Once again, the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) has descended on the city with performances and events by some of the world's most distinctive artists starting today through April 23, when the fest culminates in a massive street fair.
Once again, you're likely to be overwhelmed by programing (more than 60 events this year) and need someone to pull the absolute cannot-misses from the spread. We found eight shows worth adding to your calendar, with a focus on the free, kid-friendly, and wacky-in-a-good-way.
For more information on PIFA, call 215-893-1999 or go to www.pifa.org.
The Kinetic Tree
The Kinetic Tree, designed and constructed by MacArthur Genius set designer Mimi Lien, has been planted in the Kimmel Center's Commonwealth Plaza for the duration of PIFA. The enormous arboreal centerpiece, whose highest components are hung from the rafters of the plaza's cavernous glass ceiling, will delight kids with its built-in tree-house platforms and easy-to-explore roots and branches. Wander into the lobby to see (and climb) the tree anytime, but try to catch one of the free, twice-nightly performances - mesmerizing displays of moving parts, lights, sound, and live choreography.
Performances at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. April 8-23 at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: Free.
You could say that this installation from artist Shay Church (known for his wet-clay installations) and the Clay Studio is a work in progress, where the progress is crowdsourced. The work Stand, in the Kimmel Center lobby (near the aforementioned Kinetic Tree), is a free, interactive exhibit designed to let visitors get their hands dirty and see a piece of art come to life in real time. The work will start as bare wooden structures to which visitors will apply wet clay, and, over time, you'll see those wood skeletons grow into a clay forest of trees and animals.
Sessions at 10 a.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: Free.
Penn's Landing is hosting the U.S. debut of this immersive, labyrinthine experience, which is designed, produced, and performed by France's Compagnie Carabosse and Mexico's Teatro Linea de Sombra. Stretching the size of a football field, Article 13 - a reference to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights - is a walk-through performance and exhibit meant to evoke the uncertainty and disorientation of the migrant journey. At each nighttime performance, visitors walk through trails framed by small fires, sand piles, images of local migrants, and relics such as sneakers that may have been lost on their journeys. Interactive performances along the way, as well as large-scale fire installations and stories from some of Philadelphia's own migrant communities, will make this a somber, stirring experience.
Performances at 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets: Free, but must be reserved in advance at kimmelcenter.org/pifa.
The cardboard jungle gym (emphasis on the jungle) is a creative free-for-all for the littlest artists. Kids and parents are invited into this make-believe forest made entirely of paper products, where music plays, trees tower, and instructors from Australia's Polyglot Theatre give kids the tools and inspiration to make their own paper projects - chains, crowns, telescopes, leaves - and add them to the slowly growing playscape on the sunny rooftop of the Hamilton Garden at the Kimmel Center. Best for ages 3-8.
Show times vary, April 9-23, Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: $15-$19.
The soaring, acrobatic performance by Swedish circus troupe Cirkus Cirkör blends mesmerizing feats of balance and strength with moving choreography. The stage is starkly set, with huge, all-white balls of yarn, hanging wool ropes, and other woven props, with performers' balancing, swinging, and entwining themselves throughout the show.
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. Tickets: $19-$60.
Concerto in Sea Major
An introduction to instrumental music for kids is just a bit splashier than a four-piece chamber ensemble. French musical troupe Aquacoustique perform exclusively in water, with water-repellent instruments. They transform watering cans into saxophones, snorkels into flutes, and rafts into xylophones. The best part? Performances are all outside (you'll find them in fountains at Independence Park's Magnolia Garden, the Rodin Museum, and the Penn Museum), so you can bring a picnic along.
April 15-17. Show times and locations vary and are available at kimmelcenter.org/pifa. No ticket required.
The fun, energetic show is a lesson in hip-hop culture through the history of the sneaker. L.A. dance group Antics combine dance, poetry, and performance to explore how these kicks became an iconic piece of the hip-hop world, how their social meaning has evolved over time, and why. (PIFA asks audience members to bring a pair of gently worn shoes to donate to Soles4Souls, which redistributes shoes to those in need.)
7:30 p.m. April 20 at the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: $21-$31.
PIFA Street Fair
The capstone celebration of all things PIFA will take over Broad Street on April 23, from City Hall to South Street. Expect the usual fair trimmings - food vendors, a Ferris wheel - but in true PIFA fashion, there will also be plenty of unusual entertainment. Costumed stilt-walkers and penny-farthings will mingle with the crowds, trampoline acrobats will flip in the air, and Squonk Opera will return with Lady Pneumatica - a 40-foot-high sculpture made of fans, vents, and inflatables, and presented with a wild, interactive performance of accordions, drums, bagpipes, and more.
11 a.m. to 7 p.m., April 23. Free.