Back to school

A blog from the road by Festival Executive Director Mary Lou Aleskie.

School doors are open. Students bustle on New Haven streets. Temperatures have chilled. Summer is already a blur in the rear view mirror.

It seems like years since we danced together with Dan Zanes on the New Haven Green, following him and his locally purchased red sneakers in a trail of music and delight!

And no wonder. It has been a very busy summer!

Besides our usual Festival clean-up and accounting there were lots of meetings with colleagues and artists about projects for the future. In times of chaos, opportunities crop up in unexpected places.

To give you an idea of what has been swirling around the Festival...

--Circus arts are beloved by Festival audiences. Projects like Aurelio's Oratorio and Barabbas' Circus stick in our collective memories as iconic festival performances. But who makes these kinds of performances? What are the requisite skills? How do these works come to be and where?

Artists who are equal part actor, dancer and circus performer, are an emerging force in the world of theater. So much so that Montreal launched its first ever International Festival of Circus Arts.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to see this vibrant artistic world from an insider's perspective. The four day visit included 10 performances including a number of "ambush" street performances, meetings with Montreal's leading circus arts creators from Quebec's top companies Cirque Elioze; Cirque du Soleil, Tohu and Seven Fingers. And a visit to the Canadian National Circus Arts School as well as the Cirque du Soliel headquarters.

As impressive as the performances being created by circus artists, is the education and training for young people. The incredibly thoughtful development of this industry in Montreal is centered in an inner city urban neighborhood built on a landfill. With trapeze and tightropes at the core of the work, a commitment to redevelopment and the greening of the community is as central to the mission . Here, buildings are fueled by the methane from the landfill, costumes are recycled to create everything from insulation to scenic elements, and cafeterias serve only locally grown produce, all with an eye toward sustainability and economic development for the poor living in the neighborhood.

The world of circus arts, as it balances commercial pursuits with artistic expression and a commitment to social responsibility, is a fascinating new aspect of the performing arts and the Festival will continue to look for those projects that represent the "next wave" of creativity in the field., as well as those valuable lessons in community empowerment and engagement.

--This summer brought us on the requisite visits to the Berkshires as well as Lincoln Center Festival to see the work being presented by our regional colleagues. I am happy to say that Jacob's Pillow was presenting yet another provocative work on Lincoln and civil rights by the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zanes Company. It gave us further opportunity to continue the dialogue with Bill and the company after his expansive conversation at this year's Festival with Elizabeth Alexander. Keep posted to Festival news in the months to come about our continued relationship with this important American artist.

--Festival artists were making news all over the world this year. David Leddy, who had his American debut with Susurrus, at this year's Festival was once again a darling of the Edinburgh Festival with his provocative site specific work Sub Rosa. Look for news about David's Susurrus being presented throughout the US during this season. We will likely have more news of David's successes in the future.

Robert Pinsky is also working on a first in his career. He has written the libretto of a new opera in collaboration with composer Tod Machover called Death and the Powers. The twist in this story is that Tod is the director of MIT Media Labs Opera of the Future unit and the work will be premiered in Monaco at the end of September with six singers and a chorus of robots!

--Cathy Edwards had a busy summer serving on a number of grant panels and contributing in an advisory role to the establishment of a curatorial course curriculum at Wesleyan University. She continues as the Artistic Director of Portland's Time Based Arts Festival which kicks off on September 9th. If you cannot make the trip west, follow along with the happenings at TBA online. You will likely see some artists who are familiar to us here in New Haven.

--As for me, I am writing this as I head to Eastern Europe for a series of meetings in Berlin and Wroclaw, Poland. The Festival continues to gain notoriety for its artistic work as well as its leadership in a world that is increasingly interdependent. As an organization committed to bringing people together across political and economic boundaries, it is essential for us to stay connected to cultural leaders throughout the world. On this trip we are being hosted by the provincial leaders of Wroclaw, Poland as they network to advance their role as one of the world's leading cultural destination with year round festival activity showcasing Polish artists. In Berlin, I am invited as a delegate and panelist to the Global Interdependence conference centered on September 12th as a day when we acknowledge our collection reliance on each other. Keep connected to Festival news for updates and outcomes from these visits.