Arts Capital - October 2011

By Charlie Huisking October 1, 2011

Irish step dancer Colin Dunne appears at RIAF in October.Ringling Arts Festival Creates Lots of Buzz Unlike last year, Mikhail Baryshnikov won’t be dancing during the Ringling International Arts Festival. But there’s still plenty to be intrigued and excited about at this year’s event, which opens Oct. 11 with a “block party” in the Ringling Museum courtyard and runs through Oct. 16.

“The best thing about the festival is that we crunch so many performances into a finite amount of space and time,” says the museum’s Dwight Currie, who runs the festival in conjunction with the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York.

“We’re not spread out all over a city, so people interact when they come out of the theaters and chatter about what they’ve seen. I think this year’s performances are going to generate lots of conversation and banter. And many of the acts themselves speak to each other and inform one another. That’s what I find so exciting.”

In the space of just a few hours, for example, you can catch Irish step dancer Colin Dunne and the Argentinean brothers Hermanos Macana, who will be dancing the tango in a performance with Oscar-winning actress/singer Soledad Villamil. “In every culture, it seems there is some form of ritual dance that involves men stomping their feet,” Currie says, laughing.

Performances will range from the serious—the Wooster Group’s unusual take on Hamlet— to the giddy—Doug Elkins’ witty deconstruction of The Sound of Music, which he calls Fraulein Maria.

And Currie is delighted that the festival will have a visual arts component for the first time. A kinetic sound-sculpture installation by Swiss artist Zimoun will be set up in the Ringling galleries. On one evening, festival-goers will be invited to participate in the exhibit in a unique way.

Oh, and that opening-night party will be “unlike anything Sarasota has ever experienced,” Currie promises. The night’s entertainment will be the 12-piece Asphalt Orchestra, which presents a show that is “part parade spectacle, part half-time show, part cutting-edge…concert,” according to The New York Times.

COMINGS AND GOINGS Wherever the gifted conductor Leif Bjaland’s future lies after he leaves the Sarasota Orchestra in February, it won’t be in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was one of five

finalists for the conducting job at the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. But none of those finalists ended up getting the job. Instead, the orchestra decided to hire Josep Caballe-Domenech, who impressed musicians and board members when he was a last-minute replacement for an ailing conductor last season.

APPLAUSE Matthew McLendon took a risk by thinking way outside the box for his first exhibition as the Ringling Museum’s new curator of modern and contemporary art. His show, Beyond Bling: Voices of Hip-Hop in Art, was a bold and provocative exploration of the influence of hip-hop culture. The exhibit, complemented by a series of performances, lectures and community art projects, caused a buzz during the normally sleepy summer, and attracted a whole new audience to the museum. 

CULTURAL TOURISM Michael Edwards’ recent trip to Havana was a “life-changing experience,” the Asolo Rep producing artistic director says.

Edwards made the journey as part of his research for his innovative production of Hamlet, Prince of Cuba. Scheduled for next spring, the play will be set in Havana on the eve of the revolution that brought Castro to power. Several performances will be in Spanish.

Edwards stayed in a private home rather than a hotel, and he feels he got a great sense of “how life is actually lived in Havana today.” Thanks to his friendships with Cuban-American playwrights Nilo Cruz and Eduardo Machado, he was able to meet with leaders of the Havana arts community and see some of their productions.

“The experience allowed me to think bigger about my production, to not be so literal-minded,” Edwards says. “Now it’s going to be much more of a human story, about family and relationships, not just about Castro and Cuban politics.”

FOLLOW THE MONEY The maddening congressional debt-ceiling debate this summer reminded me of the excruciating process arts leaders and Sarasota County officials went through recently as they decided how to spend a windfall of nearly $1 million in tourist-tax revenue.

Like the drama in D.C., this one involved clashing egos, bureaucratic roadblocks and diametrically opposed visions. At one point, it looked as if a new festival, spotlighting local groups, was to be created. But nobody could agree on its focus, format or feasibility.

After all the talk, the county decided to use the bulk of the money to supplement the arts groups’ share of the tourist tax pot during the next three years. Another $200,000 was reserved for cultural-tourism advertising.

 Just as in Congress, not everybody was pleased with this outcome. But I think in light of the challenging economic times we’re still enduring, this was the most prudent, if not the most adventurous, way to go.

LEADING MAN I know Warren Coville primarily as a generous and hard-working board member of the Asolo Repertory Theatre. But now Coville and his wife, Margot, are trying to help the entire arts community prosper.

The Covilles have donated $50,000 to a cultural-tourism project that will target arts lovers around the country who aren’t yet aware of Sarasota’s cultural richness.

Coville has also spent hours meeting with local arts organizations in an attempt to develop a branding campaign that will tout Sarasota’s cultural attractions. Coville says he hopes many of the new visitors might eventually settle in Sarasota because of the arts, as he and his wife did.

This project is similar to a proposed Arts Discovery Tour last year that was the brainchild of arts supporter Harry Leopold. Though that project was cancelled, it may be revived. It’s nice to know that so many arts supporters are being proactive and thinking big.


Read charlie huisking’s “arts & travel” blog.

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