With artists from Germany, Zimbabwe and Italy on the program, the 2017 Ringling International Arts Festival (set for Oct. 18-21) stays true to the “international” in its title. But this year’s fest also offers a taste of hometown flavor, with performances by Sarasota musical group ensemblenewSRQ and choreography by Sarasota-raised, Europe-based James McGinn.
No matter where the artists come from or what their work consists of, The Ringling’s curator of performance Dwight Currie wants audiences to know they “cannot be passive.” Each performance should be an adventure, he says: “Step into a space that’s not familiar. You’ve got to let yourself go; you’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry.”
Currie adds that in putting together this year’s line-up, he wanted to find pieces that spoke to each other. “It’s like when you’re planning a shopping mall,” he says. “You get your anchors, and then you add all kinds of boutiques in between.”
The fest’s performances range in scale from German photographer Volker Gerling’s Portraits in Motion—delicate, hand-held flipbook portraits, small and personal—to group eVenti Verticale’s large-scale Wanted, with the artists portraying two men on the run, suspended in front of a massive video projection in The Ringling’s West Courtyard (between the Searing Wing and the Asian art center). Think of that as a “great piece of fluff, a fun story writ large,” says Currie.
When it comes to the festival’s dance performances, you can also opt for fun, with Monica Bill Barnes & Co.’s Happy Hour. “Barnes is such an irreverent choreographer, and she wants to take dance where it doesn’t belong,” says Currie, “like the back yard of the Circus Museum. Here the dancers [females portraying guys] arrive at a very cheesy, low-rent party where they’re desperate to be the center of attention, and eventually are, for all the wrong reasons.”
Or you can choose something more serious, like James McGinn’s Ing an die. McGinn, a Booker High grad and the son of longtime local dance teacher Deborah Vinton and artist Peter McGinn, has worked as a dancer both in New York and abroad, often in Belgium and France. But he began his training here in Sarasota, and he’s excited to bring this work (which he’s been adapting and adding on to for a decade) back home. He says the piece is “a conversation about power and relationships” that also seeks to find a balance between “uptown” dance [classical] and “downtown” [a more modern approach]. Although Ing an die is conceptually dense, with layers of meaning, the choreographer says it offers “lots of points of access, so that whoever comes to the work gets something satisfying out of it.”
Ing an Die will be performed in the Historic Asolo Theater, but performances by other artists will make good use of less traditional settings. EnsemblenewSRQ, for example, presents two different programs. One, by composer John Luther Adams, explores the mysteries of sound and space in the James Turrell Skyspace; the other, featuring Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas, is set in the museum’s Huntington Gallery.
And the Circus Museum plays host to an intriguing piece by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, White Rabbit Red Rabbit. Don’t expect a summary of what this work is about; even the performers, who include Urbanite Theatre actors, won’t know until they open the sealed envelope containing the script onstage. Currie doesn’t know, either, and he admits that for some time the idea of producing Rabbit “made me very nervous. There’s no rehearsal, no direction, just one brave actor who steps forward and opens that envelope. The only rule is, once you start, you’ve got to finish it.”
Rounding out the performer list is African ensemble Nobuntu, young female singers who celebrate the female voice and heritage of their native continent and what it means to be a woman in their culture. Currie says they’re “superstars” in Africa; they’re making their first appearance in the United States at the festival.
Oh, and also, as per RIAF tradition, there’ll be a party. Shaking things up a little this year, the opening night celebration features the Wanted performance in the West Courtyard along with hors d'oeuvres and beverages.
If you haven’t got your tickets yet for RIAF, stop by the Historic Asolo Theater box office, call 360-7399 or visit ringling.org, where the full schedule of events is also posted.