIFA 2012 was not as curated — some things were a bit of a far stretch,” says Anne Ewers, president of the Kimmel Center, which produces the monthlong festival. But for this year’s theme, “If you had a time machine,” the creative minds behind all 50-plus festival events found a way to mesh time travel into their theater, music and dance performances, Ewers says. And they came up with some unexpected collaborations along the way.

“You have the combination of Azuka Theatre and the American Poetry Review doing a performance about Billie Holiday. Pasión y Arte and Fresh Blood doing flamenco and postmodern dance with video, about the world’s first female gynecologist,” she says. “It’s incredibly creative.”

Top picks for opening weekend

Tap dance king
Savion Glover will be showing off his cool tap dance moves — in the dark. He’s performing “Dance Space,” an improvisational piece complete with a fiber-optic curtain and funky things happening with lighting, designed to make the audience feel like they’re gazing at a starry night sky. The show opens with a gospel performance of spirituals from the Underground Railroad featuring – wait for it – Justin Guarini, of “American Idol” fame.
March 30
Academy of Music

Christian king
Perfect for Easter weekend, the Philadelphia Orchestra is performing Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” Several festival events are very intimate, Ewers says. This is not one of them. “You take the passionate lover of classical music and the magnitude of the Philadelphia Orchestra,” she says, “and the defining moment in time is the crucifixion of Christ.” The elaborate symphony, which premiered on Good Friday in 1727, features a children’s choir and the Westminster Symphonic Choir.
March 28-30
Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center

Back in time
In keeping with the theme, the Kimmel Center installed a 100-foot-long time machine. Sadly, it won’t actually take you back to the future, but it can detect whether giant time machines make you nervous. “It has a really cool light and sound show,” Ewers says. “As you walk through it, there are hand grips that pick up your heartbeat, and project it in patterns.”

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