Artistic `firsts' in prospect at international festival. New York City is site of ambitious program

The first New York International Festival of the Arts is coming to New York City for a month, starting Saturday. This ambitious event has been described as a celebration of 20th-century music, dance, theater, film, and television, one that will include more than 350 performances and lectures by artists from more than 30 nations. While some see the festival as a brand new idea of tremendous magnitude and scope, others tend to view it as merely a means of solidifying and unifying the same events that have always gone on in New York during the summer.

Martin Segal, the energetic former director of Lincoln Center, founded the International Festival of the Arts back in the '70s, but it didn't get off the ground until now. Mr. Segal took time from his busy seven-day-a-week schedule to talk about his goals for the festival:

``First of all, it is an array of the creativity of the 20th century, hopefully broad enough to indicate all of the things that have happened, to show that it's a glorious century in terms of creativity and change.

``Secondly, it's a festival that encourages international harmony - friendship among people of all nations. The fact is that in the arts, people are recognized regardless of their religion, color, or ethnic background, and if you're good, you get recognized.

``And the third is that because tourism is an essential industry to New York City, we hope that the festival will have economic value to the city.''

As for the festival's being an umbrella under which to lump already existing summer events, he demurs. ``There has never been a festival anywhere in the world that has had only one theme - that theme being the 20th century. Secondly, we have over 90 `firsts' - that is, new commissioned music, plays, ballets, and so forth. There's never been a festival where there were that many new works presented. Third, there's never been, in one month, 350 events in 60 different places throughout the city.''

Among the ``firsts'' are Pl'acido Domingo's first solo concert in Central Park; a new ballet performed by the American Ballet Theatre under Mikhail Baryshnikov; world premi`eres of seven new American plays; and a specially commissioned ballet choreographed by Arthur Mitchell and performed by the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Other highlights of the festival include New York City Ballet programs featuring the work of Balanchine and Jerome Robbins; and Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst in O'Neill's ``Long Day's Journey into Night'' and ``Ah, Wilderness!''; several theater companies from around the world, including the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, the CRICOT 2 theater company from Poland, and the Leningrad Maly Dramatic Theater from the Soviet Union; a video/dance collaboration by Suzushi Hanayagi and Katsuhiro Yamaguchi from Japan; India's most famous pop singer, Asha Bhosle; Les Amazones de Guin'ee, an African band consisting entirely of policewomen; concerts by major symphony orchestras at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center; and the JVC Jazz Festival.

Speaking of the JVC Festival, which was already scheduled for the summer as a separate event, Segal said, ``They have a wonderful jazz program, and we couldn't see any reason to organize a competing jazz festival just to be different.''

He pointed out, furthermore, that JVC has planned several special events just for the International Festival of the Arts, including a concert of French jazz, a Duke Ellington Symphonies evening with the American Composers Orchestra, and a Latin music night featuring Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz and Tito Puente's orchestra.

Even if the festival were just an umbrella, it would be a great way to draw attention to the New York summer arts scene. And from a tourist's point of view, it's a lot easier to organize a summer vacation in New York if everything you want to see is listed in one brochure. This consolidation of events and trip planning has been effected by American Express, the major funder for the festival.

Abby Kohnstamm, vice-president of American Express and head of the task force for the International Festival of the Arts, said in an interview, ``We are very active supporters of arts events, and on occasion like to support a unique and `first time' type of event.

Mr. Kohnstamm says that Amex has been marketing tickets and travel information to card members around the world, and that ``we have had a good number of ticket buyers from Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin American, Canada, and Asia. The program book provided by Amex will list all events, and their dates and locations, plus hotel and restaurant information.

Segal holds that the real importance of such a gigantic, cross-ethnic event lies in its potential for fostering brotherhood.

``You hear so much about the problems of the world,'' he said. ``And here we are right in the middle of a period where some of the most creative and beautiful works have been done by people from different countries, and enjoyed by different countries.

``I believe the arts and cultural exchange is a great force for peace and understanding, because people don't come into concert halls with machine guns, or with spears and animosity. They come to share each others' creativity. That's the way the world should function, in my opinion.''

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