RIAF and Asolo Unveil Compelling Programming

By Megan McDonald March 8, 2011


Mikhail vs. Michael? Maybe not, but both announced exciting Sarasota arts lineups this past weekend.

You could call it Mikhail versus Michael.

OK, it wasn’t really a competition, but Mikhail Baryshnikov and Michael Edwards were both in the spotlight recently as they announced exciting performances that Sarasota audiences will enjoy next fall and in 2012.

Baryshnikov made a brief appearance in the Historic Asolo Theatre on Saturday to unveil the program for the third Ringling International Arts Festival in October. On Monday, Edwards, the Asolo Rep’s producing artistic director, announced the company’s 2011-2012 season.

Smiling and looking dapper in a dark suit, Baryshnikov  was greeted with cheers and a few gasps from an audience of sponsors and subscribers, many of whom were caught by surprise.

The festival is a collaboration between the Ringling Museum and the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. But Baryshnikov told the audience that  “this is really your festival.” He praised the community for embracing it so enthusiastically, and gave special thanks to its major players, including former state senator John McKay and  FSU dean Sally McRorie. He also thanked the museum’s deputy director,  Dwight Currie,  who delivered most of the festival information.  “I know you’d rather hear more from him and less from me,” quipped Currie as he started a power point display.

The festival will open Oct. 11 with a gala in the museum courtyard that will feature a performance by the Asphalt Orchestra, a 12-piece, cutting-edge marching band. During the next five days, audiences can sample a wide range of envelope-pushing theater, dance and music.

Perhaps the best-known performers are members of the New York theatrical troupe The Wooster Group. They will perform a version of Hamlet inspired by a 1964 movies that starred Richard Burton.

Ethiopian singer/songwriter Meklit Hadero, whose voice has been compared to that of Norah Jones, will perform a concert, as will a classical-piano foursome that will play Carl Czerny’s rarely-performed Quatuor Concertant.

Argentine actress and singer Soledad Villamil will join forces with the dancing duo Hermanos Macana for a passionate evening of tango, while Irish step dancer Colin Dunne will present a multi-media one-man show.

The string quartet Brooklyn Rider will play a repertoire that encompasses classical, world, jazz and pop music.   Company Stefanie Batten Bland/sbb birdlegs, a Paris-based group,  will dance “Terra Firma,”  a piece about the search for community and stability.

Perhaps the most whimsical program on the schedule is “Fraulein Maria,” a satirical look at the film “The Sound of Music,” to be performed by the Doug Elkins & Friends dance troupe.

In contrast to the briefly glimpsed Baryshnikov,  the entertaining Edwards held court for nearly an hour Monday in the Mertz Theatre in front of an audience of subscribers.  Then he outlined the season again for sponsors at a party at the gorgeous Lido Shores home of Ron and Rita Greenbaum.

And there was a lot to celebrate. The Asolo’s 2011-12 season will start with the classic musical My Fair Lady.   It will be directed by Tony Award-winner Frank Galati, who staged this season’s highly praised production of Twelve Angry Men.

Asolo audiences are used to seeing contemporary musicals,  some of them world premieres. But Edwards said that Galati, whose strengths are telling stories and creating vivid characters, will bring a fresh perspective to “perhaps the greatest musical of all.”

Another season highlight will be Hamlet, Prince of Cuba, a fresh look at the Shakespearean drama. This version will be set in Havana in the 1950s, as Castro comes to power. Most of the performances will be in English, but some will be in Spanish with English subtitles.

Once in a Lifetime, the 1930 Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman show-business comedy, is also on the schedule, as is the recent Broadway comedy God of Carnage, by Yazmina Reza. In that play, a civilized evening descends into chaos when two Manhattan couples gather to discuss a problem involving their children.

Everyone knows the Barbra Streisand movie Yentl, but few may be aware of the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story and play that inspired it. That Yentl, about a Jewish girl in Poland who dresses as a boy to advance in society, will be in the Asolo repertory, as will a little-known Noel Coward comedy, Fallen Angels.

The Asolo will collaborate with the Ringling Museum in presenting Who the #@** is Jackson Pollock? This world premiere is based on the true story of a truck driver who pays $5 for a painting that may or may not be the work of the renowned abstract expressionist artist.

The season will end with Tommy Tune Presents: State of the Art Song & Dance.  Tune won’t appear in the musical revue, but it will celebrate the career of the nine-time Tony Award winner.

FSU/Asolo Conservatory director Greg Leaming also took the stage to announce the upcoming conservatory season. It opens with The Brothers Karamazov, based on the Dostoevsky novel,  and will also encompass the Kenneth Lonergan comedy Lobby Hero,  the epic The Robbers, by German playwright Friedrich Schiller, and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, a “carnival of sexuality and liberation,” in Leaming’s words.

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