Opening night and the crowd files into the Ringling Circus Museum—one of three new venues for the festival, including the Ringling Museum of Art and the elegant CÁ’ d’Zan. Patrons sit close, surrounded by circus wagons, within “sweat-wiping” distance of the simple stage before them where the Australian acrobats of Gravity & Other Myths will push themselves to the edge of endurance with an hour of non-stop performance. There’s no net, no tricks and no fancy finery—nothing but skill stands in the way of injury as the troupe seemingly defies the very laws of nature for the unsuspecting audience. They gasp. They flinch. They wring their hands at the spectacle before them. There’s no knowing what comes next.

“Maybe I subconsciously put together an election year festival,” jokes Dwight Currie, curator of performance at the Ringling Museum, looking at the assembled line-up for RIAF 2016. There’s the breadth, daring and talent that the community has come to expect from the festival, but accompanying an unmistakable air of playfulness—an optimism borne from the belief that art does matter, that the proper articulation of truth can accommodate both savior and satirist at a time when even facts are divisive. This is performance that moves, not mourns. “People are still pretty good if artists are still creating this kind of work,” says Currie. “For whatever reason, a happier image of humanity emerges for me. And a few weeks before the election, there’s a lot of reason to get together with people and laugh.”

In preparation for the artists’ imminent arrival, SRQ sat down with Lachlan Binns, founding member of Gravity & Other Myths, to peek inside the mind of the performer pre-festival.

SRQ: What are your expectations for the Ringling International Arts Festival and performing in a circus town like Sarasota? Binns: The name Ringling carries a lot to anyone in the circus world. When the opportunity came up to bring our little piece of circus to Sarasota we were totally excited to be a part of it. We have created a show that draws partly on both traditional and modern circus, partly from competitive sport and partly from natural human joy and playfulness. We hope audiences can share our love of circus and feel the trust and connection of the eight close friends on stage.

Gravity & Other Myths (photo courtesy of the artists).

THOMAS MONKTON PERFORMING IN THE PIANIST (PHOTO COURTESY OF CIRCO AEREO).

For this production, A Simple Space, why take the stripped-down blackbox approach? We wanted to strip away some of the glitz and glamour of circus and show the bare bones effort and focus involved in much of what we do. We wanted to present ourselves as relatively ordinary people pushing ourselves to do extraordinary things. We brought audiences in close so they could see the sweat, feel the heat and hear the heavy breath on stage. It’s not often that you get to see something like this so close to the action.

What do you consider to be the most challenging feat in this show? Each cast member has a moment in the show that is their greatest challenge. And regardless of whether we succeed or fail, we push ourselves to our limit. For me, personally, there are several moments in the show when I forget where I am—I am solely focused on the still that I am attempting. When these moments happen, it’s an exhilarating exchange of energy between us on stage and the audience. We don’t stop in A Simple Space. We never leave the stage, so as the show goes on it becomes harder and harder until we finally come to the end and catch our breath.

What does Gravity and Other Myths mean to the group and what should it signify to the audience? The name Gravity & Other Myths came to us accidentally. We all felt that it fit what we did well and just sounded good. The name is clearly linked to acrobatics, and is a little bit of light-hearted fun—something that our company tries to inject into all our work. Audiences can expect us to challenge gravity, and to feel a sense of joy and play on stage.

Why acrobatics? Acrobatics has a certain purity in that it uses only the human body to do amazing things. It can have strength and power as well as being delicate and graceful.

 

MEET THE RIAF PERFORMERS

Israeli cellist Matt Haimovitz blends the worlds of classical and contemporary music with three performances pairing Bach’s six Cello Suites with select compositions from modern composers of note, such as Philip Glass and Vijay Iyer. Each performance showcases two different pairings and take place in appropriately architectural venues such as the Cá’ d’Zan and the Museum of Art’s Huntington Gallery. The Grammy Award-winning sextet of Eighth Blackbird ignites the stage with Hand Eye, a collection of six new compositions created in collaboration with the composer collective Sleeping Giant. Inspired by the private art collection of Maxine and Stuart Frankel, each piece evokes a distinct atmosphere, from the virulent life of an Internet meme to the sublime intangibility of South Catalina. Acclaimed dance troupe Doug Elkins Choreography, etc. returns to RIAF with two productions in the Mertz Theatre—one a restaging of Othello in dance and set to a Motown score and the other the aptly named Hapless Bizarre, which sees actors, dancers and clowns take the stage together for a physically demanding but raucous exploration of flirtation and romance. Award-winning director and actor Thaddeus Phillips brings the audience on a globetrotting adventure 15 years in the making with 17 Border Crossings. Semi-autobiographical and all at once humorous, dramatic and poignant, Phillips’ examination entertains and intrigues as it lays bare both the inanity and peril of crossing boundaries across four continents. New Zealand comic Thomas Monckton teams up with Finland’s Circo Aereo for The Pianist, a “spectacularly catastrophic” solo act about the pitfalls of pomp and pretension centering around the archetypal and eponymous piano player. The universe may be against him, but dignity comes from within, right? Combining dance, comedy, rap, body percussion and a wealth of eye-popping costume ensembles, the French performance artists of LMnO3 put the language of love on trial with their latest show, B.A.N.G.S.: made in America. Named for French’s five noun-preceding adjectives—beauty, age, number, goodness and size—the convention is taken to task in this unapologetically off-the-wall and high-powered demonstration of female solidarity.