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Philly arts fest focuses on time travel

| Friday, March 29, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA — The city's newest arts festival has returned with a month of music, dance, theater, visual arts and family activities, all loosely based on the topic of time travel.

The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts kicked off on Thursday and runs through April 27 at locations around the city.

The theme is “If You Had a Time Machine.” More than 50 events, installations and performances from local, national and international artists are exploring a wide range of questions related to time travel, many looking at historic events in a novel way or imagining what the future will bring.

The festival's marquee names include Tony Award-winning choreographer and dancer Savion Glover, who is opening the festival's opening weekend with “Dance Space,” a world premiere he says will take audiences back to the beginning of the universe.

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright will pay homage to Judy Garland's 1961 Carnegie Hall performance with his show “Prima! Rufus! Judy!” on April 21, while Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer Danilo Perez on April 26 will use multi-instrumental jazz improvisation to commemorate Balboa's discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1513.

On April 12, Baltimore-based electronic musician Dan Deacon celebrates the first email, sent by inventor Ray Tomlinson in 1971, with an event that will allow audiences to participate in the performance with their smartphones.

The festival's core exhibit in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is an imaginary time machine, actually a 100-feet-long corkscrew spiral that visitors can walk through and experience changing sights and sounds. Free performances are happening on most nights around the time machine, from a musical production called “Flash of Time” to a comedy troupe presenting the pitfalls of time travel with a show called “Shut Your Wormhole.”

A group of trapeze artists promise to fulfill the festival's theme “in honor of the spunky women who first sported the raised hemlines of the 1960s” and will sell tickets for public trapeze lessons nearly every day of the monthlong event.

Also on the schedule are concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philly Pops, as well as smaller musical and theatrical performances inspired by events including the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the first moon landing in 1969, the founding of the Works Progress Administration in 1935, the emancipation of Puerto Rico in 1873 and the birth of Benjamin Britten in 1913.

The event culminates April 27 with a five-block stretch of downtown Broad Street closed to traffic and transformed into a daylong street fair with food vendors, a Ferris wheel, live music and street performers.

The inaugural PIFA festival in 2011, which had a Parisian theme, attracted more than 400,000 visitors over its 25 days of events. The closing street fair was attended by nearly 200,000 people.

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