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International Festival Of Firsts Kicks Off With Free Offerings

The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts – an arts showcase dedicated to premieres – is itself no longer new. But after previous iterations in 2004, 2008 and 2013, the fourth Festival of Firsts does promise to be the largest ever.

And that's even without the giant rubber duck that was the bright-yellow centerpiece of the 2013 fest.

Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts runs Sept. 21 to Nov. 11 at various venues, Downtown.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which runs the fest, says the 2018 incarnation runs eight weeks and features works by 30 companies from 20 countries. That’s twice as long, and with three times as many attractions, as the previous Festival of Firsts, says the Trust. But as before, all these works in theater, visual art, music, and dance are brand-new to the region, to North America, and in some cases to the world.

The festival opens Friday, alongside the Trust’s quarterly Gallery Crawl. Friday marks the opening of all five gallery shows, including the North American premiere of Nigerian artist Peju Alatise’s acclaimed sculptural installation Flying Girls, at the August Wilson Center. Other exhibits open at Wood Street Galleries, SPACE, 937 Liberty and 707 Penn. (Admission to all the galleries is free for the run of the festival.)

Ticketed events starting this weekend include Blind Cinema, at the Harris Theater, in which cinema-goers experience a dialogue-less movie blindfolded while children seated behind them describe the action out loud. This one’s from U.K.- and Belgium-based artist Britt Hatzius.

The splashiest attractions starting Friday, however, might well be a temporary public artwork and a free immersive work set in a made-to-order theater space.

The former is Manifold, a work that transforms the façade of a landmark building. “Manifold is a 3-D video projection on the front of the Benedum Center that is performed with over 30 local musicians, from all different neighborhoods and different musical styles, throughout Pittsburgh,” said festival producer Scott Shiller.

Manifold was designed for the Benedum by Spanish visual and new media artist Filip Roca, with live music by Chinese composer Wang Lu. The musicians include members of Alba Flamenca and Afro Yaqui Music Collective, conducted by Daniel Nesta Curtis, of Carnegie Mellon University Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Manifold can be viewed from the street, with just four showings, two each Friday and Saturday night.

Another draw is Beyond, an immersive audiovisual installation by Barcelona-based studio Playmodes.

Beyond is a multimedia experience where the audience enters a temporary theater and is immersed in video, lights, sound, [an] incredible artistic experience, all about honoring Pittsburgh’s past and also looking to our future,” says Shiller. The temporary theater will be erected in a lot Downtown. Beyond continues Wednesdays through Saturdays through Oct. 26.

Theater in the festival includes works from South Africa, Denmark, Israel, and India/New Zealand – and even from Pittsburgh, with new pieces from locally based troupes Quantum Theatre (the immersive work Chatterton, which opened last week) and Bricolage Productions.

There’s also physical theater from Canada’s Cirque Éloize, and French troupe Aurélien Bory and Compagnie; music; and dance from companies include Haitian troupe Ayikodans, Brazil’s Deborah Colker Dance, and China’s Yabin.

The festival runs through Nov. 11 in venues throughout Downtown.

Most events are ticketed. For tickets and more information, see the festival website.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm