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10 Picks for 2011 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe

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This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, and the 2011 edition looks bigger andAcrobat in Traces, courtesy 7 Fingers. better than ever.

The Live Arts Festival features nine world premieres and an additional three U.S. premieres by cutting-edge groups from Philly, NYC, and as far away as France and India.

The hip sister fest Philly Fringe showcases a smorgasbord of local performing arts talent at venues all around the city. Here are five shows from each festival you don’t want to miss.

Live Arts Festival

1. WHaLE OPTICS (Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, September 1-11, Prince Music Theatre)- Thaddeus Philips’s 2010 show El Conquistador used video projection and imaginative staging to create a theatrical telenovelo -- one of the most-buzzed pieces of last year’s fest. This year’s WHaLE OPTICS promises to be just as much of a treat, as Philips transforms the Prince Music Theatre stage into such imaginative settings as a fiber optics station in New Jersey, a fishing boat, and the belly of a whale.

2. Traces (7 Fingers, September 15-18, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts)- The urban acrobatic movement known as parkour was begun in France by street stunt artists (known as “traceurs”) who climb, jump, vault, and roll over buildings, walls, and other city obstacles. (It was popularized in the James Bond film Casino Royale.) Montreal-based troupe 7 fingers brings parkour to the stage this year, incorporating the urban performance art into its energetic circus-like show.

3. Lady M (Swim Pony Performing Arts, September 1-9, Arts Bank at the University of the Arts)- Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is one of the most interesting and creepy female parts in theater. Director Adrienne Mackey utilizes compelling vocal and movement techniques to breathe new life into the role, as Lady M (Barrymore-winning Catherine Slusar) uses her 10-strong coven of witches in an attempt to escape her dark fate in a thoroughly re-imaged version of the story.Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa in Play, photo by Koen Broos.

4. Play (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa, September 15-17, Prince Music Theatre)- East meets west in this collaborative dance performance featuring contemporary dancer-choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in a playful duet with Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, a master of movement trained in the Kuchipudi dance form. The pair are joined by a quartet of live musicians in a show that ranges from subtle formality to all-encompassing wildness.

5. Twelfth Night, or What You Will (Pig Iron, September 1-17, Suzanne Roberts Theatre)- Perennial festival favorite Pig Iron returns with an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy of mistaken identity, featuring an all-star cast and performed to the beat of a Balkan band. Pig Iron’s inventive adventurism and physical style should make this a Shakespeare show like no other.

Book this one early: the company’s last two shows (Cankerblossom, 2010, and Welcome to Yuba City, 2009) have been the hottest tickets on the festival’s calendar.

Philly FringeJeffrey Wu and Caroline Rhoads in Deer Head. Photo by Josh McIlvain.

1. Dancing Dead (Brian Sanders’ JUNK, September 2-17, Sub-Basement at 444 Lofts)-  In 2010, Brian Sanders’ Sanctuary used a monastery theme as a setting for the choreographers athletic physical displays of movement. This year, he goes underground, literally, with a cemetery themed dance creation.

2. Deer Head (SmokeyScout Productions, September 14-17, Performance Garage)- SmokeyScout follows up last year’s smash Boat Hole with another evening of outrageous short comedies. Showcasing Philly playwright Josh McIlvain’s outlandish but decidedly accessible humor,  the fifteen shorts are seamlessly staged and acted by a stellar cast that includes Curio Theater darling Jennifer Summerfield.

3. Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, Acts 1-3 (New Paradise Laboratories, physical shows September 14-17, meet at 17th and Sansom streets)- Like New Paradise’s 2009 show Fatebook, Extremely Public Displays of Privacy inhabits a peculiarly contemporary space meshing the virtual and the physical worlds. Start the journey now at extremelypublicdisplays.com, as housewife Fess meets enigmatic artist Beatrix online; follow the pair with a free walking tour podcast; then meet at 17th and Sansom as the interdisciplinary work culminates in five timed performances.Mary Tuomanen and Genevieve Perrier in A Paper Garden.

4. A Paper Garden (Aaron Cromie, Mary Tuomanen, Genievieve Perrier, September 2-17, American Philosophical Society’s Jefferson Garden)- One of the best things about the Fringe is the opportunity to see theatrical works in unusual settings. Three lights of the Philly stage bring this botanical-themed historical drama to full bloom at this small park near Independence Hall.

5. Jericho Road Improvement Society (Hella Fresh Theatre, September 3-18, Papermill Theater)- It’s a testament to how far the Fringe has expanded from its Old City roots that one of the finest shows of 2010 (Cheap Guy Hall of Fame 2010) was a short el ride away in West Kensington. Hella Fresh returns this year with another darkly comic show exploring sundry but all-too-real characters.

Also recommended: Trappings by female-centric Crack the Glass Theatre Company; hipster girl dance collective Pink Hair’s One City Under a Groove; comic book fun with Plays and Players’ Superheroes Who Are Super; BalletFleming’s Feelin’ Alright at the Painted Bride.

Visit livearts-fringe.org for tickets, info, and complete festival schedule.

Contact Christopher Munden at cpmunden@gmail.com

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