Friday, January 19, 2018
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Mark Morris Dance Group gets top billing at Ringling International Arts Festival

The Mark Morris Dance Group headlines the scaled-back Ringling International Arts Festival, which recently announced the schedule for its fourth year at Sarasota's John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the FSU Center for the Performing Arts in October.

With the Morris company, the Ringling festival continues its emphasis on dance, as befits its partnership with the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the namesake of legendary dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in New York.

"In my view, dance and the visual arts are so closely connected," said Steven High, in his first year as executive director of the Ringling, coming from the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Ga. "I took this job in part because of the festival, because I think museums need to encompass performance as seriously as contemporary art."

Other dance includes Shantala Shivalingappa, whose solo performance Shiva Ganga is in the Southern India classical tradition, and several documentary films on dance in the festival's newly established film series.

In its first three years, the festival featured quite a lot of high-profile programming, such as Baryshnikov himself in a dance program or a reading of Shakespearean sonnets staged by Peter Brook, but the budget has been cut back considerably now that about $3 million in startup funding from the state of Florida and Sarasota and Manatee counties has run out.

"We knew we couldn't afford the level of the past," High said. "If we want to be serious, we need to make the festival sustainable."

The $800,000 budget of this year's festival is about two-thirds of what it was in the past, High said. Running Oct. 10-13, it has been shortened by a day and has fewer presentations.

Morris' troupe will perform all four days in the FSU center's largest venue, the 500-seat Mertz Theater. Performances by Pig Iron Theatre will take place in the center's 161-seat Cook Theater. Shivalingappa and Ensemble Basiani, a choir from the Republic of Georgia, will perform in the 260-seat Historic Asolo Theater in the museum. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band will play for the closing night party in the Ringling courtyard.

A pair of avant-garde piano performances will take place at sunset in the Ringling's new John Turrell Skyspace, Joseph's Coat, which features an "aperture" in the ceiling that frames the sky and LED lighting. Adam Tendler will play a program of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano; Phyllis Chen will play toy piano. With seating for only about 200, these performances are likely to sell out quickly.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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