A new play by Nilo Cruz or new music by Philip Glass? Miniature opera by puppet masters from the Czech Republic or cabaret or hip-hop dance?
You probably won't be able to see everything. That's one of the frustrating pleasures of an event like the second annual Ringling International Arts Festival, which begins its five-day run this week in Sarasota. Because of the tightly packed schedule, it's inevitable that even the most dedicated festivalgoer will miss a few of the 11 productions of theater, dance and music.
Here are previews of three of the festival offerings.
Hurricane by Nilo Cruz is one of several premieres this week in Sarasota. To fit the festival format, in which most productions run an hour or less, Cruz had to whittle down his script.
"I'm baroque,'' Cruz said, laughing, in a phone interview. "I'm known for poetic language. Maybe there was a little too much of that.''
At a reading in New York during the summer, Hurricane clocked in at more than an hour, and the next day, Cruz got to work cutting the play by about 20 pages.
"I cut a few lines here and there,'' he said. "And there was a scene I took out because I felt like I had a another scene that did the same thing. There were a couple of monologues that I took out. And I didn't lose the essence of the play.''
In 2003, the Cuban-American Cruz became the first and only Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Anna in the Tropics, his play set in an Ybor City cigar factory. Like Hurricane, it was reworked extensively between its premiere at the New Theatre in Coral Gables and subsequent productions at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey and on Broadway.
"With Anna, I switched some scenes around and changed a lot of the second act,'' Cruz said.
Hurricane takes place in the Caribbean. "It's about a man who has an accident as the result of a hurricane and develops some kind of amnesia,'' the playwright said. "He completely forgets his past. This man used to be a Catholic missionary. Basically his family is trying to help him remember, or help him reconstruct his life. But I think more important is that he has lost a connection with God. It is almost like an allegory, this piece, like a fable. It's not moralistic. It's very much a journey of self-discovery through mysticism.''
Cruz, who turns 50 today, had another new play, The Color of Desire, open Friday at the Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables. He has been shuttling between South Florida and Sarasota for rehearsals of his two plays.
The playwright lives in New York, but he was raised in Miami and has a residence there. He and his family left Cuba in 1970, and he hasn't been back to the island in 20 years. He recently co-wrote a screenplay based on Castro's Daughter, the autobiography of Alina Fernandez, a Miami radio personality whose Cuban mother, Naty Revuelta, had an affair with Castro in the 1950s.
Cruz is hoping to see Anna in the Tropics as a movie in 2012 ("We're looking for a director,'' he said) and has started work, with composer Gabriela Frank, on an opera about Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Several years ago, violinist Tim Fain played in a production called Book of Longing, a song cycle by Philip Glass based on poetry of Leonard Cohen.
"There was a little moment in this piece, about a minute and a half, when the violin took center stage,'' Fain said from his home in New York. "The whole stage went dark except for a spotlight — they called it the nuclear spotlight — that came down right on me, and I played about a minute and a half, a fast and furious episode. This was a real eye-opener for me. Somehow it had the hallmarks of Philip's style, the undulating repetition of his hard-core minimalism, but he put it together in such a lyrical way that I was really floored. We did this show probably 30, 40 times around the world, and every time that moment came up, I thought to myself, 'Oh, my gosh, a minute and a half, I want a whole piece.' ''
Now Fain has that whole piece he wanted from Glass, or at least the start of one. In performances Wednesday and Thursday at the festival, he'll play the first three movements from an eight-movement suite for solo violin. It's what Glass has written so far — about 12 or 13 minutes of music — from a piece that will likely run more than half an hour when it is scheduled to premiere in New York in September 2011.
Fain, 32, has worked on a number of Glass projects, such as the CD by the newly formed Glass Chamber Players in which they pair Schoenberg's late-romantic masterwork Verklarte Nacht and Glass' Symphony No. 3 transcribed for string sextet. The violinist will be doing something similar in Sarasota, combining the new Glass piece with Bach's Partita No. 2.
What's it like to work with a living legend? "Philip is incredibly kind,'' said Fain, who grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., and started playing violin at 7. "He's very sharp. And a whole lot of fun, if you get him telling stories from the old days, about driving a cab in New York City and his first successes. He's a wonderful mix of the very social and very inward as well. He has composed so much, and part of that, I think, is due to the fact that he really doesn't seem to sleep. Philip just doesn't sleep all that much.''
The label often put on Rubberbandance Group is "hip-hop meets ballet,'' and Victor Quijada hates it. "I wince every time I hear that, but I understand the reason for it,'' said Quijada, who founded the company eight years ago in Montreal.
"You have to have some way to describe these experiences and philosophies that come from different places. Hip-hop can happen on a street corner, or behind a garage, at a party or in a bar, wherever you're watching someone throw down, and you're next. It's completely different than the formality of ballet and concert dance.''
Quijada, 34, has followed an unorthodox career path. A Mexican-American from Los Angeles, he started out break-dancing in the street in what he calls the "golden age of hip-hop'' in the late 1980s and early '90s. It was in those days that he got the nickname "Rubberband'' in description of his elastic moves. From there — and thanks to his years at the L.A. County High School for the Arts, he said — he went on to dance with the companies of Twyla Tharp and Eliot Feld in New York and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal.
"Destiny kept kicking me in the rear down this path,'' said Quijada, whose works often combine street dance with classical music. "I was listening to Prokofiev and Vivaldi and Stravinsky and finding the hip-hop in that music.''
In Sarasota, the seven dancers of Rubberbandance will perform Loan Sharking, a compilation of several works, including a men's trio to Vivaldi called Soft Watching the First Implosion and a women's trio to the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Take Five. The second half of the program is an excerpt from Punto Ciego, which means "blind spot'' in Spanish and has a score by hip-hop DJ Jasper Gahunia.
"It's not hip-hop onstage; it's not break-dancing onstage,'' said Quijada, taking pains to distinguish his choreography from what has become old hat in music videos and commercials. "It is what happens when you take this genetic information from different species and find what is spawned from that. It's a new physical vocabulary.''
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.