Using everything from music and dance to gourd carvings, Milwaukee’s Holiday Folk fair International will once again prove "it’s a small world after all."
The Milwaukee holiday staple celebrates its 68th year Friday through Sunday with the theme "Celebrate Cultures without Borders." As spokesman Al Durtka says, the fair "presents an opportunity for people of various ethnicities to come together and explore."
Again this year, the fair is a mix of the fresh and the traditional.
A poignant new photo exhibit, "Refugee Voices: Photos & stories by Refugees," tells the saga of refugees from Myanmar and Sudan who live in the United States.
And for the first time this year, the Callen Cooking Stage features nine Peace Corps members doing cooking demos to explain cuisine from the countries where they did their volunteer work.
Visitors can also sample a new kaleidoscope of musical styles at this year’s fair, including the sounds of MidEast Beat, a Racine-based band that performs Armenian, Arabic, Assyrian and Greek songs at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
But regular folk fair visitors will also find that their favorite fair elements will return this year. Ethnic food vendors remain at the heart of the fair, and this year the World Café brings back traditional dishes from around the globe.
Crafters will again demonstrate their skills. Barbara Rothwell of Oregon, Wis., will reveal the ancient secrets of one of the most unusual crafts – turning ordinary gourds into everything from purses to oil lamps and dolls.
Rothwell points out that, unlike pumpkins, gourds are a long-lasting craft medium because they don’t rot.
"a gourd is functional, they’ve been used as bowls and water carriers. They’re extremely light so they make great jewelry and they dry so hard that they make great musical instruments and even clocks. and they’re fun. you can look at a gourd and know what you’re going to turn it into."
Fair visitors can again stroll down Heritage Lane to talk to representatives of cultures from Native American to Romanian. International bazaar vendors give visitors dozens of shopping opportunities.
With three stages, the folk fair is a top venue for seeing ethnic dance in Milwaukee. this year, the Nefertari Dancers return to represent the local African-American community.
And the idea of international understanding takes real life form in another dance group coming back to the fair this year. The Alexander Hamilton High School Horon Turkish Folk Dance Ensemble has 28 members and is "almost equally divided between Asians, African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics, and we are the most diverse group in the building," says the troupe’s director, Curt Winterfeldt.
What unites the students is their love of Turkish dance, a love that stems from Winterfeldt’s own interest in Turkish culture. Though he is of German heritage, he has two grandchildren who live in Turkey and he visits there often. He’s created a group that wears colorful authentic Turkish costumes and plays Turkish drums as part of its routine.
This year the group will perform dances from eastern Turkey for a reason. "The dances from that region are very energetic, and students like energy. they don’t like slow things," says Winterfeldt.
Other Folk fair highlights include:
American citizenship. The fair’s annual naturalization ceremony on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
Kite-mania. Visitors can take imaginary flight through a display of kites from around the world including highfliers from Brazil, China, Peru and Turkey.
Children can build their own kites at the Gift of Wings exhibit and learn how to fly them even indoors through arm motions and fast walking.
An international chess tournament for children. Registration is from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Chinese gaming. Youngsters will demonstrate yo-yos and Go, a Chinese board game, daily at the Chinese cultural exhibit.
An interdenominational religious service. It will be held Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
For a full schedule of Holiday Folk fair International events, visit folkfair.org
IF YOU GO
What: Holiday Folk fair International
Where: Wisconsin Exposition Center at State fair Park
Hours: 2 to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: Advance tickets $10 each, with family four-packs for $36, at folkfair.org. Admission at the gate will be $12 for adults; $10 for children ages 6 to 12 and those 62 and over; free for children under the age of 5 and military personnel.