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International Festival Zaibas Lithuanian Dancers

The Zaibas Lithuanian Dancers will appear in the 2013 International Festival held Sunday, January 27 at the Overture Center.

Head to the Overture Center Saturday to learn a few words in a new language, get a henna tattoo, be mesmerized by dances from across the world or sample a few international dishes.

Overture’s International Festival runs Saturday, Feb. 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All ages are welcome to the free event featuring performances, food vendors, and an arts and crafts fair.

The Overture Center, 201 State St., hosts the annual event, which this year represents over 50 cultures.

There will be over 30 performances from Dane County artists, ranging from the UW Russian Folk Orchestra to the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir to the Taiwan Puppet Troupe to the Zaibas Lithuanian Dancers, and international cuisine from local vendors like Jamerica Restaurant and the Polish Heritage Club of Madison.

This is the 38th celebration of the International Festival, but even regular attendees can find new things to see, learn and eat this year.

Perhaps the biggest addition, said Meri Rose Ekberg, programming and community engagement coordinator, is the chance to participate in a community art project.

This year, the nonprofit Sarvodaya USA is calling on attendees to pitch in to build a “Community Mandala,” or “a series of circular and geometric shapes that symbolize the universe.”

Ekberg said the mandala could be 10 to 12 feet in diameter or even bigger. It will be on the upper lobby on the third floor, creating a “great place to be if people need a quiet moment,” rest, pick up natural materials (Sarvodaya has previously used flowers, pinecones and rocks, she said) and add to the design.

Other additions: the Wisconsin Tibetan Association will be performing music and dance with the help of traditional Tibetan stringed instruments. International Reach UW-Madison will provide drop-in language lessons for eight different languages. There are new vendors like Legacy House Imports bringing their Scandinavian goods and the Verona Area International School promoting their Chinese immersion program.

Three new food vendors will join the festival: Buraka, Madame Chu providing Singaporean cuisine, and La Joe Bla Hmong cuisine.

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Ekberg is particularly excited to sample the curry from Spice Yatra and for Charanga Agoza to take the stage to play music from Cuba and Puerto Rico -- they’re a “great group to dance to,” she said.

The day is always exciting because it draws one of the most diverse audiences the Overture sees all year, Ekberg said.

“I have a lot of images from last year stuck in my mind, specifically of families and young children engaging with our maps,” Ekberg said.

Last year, the Overture created maps where attendees could mark their cultural heritage, which started some “really fun conversations with families, Ekberg said. This year, the maps are even bigger and magnetic, hopefully creating “a showstopper when you enter the lobby.”

This year, Ekberg wants attendees to get out of their comfort zone, especially since the festival showcases many of the same performers every year. To that end, there's an “activity checklist” on the schedule: complete five or more activities and get a chance to win Overture tickets.

While there’s no limit to the number of attendees, there are capacity limits on the individual venues. Ekberg recommends getting to a venue early if you are particularly interested in a specific performer, and notes that some of the performances (yet to be determined) will be livestreamed on the Overture Facebook page.

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