Ringling International Arts Festival opens in Sarasota

A Farsi Hamlet, a Buster Keaton film and a flamenco are highlights

mclear@bradenton.comOctober 6, 2013 

This year's Ringling International Arts Festival is packed with startlingly fresh performances from some of the world's great innovators. But that's nothing new.

Over the past four years of the festival's existence, audiences have come to expect the kind of artistry that warms the soul and stuns the mind.

This year's festival, which starts its four-day run Wednesday at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and other venues on the Ringling grounds, features one of the most highly regarded dance companies in the United States, a prequel to "Hamlet" performed in Farsi by an Iranian theater company, and a composer performing a new jazz-tinged classical score for a Buster Keaton film.

The style and caliber of the art isn't the big news this year, though.

Since its inception, the Ringling International Arts Festival has been presented jointly by the Ringling Museum and the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. That partnership ends after this year.

Dwight Currie, Ringling Museum curator of performances, said the museum and the Baryshnikov are parting as friends.

"You start out on a project like this with the intent of making it part of the museum," he said. "Over the past four years we've re-introduced performance at the museum, and we're expanding our performance series, so we now have the infrastructure to take this on ourselves."

And because of the festival's history and reputation, artists from around the world are approaching the Ringling to be part of it.

Besides, Currie said, the amicable parting means resources of the Baryshnikov Arts Center are still available to the museum.

"We'll continue to work with the Baryshnikov as well as other museums around the country," he said. "I will still call Georgiana Pickett (the Baryshnikov Center's executive director) and say 'What have you seen?' Just today I got an e-mail from a group that said the Baryshnikov Center suggested they contact me."

Currie allowed there has been a benefit in having the name of Mikhail Baryshnikov, whose artistic reputation is unsurpassed and unassailable, attached to the festival. But that wasn't the point of the collaboration.

"We worked the Baryshnikov Arts Center, not just with Mr. Baryshnikov," he said.

But this year's festival is still a fully collaborative effort, and it's a solid four days of innovation and inspiration.

Probably the most familiar company on the schedule is Tere O'Connor Dance, a New York-based modern company whose work has been called "abstract documentary" and has been praised for its pure dance technique and for the depth of O'Connor's choreographic ideas.

O'Connor, who at 55 no longer dances himself, says his company comprises "seven of the most amazing dancers in New York," and many people who have seen the company perform agree.

"My dance has been called difficult, but I'm not interested in creating difficult dance," O'Connor said. "I'm really interested in a deep aesthetic. I think it has to do with disparate ideas converging. It's about presenting information, not explaining it."

Another treat for dance fans is Rocio Molina, a solo dancer who's work is firmly rooted in flamenco, but also incorporates non-traditional styles. The combination of honor for the form and a willingness to innovate has made Molina one of the biggest stars in Spain, and earned her the Spanish equivalent of a Kennedy Center Honor.Among the other highlights: the Belarus Free Theatre offers a performance piece called "Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker," an examination of a scarred city that a New York Times critic recently praised as "beautiful and brutal," and Iran's Leev Theater Group with an new play called "Hamlet, Prince of Grief" that looks at Hamlet shortly before the actions of the Shakespeare play begins. "Minsk 2011" will be performed in Belarussian, and "Hamlet: Prince of Price of Grief" in Farsi, but both will have English translations in subtitles.

In the most light-hearted piece of the festival, renowned pianist Stephen Prutsman, who's equally at home with classical and jazz genres, offers his new score to Buster Keaton's silent 1924 film "Sherlock Jr." Prutsman will perform with the acclaimed Aeolus Quartet as the audience watches one of Keaton's funniest films.

Oct. 9

5:30 p.m.: Opening Night festivities, performance by Rocio Moline, Mertz Theatre, $500.

Oct. 10

1 p.m.: Rocio Molina, Mertz Theatre. $40.

1 p.m.: Belarus Free Theatre, Cook Theatre. $40.

5 p.m.: Tere O'Connor Dance, Mertz Theatre. $40.

5 p.m.: Leev Theater Group, Cook Theatre. $30.

9 p.m.: Belarus Free Theatre, Cook Theatre. $40.

9 p.m.: Prutsman/Aeolus, Historic Asolo Theater. $40.

9 p.m.: Rocio Molina, Mertz Theatre. $40.

Oct. 11

1 p.m.: Tere O'Connor Dance Mertz Theatre. $40

1 p.m.: Leev Theater Group, Cook Theatre. $30.

1 p.m.: Conversation With the Curator, Historic Asolo Theater. Free (ticket required).

5 p.m.: Prutsman/Aeolus, Historic Asolo Theater. $40.

5 p.m.: Belarus Free Theatre, Cook Theatre. $40.

9 p.m.: Tere O'Connor Dance, Mertz Theatre. $40.

9 p.m.: Leev Theater Group, Cook Theatre. $30.

9 p.m.: Prutsman/Aeolus, Historic Asolo Theater. $40.

Oct. 12

1 p.m.: Tere O'Connor Dance, Mertz Theatre. $40.

1 p.m.: Belarus Free Theatre, Cook Theatre. $40.

1 p.m: Conversation With the Curator, Historic Asolo Theater. Free (ticket required).

5 p.m.: Prutsman/Aeolus, Historic Asolo Theater. $40.

5 p.m.: Leev Theater Group, Cook Theatre. $30.

6:30 p.m.: Closing Party, Courtyard. $45-$75.

The Ringling is at 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. For information, call 941-358-3180, or visit ringling.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twiiter.com/martinclear.

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