June 15th, 2009 | City

Festival’s opening weekend features a little of everything

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Over 50 kids munched popcorn on Saturday afternoon, crowding the portico of the Yale Center for British Art. Sprawled on petite mats, their faces stared rapt with enthusiasm at the red velvet curtains of a puppet booth.

The silly humor of “The Punch and Judy Comedy” show — just one of several events lined up for New Haven’s 14th annual International Festival of Arts and Ideas — was a crowd-pleasing kickoff for the two-week-long festival. All events, which over the weekend included film screenings, a dance party, a concert on the Green by They Must Be Giants, walking tours and even a circus, are free of charge.

Cyra Levenson, the gallery’s associate curator of education, said about 350 people had attended the museum’s two film showings Saturday. As the puppet show ended, a mass exodus of kids, with their parents dashing after them, rush to a movie screening inside. A 3-year-old named Julian, sporting a a tie-dyed T-shirt, was the only exception, instead choosing to climb onto the puppet stage.

Across the street at the Yale University Art Gallery, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky hosted the Favorite Poems Project, a series of personal poetry readings by Connecticut citizens. One reader, Dottie Greene, a 54-year-old principal of school in a Connecticut prison, emotionally recited “Life is Fine” by Langston Hughes. Later, she said she had chosen the piece because “everyone in this life has had a broken heart at least once.”

Meanwhile, a few blocks away at the Whitney Humanities Center, Ife-Michelle Gardin, a 50-year old administrative assistant, watched “War Child,” a documentary about growing up in war-torn Suda, with her daughter.

On the New Haven Green, workers prepared the stage for the Opening Night on the Green – a dance party featuring the premiere of American accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco and New York’s Slavic Soul Party.

“Music, art, poetry, drama, circus acts — there’s everything you can possibly imagine,” said retiree Sandra Stratman, who has been volunteering for the festival for the past 10 years. “There’s … 700 hundred performers that appear here during the two-week period, so it’s a very massive effort.”

(Photo: Carol Hsin/Contributing Photographer)