Seriously, there's an 80-foot reconstruction of the tower in the Kimmel's lobby. And it's the source of much curiosity and conversation.
That instantly recognizable icon is helping generate interest in a big event the Kimmel is mounting: PIFA, which celebrates the artistic energy of Paris, circa 1910 to 1920.
That explains the tower. Still, why are we celebrating a turn-of-the-century period, as it occurred in Paris, here in Philadelphia?
There's a story behind that, bien sur. Anne Ewers, Kimmel Center president and CEO, wanted the facility's resident companies to be more collaborative. She figured a festival was the way to go, but she wasn't sure what form it might take. A colleague, Barbara Silverstein, suggested a festival to celebrate the centennial of Igor Stravinsky's ballets created for the Ballets Russes — The Firebird, The Rite of Spring and Petrushka — all three of which helped usher in a wave of artistic innovation, first in Paris, and then the world.
When the two women decided to broaden the festival's scope to embrace other organizations, sticking to Stravinsky seemed too limiting. "When we started to think [about how to embrace] the whole arts and culture community," Silverstein recalls, "we realized you have to take it back one step from the literal and go with the spirit of Stravinsky and the Ballets Russes. That was the spirit of collaboration, innovation and risk-taking. ...We wanted to make sure we could involve as many artists as possible. So the theme of Paris in 1910-1920 is about the spirit of what was going on."
Paris was a hotbed of creative experimentation back then. Dadaism, Surrealism and other groundbreaking movements emerged. Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein lit up literature. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall changed the perspective of painting. Classical music got shaken and stirred by Stravinsky, Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. Circus arts were exploding on the Moulin Rouge.
"It was the birth of a whole new way of thinking about art that lived on," says Ed Cambron, PIFA executive director. "When you're looking at a citywide festival, taking inspiration from a group of artists who were in another city, it works beautifully."
The Kimmel's Eiffel Tower — which will have thousands of lights switched on this evening to celebrate PIFA's opening — is but one way the festival aims to brighten our city. City Hall and 14 other buildings along the Avenue of the Arts will sport animated graphics and other special effects. There are more than 135 different performances taking place all around the region, presenting music, theater, dance, poetry, puppetry, painting, literary salons, movies and more. The Kimmel Center commissioned dozens of works, and Silverstein is excited by how many of these shows represent "a celebration of culture and art with artists who would not normally work together."
Most shows are newly created; however, there are exceptions, like the Fantomas films, screening at the Philadelphia City Institute Library. "This was a series of crime stories that were devoured by people in Paris back in the early 1900s," says Silverstein. "They were unbelievably popular."
Eleven French chefs are jetting in to spice up the fare at select local restaurants. There's a runway fashion show featuring couture by professional and student designers.
Flying-trapeze lessons are offered outside the Kimmel, and inside they're giving free French lessons.
Right before the denouement, PIFA brings a slice of gay Paree to Center City with a street fair on Broad Street April 30. "It's when people can be outside and we have the spirit of what you see in Europe more than you see here," explains Cambron. "We've got all these crazy street performers. We'll have a Ferris wheel. There's a whole section where we'll have a maze for kids to go through and they'll discover a little amphitheater with a puppet show. We have nearly 100 vendors. But the best part is, we're bringing a troupe over that's never been seen in Philadelphia, La Compagnie Transe Express. They've got a chandelier kind of device hooked on the end of a crane. They'll lift into the air, play instruments and perform pyrotechnics. ... We have a lot of different projects, but that's a day we hope everyone comes out and celebrates."