The most noteworthy aspect of the 10-day Columbia Festival of the Arts, which runs Wednesday through July 3, is the opportunity it affords patrons to watch art in progress.
From music to dance to crafts, there will be more than 50 acts, classes and events, many offering patrons behind-the-scenes views, hands-on experience and close-up demonstrations.
Last year the festival drew more than 30,000 people, 40 percent of them from outside Howard County, and festival managing director Lynne Nemeth said this year, the festival's fourth, she is expecting the same turnout.
"What we are doing that most festivals don't is presenting the artists as well as their work," said Donald Hicken, head of the theater department at the Baltimore School for the Arts and artistic director of the Columbia Festival. "It is an artist-driven festival, in that they do the work they want to do and patrons can observe the artist in the process of creating. This will give the audience a deeper appreciation for artistic expression."
The festival will present open rehearsals with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, revealing the preparation world-class musicians must make for a performance. The public may observe master classes in dance taught by modern dance theater troupe ISO to area student dancers. And a dialogue, "Process vs. Product," with directors Fred Sherry of the Chamber Music Society and Nava Zukerman of Israel's Tmu-Na Theatre will explain the creative processes of two genres.
Tmu-Na is one of the festival's prime draws. Tmu-Na, Hebrew for moving picture, was founded a decade ago and combines elements of dance, theater, music and visual arts.
"Our inspiration comes from music, theater and literature. Dance, literature, music: All are a human being's existence," Ms. Zukerman said. During its 10-year history, Tmu-Na has created 15 works about universal dilemmas from the point of view of Jews living in Israel.
"One movement expresses several levels. The music, the movement and the words are presented. It is up to the viewer to interpret the meaning. It is life onstage. We stop time and give the audience the chance to feel the nuances of the moment," said Tmu-Na co-director Yael Sagie. Last year, the Columbia Festival commissioned Tmu-Na to create an original piece. After six months of workshops and collaboration among themselves, Ms. Zukerman and the six-member group (four men and two women) have created "Real Time," freely inspired by Malcolm Lowry's book "Under the Volcano." The piece is a poignant representation of the difficulty of maintaining relationships. Ms. Zukerman dictated the style and theme for the piece, but actors were free to design their own sequence of movements as long as they answered the following questions through each physical nuance: What are my roots? Where do I belong? What do I succumb to -- my longing for home or my desire for freedom?
"So many people want to feel a part of something and do it through love and family, but all the time -- it collapses. We try to control life and ask for an answer when there is no answer," Ms. Zukerman said.
Another festival highlight is ISO, a four-member group (two men and two women) that fuses modern dance, acrobatics and new vaudeville to create an imaginative form of physical expression.
"ISO has a fascinating approach to choreography," Mr. Hicken said. The troupe has done music videos for Sting, U2 and Lenny Kravitz and choreographed David Bowie's 1987 "Glass Spider World Tour."
"Anyone who sees their performance can count on having their socks knocked off," Mr. Hicken said.
Returning to the festival for one performance only will be the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The BSO, under the direction of conductor Andrew Litton, will play Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony next Sunday at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The BSO concert is again free to all children and full-time students. "Last year 1,000 students and children attended the free Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert," Ms. Nemeth said.
A Saturday "Evening of Jazz" highlights the 19 free events at the Lake Kittamaqundi lakefront. The evening will include Devra and the Tropic of Capricorn, as well as trumpet-player Terence Blanchard, music director for Spike Lee's movie "Mo' Better Blues."
A juried crafts show on June 26, 27 and 28 at the lakefront will feature 50 artisans selected by the Maryland Institute of Art faculty. The artists, who will exhibit and sell their works, work in a variety of media, including leather, clay, watercolor, stained glass, pen and ink, and paint. An exhibition tent will showcase artists demonstrating their crafts. Baltimore artist Grace Hartigan will present a lecture and slide show reviewing her experiences and works throughout her 40-year painting career.
The Free Family Days activities at the lakefront include musical and theatrical events designed to appeal to children as well as adults.