Can the Ringling International Arts Festival top its opening act?
Last fall, the festival made its debut in Sarasota: five days of cutting-edge theater, dance and music organized by the Ringling Museum of Art and New York's Baryshnikov Arts Center, founded and presided over by ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov.
It was a terrific success that included first-rate performances such as Peter Brook's staging of Shakespearean sonnets, the avant-garde theater company Elevator Repair Service's treatment of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, contemporary dance by up-and-coming choreographers such as Aszure Barton and an outrageous cabaret singer named Meow Meow.
Tickets are on sale, and selling briskly, for the second edition of the festival, to be held Oct. 13-17 in the theaters, galleries and other spaces of the Ringling and the adjacent FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
There will be 45 performances of 11 stage productions. Highlights include:
• Baryshnikov and dancer-choreographer David Neumann in solo works.
• Violinist Tim Fain premiering a Philip Glass composition.
• Hurricane, a new play by Nilo Cruz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Anna in the Tropics.
• The U.S. premiere of Opera Baroque, a fusion of puppetry and music by the Forman Brothers, a Czech circus troupe.
• The Boys, a production by the Moscow Theater Art Studio that adapts Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.
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In late June, I interviewed Ringling deputy director Dwight Currie about this year's festival. Here are edited excerpts of what he had to say.
When the festival started, it was planned to be held every two years. But now it's back a year later. What happened?
Ticket sales. When we put plans together for the festival, we thought that if we get to the point where we're selling 75 or 80 percent of the tickets, we would be comfortable in saying this is an annual event. And in that first year, 92 percent of the tickets were sold. And there was just so much momentum, and the Baryshnikov center was already talking about artists who could come, and there were artists who were communicating their interest, so we took a big gulp and said, yeah, let's do this annually.
How have sales gone this year?
Sixty-five percent of the tickets are gone, and we've got four months to go. We have well over 1,000 people who have bought anywhere from four to eight of the performances. The response has been extraordinarily positive.
I see you've added some performances.
In putting together the programming for this year, we thought we might create some shorter runs, and we contracted with Tim Fain and Philip Glass for a new work. Those tickets were gone instantly. So we added a performance for Tim Fain. We've also done some adjustments for the Forman Brothers, the troupe from the Czech Republic, to get a larger venue for them. Those are wonderful problems to have.
Last year, chamber music was in Historic Asolo Theater in the museum. This year, Fain is in the Cook Theatre in the FSU Center.
That was an artistic decision. That's the venue that everyone felt was the best venue to present that piece.
Surely, the highlight of the festival is to have Baryshnikov, at 62, dancing solos.
And they're sold out. It's an extraordinary honor to work with Mr. Baryshnikov and his organization, and to see him dance contemporary works is a fabulous opportunity. But the whole festival is Mr. Baryshnikov's work. What's incredible is to have that knowing eye and that expertise out in the world finding these companies and bringing them to us. There will be dance performances by RubberBanDance, a hip-hop group; Les Slovaks Dance Collective, which mixes Eastern European folk dance with contemporary dance language; and the company of John Jasperse, an enormously important American choreographer.
The Boys by the Moscow Theater Art Studio will be performed in Russian. How will we understand it?
There will be some surtitling, but how do you understand Tosca? For myself, this will be like an opera. When it's Dostoevsky, and it's presented with such power and passion, I'll be more than happy to let the language wash over me as if it was a great operatic score.
What's the Nilo Cruz play?
It's called Hurricane and is a work in progress. I am so excited about being able to witness a piece of theater coming together from that moment of an idea through the drafting and reworking of the script. Michael Donald Edwards (producing artistic director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre) is directing. It has a cast of three.
How long is it?
The last we heard was 45 minutes to an hour.
Most of the festival performances seem to be about an hour. Is that a policy to have short works?
In the very first conversation we had with Mr. Baryshnikov and his staff sometime in 2007, that was one of the first really good ideas: to have performances of about an hour. Now, that being said, we're not locked into a formula. The Boys, the piece from the Moscow Theater Art Studio, is two hours. And Andrew Dawson's incredible Space Panorama is 30 minutes.
Are there any significant changes in the festival operations?
There will be more food options. Ticket prices went up, but not dramatically. We raised upper prices from $30 to $40. We're doing jazz sunsets this year. There will be a jazz ensemble performing every evening at 6:30.
The Ringling has been without a director since John Wetenhall resigned last summer. Will there be a new director by the time of the festival?
I've reserved tickets for whoever it is, so he or she has seats for all the performances. I'm excited to think that my new boss will get to see this. I fully expect those seats to be filled come October.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs. tampabay.com/arts.