Inaugural Year of Interfaith Arts Festival

From April 17-21, 2007, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies joined other campus groups to launch the inaugural year of the Children of Abraham Interfaith Arts Festival. Co-sponsors included the Program in Performing Arts, Program for Jewish Civilization, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, Campus Ministry, Center for Meditation & Inter-Religious Dialogue, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and Lauinger Library. The week-long series of events was made possible by a generous donation from the Ammerman family in honor of Father Royden B. Davis, S.J. and his pursuit of a more peaceful world through the arts.

Each annual celebration aims to bring together performances and artists whose work manifests the cultural and spiritual traditions of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities to create an environment of understanding and peace. This year’s performances included a wide range of traditional and contemporary theater, music, community art and dance.

The inaugural celebration boasted a group of prominent artists from a diverse range of cultural traditions. Acclaimed Arab performers included Simon Shaheen and his band Qantara and Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye.

As a prelude to his performance, Simon Shaheen led an interactive question and answer session demonstrating the intricacies of the ‘oud, and the way in which he manipulates its sound to fuse them with other musical styles he incorporates into his compositions.

Award-winning poet and children’s author Naomi Shihab Nye joined the audience for an hour of conversation before hosting an exclusive master class for area writers, and finally presented her own work in a late-afternoon poetry reading.

The internationally renowned Liz Lerman Dance Exchange showcased the regional premiere of a new work, 613 Radical Acts of Prayer. The ipiece was a continuation of the group’s effort to choreograph dances that engage questions of faith. 613 Radical Acts of Prayer is a work-in-progress that incorporates ancient and contemporary concepts of prayer to explore the intersection of ritual and social action, and of faith and restless questioning.

Soprano Jennifer Ellis and harpsichordist Mark Janello performed sacred Christian music from 17th century Italy. Jennifer Ellis is leading interpreter of the Baroque tradition, and Mark Janello is a Professor of Music Theory at the Peabody Conservatory. The Ann Arbor News has classified his improvisational technique as “an astonishing display.

The Robin Helzner Trio, known for an acclaimed repertoire of modern Israeli melodies, folkloric songs from Eastern Europe, romantic songs from Spain, and North African compositions exposed the audience to the dynamic music of the Jewish Diaspora.

Throughout the week, monks of the Tibetan Drepung Loseling Monastery created a sand mandala. This meditative art form consists of the intricate laying in place of millions of grain of sand over several days to create sacred spiritual symbols and designs. To mark the opening of the festival, the monks sanctified the Davis Performing Arts Center with singing, music and mantra recitation.