Two very different performances rounded out the Ringling International Arts Festival experience for me over the weekend.
The first: Portraits in Motion. This is a quiet but nevertheless touching and frequently humorous piece by Volker Gerling, a filmmaker who works in a small and unusual medium: photograph flipbook cinema. Based in Berlin, Gerling has spent much time over his summers walking the length and breadth of his country and into Switzerland as well, accompanied only by his trusty old Nikon camera, a tent, some clothing and a table from which he exhibits and sometimes sells the flipbooks he has made of the people he meets on his travels.
Each book consists of just 36 images that flip by in a matter of seconds and yet manage to reveal something about the subjects. Onstage, Gerling flips through each little book three times as it’s projected on screen, so we can see up close the men, women and children who have agreed to pose for him. He tells brief stories about his encounters, but there is no music, no theatrics—just a man standing at his lectern sharing his very low-tech art with us. And at times one is reminded of the wonder and awe that the first makers and subjects of short silent films, more than a century ago, must have felt at seeing those moving images onscreen.
The other performance rounding out RIAF for me was certainly at the other end of the spectrum, a dance piece titled Happy Hour, choreographed by Monica Bill Barnes and performed by her and Anna Bass in the Circus Museum back lot. It’s a fun, energetic piece based on the premise of an after-hours office party, where two workers—Barnes and Bass, playing men in suits, ties and hats—try desperately to appear casual and cool while on the make for, if not a hookup, at least to be part of the party.
From the outset the audience is made to feel part of it, as Robbie Saenz DeViteri hosts a pre-dance show of his own complete with balloons, bingo games and chitchat. (There were even snack baskets on each table.) It’s a relaxed atmosphere, as we sit back and watch our hapless losers move to music by Mellencamp, Presley, Journey, The Foundations (remember “Build Me Up Buttercup”?) and more. The duo is convincing, not only in the tight or loose movements Barnes has mapped out for them, but in their roles as guys you can’t help feeling sympathy for, especially as they launch into a karaoke version of “I’m All Out of Love.” It was a convivial way to end the festival.