SARASOTA — Doug Elkins calls The Sound of Music his madeleine (as in the inspirational cookie of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past). The New York choreographer watched the Rodgers and Hammerstein/Julie Andrews classic many a time with his two kids — there is no better babysitter than the movie — and that led to his joyous dance-theater creation, Fraulein Maria, a highlight of the Ringling International Arts Festival.
Though performed to the familiar score, the 65-minute piece by Doug Elkins & Friends has more than a few surprises. For one thing, there are three Marias, and one of them is a guy (gender-bending is a matter-of-fact theme here). Elkins, wearing a black hoodie, baggy basketball shorts and sneakers, plays the Mother Superior in a break dancing solo to Climb Ev'ry Mountain. Composer Richard Rodgers even has a cameo appearance when he says (on tape), "This is not a sausage factory at work."
Things get off to a jolly start, with Michael Preston, the emcee (and co-director of the show, with Barbara Karger) in a seedy tuxedo, leading the audience in a pre-show sing-along of Do Re Mi. That iconic song also propels an exuberant number for eight dancers that is pure bliss, putting on display the full range of Elkins' fluid, expressive movement, as well as witty costumes (made from chintz curtains) by Karger and Robin Staff. In Sixteen Going on Seventeen, John Sorensen-Jolink, a towering redhead in a pink dress, plays the oldest Von Trapp girl, Liesl, in an acrobatic pas de deux with Alexander Dones. Something Good features Daniel Charon's Capt. Von Trapp in a swoony duet with Meghan Merrill's Maria (the other Marias are Donnell Oakley and Joshua Palmer).
Fraulein Maria, which I saw at the Mertz Theatre on Wednesday, the first full day of the festival, has shows today, Saturday and Sunday. For fans of dance and musical theater, it's not to be missed.
I saw two other performances Wednesday, both at the Historic Asolo Theater. Terra Firma is an enigmatic dance piece by Company Stefanie Batten Bland on (a program note says) "exploring questions of stability on and off the most ancient vehicle of water transit — boats — and the diverse passengers that take them." That would explain the yellow, orange and blue canvas on rigging that resembles sails, and I think there was a reference to the shipwreck of Shakespeare's Tempest, but the other main element of the design, a mound of black trash bags, was less suggestive, unless the crinkly plastic was meant to sound like waves. Batten Bland's choreography, to the chirpy ostinato of a John Adams score, combined literal mindedness — crab-like slinking by the six dancers — and an atmosphere of radiant intensity that left me groping for the meaning. Repeated today, Saturday and Sunday.
More entertaining was the quartet of pianists — Inon Barnatan, Adam Golka, Anne-Marie McDermott, Pedja Muzijevic — who tackled Carl Czerny's 19th century party piece, Quatuor Concertant. Facing each other at four Yamaha grands, like the spokes of a wheel, the pianists passed around the big tunes and flashy fingerwork in bravura fashion. Repeated today and Saturday.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.