Kimmel Center's PIFA fest returns with human chandelier, global 'genius' artists, dancing sheep

A journey through Philadelphia with an adventurous group of German performance artists armed with rolls of masking tape. A dance piece at Belmont Plateau featuring five performers, three dogs, and a flock of sheep. A two-part, 24-hour marathon of pop-music history from 1776 to today from MacArthur “genius grant” winner Taylor Mac.

A lineup so globally and experimentally ambitious can only mean one thing: the Kimmel Center’s Philadelphia International Festival of Arts (PIFA) is back.

“This year, we’re really looking for ways to ask the audience to give up parts of themselves in order to engage with the artists in a way they haven’t before,” said Jay Wahl, the Kimmel Center’s producing artist director.

PIFA reappears every two years, this year from May 31 to June 10 with more than 50 performances at the Kimmel Center campus and other locations, plus a monster street fair on Broad Street. This year’s PIFA Street Fair, on June 9, promises seven blocks of art, food, and entertainment.

Tickets to individual performances start at $19 and are on sale online for Kimmel Center members at pifa.org. Sales to the wider public will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

In addition to the sheep-assisted dance performance, Doggie Hamlet, and the masking-tape endeavor, Tape Riot, outdoor presentations include the world premiere of Cristal Palace, another gravity-defying human chandelier by the French performance troupe Transe Express, which has been a PIFA Street Fair favorite. This year, they’ll hoist a chandelier on the banks of the Schuylkill and lead a dance party there.

Other highlights include the modern dance piece My Organ My Seoul by former K-pop backup dancer Boram Kim, accompanied by Curtis Institute-trained organist Ahreum Han, and a performance by Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian satirist known as the “Jon Stewart of the Arab World.”

Camera icon Teddy Wolff
Taylor Mac in his “24-Decade History of Popular Music,” which he will perform on two weekends in June as part of PIFA 2018.

“PIFA lives at the intersection of arts and civics, so we’re trying to create more ways for people to recognize each others’ humanity,” Wahl said. “Nothing does that better than the arts. It’s why we end with the street fair.”

The Kimmel Center expects this year’s fair to draw more than 150,000 attendees. In previous years, organizers have brought animatronic dinosaurs, a Ferris wheel, and a “piano garden” to Broad Street, along with grassy areas for visitors to relax. Details on this year’s marquee Street Fair attractions will be announced later.

“The success of PIFA is a testament to the impact of the arts in Philadelphia,” Kelly Lee, the city’s chief cultural officer, said during a news conference Friday morning. “It shows people that this is a dynamic, diverse, and exciting place to live.”

Of the 200,000 attendees the festival is expected to draw, more than half will likely be from outside Philadelphia, according to Anne Ewers, president and CEO of the Kimmel Center.

“I just can’t wait for people to come out and see their barriers come down just enough to experience something new,” Wahl said. “The transformation that happens in people’s eyes is why we do this.”