The days of spectacle are almost upon us. Come August, a swarm of giant butterflies will alight on town, dinosaurs will walk Blue River Plaza, and a herd of antelopes, impalas, and gazelles will leap toward Main Street. Expect the unexpected—from random acts of music on forest trails, to classical musicians who may (or may not) perch in the Blue River to deliver “Sila,” a cutting edge composition by John Luther Adams.
It’s time again for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, or BIFA—the new late summer arts festival from Breckenridge Creative Arts. This is the second year for BIFA, which runs 10 days from Friday, August 12 to Sunday, August 21, with a preview day August 11.
An unusual festival by US standards, the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts is modeled after multidisciplinary arts festivals in Europe and Australia—although the idea is catching on stateside according to Robb Woulfe, the festival’s creator and chief curator. “If you haven’t experienced an international arts festival, you tend to think ‘art fair.’ This is not tents selling art. It is a well-curated festival of various visual and performing arts,” he said.
BIFA meshes local, national, and international artists in a range of disciplines from sculpture to film, circus to dance, experimental orchestra to genre-pushing rock.
“The spectacle component is part of what makes BIFA unique,” Woulfe said. “I’m a big fan of large, outdoor attractions. They are a great way to gather people in a public space, and to animate that space from what it’s been.”
Dinosaurs + butterflies + gazelles
Thus the dinosaurs to walk around downtown from August 17-21 are an act called “Saurus” by the Dutch artists Close-Act Theatre, withstilt-walkers in 18-foot-tall dinosaur-like costumes. The butterflies are part of an installation called “The Swarm” by Tasha Lewis, for which volunteers will create blueprint-fabric butterflies to attach via magnets on metallic surfaces throughout town. And gazelles will romp with impalas and antelopes in Lewis’ sculptural piece,”The Herd,” on view daily at Old Masonic Hall.
Tiny circus comes to town
Another act slated to animate a Breckenridge space in a new way is L’Homme Cirque—a one-man show featuring Swiss circus artist David Dimitri, who will set up his circus tent in South Gondola Lot for the Colorado premiere of his show August 11-14.
Dimitri’s act incorporates elements of traditionalcircus—including a human cannonball, a 50-foot-high tightrope, and theatrical humor. In fact, he toured with traditional acts, including the Big Apple Circus, for more than a decade before striking out on his own. But his current work, which takes place in his “tiny tent with only four rows of seats,” is also a crossover to contemporary circus or “nouveau cirque,” an art form that is experiencing a renaissance right now, particularly in France.
“The circus techniques are used to express yourself, not just to show a trick,” he explained. “That’s the change that’s really happening.”
For Dimitri, shooting himself from his own cannon is about much more than the simple act; it’s about the story that surrounds it—how he has to get the cannon lined up just right to make his landing, and how he communicates that to the audience. The high wire act is less about danger, and more about emotion. “The main thing is that I am going into the sky,” he said. “I disappear through a little opening in the tent. I tell the people to come with me.”
“I could probably go anywhere in the world with this show,” Dimitri said, reflecting on the warm reception he’s received in diverse communities. “There are no words, and it’s for everybody. I often have people with tears in their eyes. They are really moved by this man who does impossible things.”
While Dimitri’s act flirts with contemporary, STREB Extreme Action Company slams directly into it. STREB is a New York-based company of dancers and athletes who push the boundaries of what is possible with the human body while embracing risk as the stuff of life.
Founded by contemporary choreographer Elizabeth Streb, the group strives to invent a lexicon of extreme action that is portable to all audiences, and hopefully, universally relatable. “We can’t travel with the mountains,” said Streb, who has long been enthralled by the feats of professional skiers, “but we try to replicate the feeling, the reality of forces that are turbulent and unpredictable.”
STREB dancers hurl themselves face-first at walls, and land face-down on the ground from impressive heights, making cringe-worthy slapping sounds and vocalizations that are amplified to increase their effect on audiences. “What I am attempting to do is to invent actions that feel like things that happen in the world,” Streb said. “We land; we don’t camouflage gravity. There’s a lot of impact in what we do.”
The landings are designed to spread out impact over a body’s base of support—whether a body fully prone, or landing on the upper back, shins, or legs. For the face-down landing, dancers hurl themselves at maximum speed and then align their bodies at the last second in order to take the impact on a large surface area of flesh. “Every time you change your base of support, you are aligning your body above it,” Streb said. That is the essence of a technique called “pop action” that she and her dancers have evolved over 30-plus years.
For some of the acts, the company travels with man-made contraptions like a spinning 21-foot-tall ladder which dancers scale and drop off. The spinning ladder is the centerpiece of “Ascension,” which will make its Colorado premiere along with “Quake” on August 20 on the Riverwalk Center lawn. These shows are free to all.
There will also be a free screening of the documentary “Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity” plus a question-and-answer session with the audience the night before, on August 19. Then on August 21 the STREB Extreme Action Company presents a final show, “SEA (Singular Extreme Actions),” inside the Riverwalk Center.
‘Sila: The Breath of the World’
What STREB is to dance, one might say “Sila” is to classical music. The avant-garde composition by John Luther Adams premiered at Lincoln Center in New York, and will make its Colorado premiere at BIFA.
“Sila” is an Inuit word for the spirit that animates all things—in other words, the breath of the world. Adams composed the piece after many years living in Alaska, where he was an avid student of the sounds around him. The composition is played in an outdoor setting in five widely dispersed ensembles including woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, and voice.
“Each player plays or sings at his or her own pace, with each tone lasting the length of one full exhalation,” said Tamara Nuzzaci Park, who came on board this year as executive director of the Breckenridge Music Festival (BMF) Orchestra. The BMF Orchestra will perform “Sila” free of charge outside the Riverwalk Center on August 13. “Listeners are encouraged to move around and discover their listening points,” Park said. “It’s a really interesting and flexible piece.”
“Sila” is offered in partnership with BIFA as part of the BMF’s Festival at the Fringe series, programmed this year by artistic partner Steven Schick. Later that same evening, the orchestra will present “The Safekeeping of Memory,” a concert that combines video projections, spoken word, and music. Both aim to break down boundaries between nature and “civilized” music, with a similar theme underlying Schick’s programming for BIFA’s “Trail Mix” series.
“Civilization is the firewall we place between ourselves and the terrifying forces of the natural
world,” writes Schick, who is a percussionist,author, faculty member at UC San Diego, conductor of the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, and champion of contemporary music. “By extension, a civilized music is insulated through concert halls and aristocratic conventions from the wild. But what if it weren’t?”
“What if we could strengthen—not weaken—the bond between a piece of music and its place in the world?” he asks. “Would music be more forceful that way, less ‘civilized?’”
Random acts of art
For the Trail Mix series, Schick brings another John Luther Adams composition, “songbirdsongs,” to be played by members of the BMF Orchestra at the Savasana of a free yoga session on the Riverwalk Center lawn on August 14 in partnership with Meta Yoga Studios. In total, the Trail Mix series will feature 24 events on area trails over the 10-day festival, for which the BMF is performing 12, including works by Joseph Haydn, Aaron Copland, and John Cage.
“Everything that happens in a place as majestic and imposing as the Rocky Mountains takes on the qualities of that place,” Schick writes. “So, let’s look up and outward as we go to and from concerts. Let’s let the scale of a grand place help us take the measure of great music.”
On the way, guests can keep an eye out for ephemeral—or fleeting temporary installations—of visual art, also part of the Trail Mix series. “The Blue Trees” mastermind Konstantin Dimopoulos returns with a piece entitled “Red Chairs,” which he will exhibit on Moonstone Trail, and local artist Dina Sanchez will be doing an installation on Illinois Creek Trail, among others.
Cyclists, indie-rockers + storytellers
Other events include “Cycle In’ Cinema,” a showcase of independent bicycle-themed films with accompanying party, co-presented with the Breckenridge Film Festival. This is followed three days later with a concert from the genre-bending duo Calexico, whose influences range from indie rock to Tex Mex. Then on August 18 The Moth Mainstage brings its live, old-fashioned storytelling with a modern twist to the stage in yet another debut of a standout act for the BIFA festival.
A study in contrasts
In many ways, the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts offers a study in contrasts—from traditional art forms magnificently rendered to creative risk-taking at the forefront of contemporary art.
Taken together, for a 10-day moment in time this August, the diverse collection of arts and artists that make up BIFA will transform the public spaces of Breckenridge into a collective canvas upon which a culture’s most creative imaginings are rendered.
If there ever were an event you don’t want to miss, BIFA is it.
Photos: Sila photos by Kevin Yatarola, courtesy of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.; The Herd and The Swarm photos courtesy of Tasha Lewis; L’homme Cirque photos courtesy of David Dimitri; Saurus and STX photos courtesy of Close-Act Theatre; Maya Beiser photos by ioulex; Streb photos by Tom Caravaglia and Aubin Pictures.