Dispatches from RIAF Part 1: An Explosive Start
It’s that time of year again—when performers from around the world sing, swing and whirl their way to Sarasota for the Ringling International Arts Festival and a weekend of jaw-dropping feats and heart-moving productions. Opening last night with performances from doug elkins choreography, etc, Eighth Blackbird and Australian acrobat troupe Gravity and Other Myths and culminating in a courtyard celebration with decadent bites, local craft beer and a dance floor powered by the Afro-Brazilian beats of Dende & Band, the noise of the fireworks was rivaled only by the thundering applause.
At the Mertz Theatre crowds awaited the dancers of doug elkins and in the Historic Asolo Theatre the musicians of Eighth Blackbird paused in the wings before taking the stage. In the Circus Museum, past the gilded wagons and surrounding an unadorned dais little more than a 20 foot by 20 foot black mat illuminated by glaring arrays of light, the crowd sat in silence. When the acrobats of Gravity and Other Myths does arrive, similarly unadorned in muted T-shirts and tank tops, khaki shorts and capris, the silence hangs heavy and abruptly explodes.
Frenetic rhythms pour from the speakers like some slick and groovy mash-up of swing and circus or something from a Guy Ritchie flick and the performers burst from the line in a chaotic criss-cross of the tiny space. They clamber and climb over and across each other and occasionally stiffen and yell, “Falling!” inciting the others to rush in an attempt to catch their capsizing comrade—not always successfully. They continue—faster and faster, pushing their limits—until one begins pounding out island rhythms on the digital drumkit and the performance takes a sinuous turn with acrobats rising and falling in controlled tumbles and twists like waves of grass as the bass increases and so does the risk and they climb higher and higher threatening to disappear into the darkness of the vaulted ceiling.
To go any further would be to ruin the surprise—and surprises are in store. It’s a clever and daring performance, where there’s always room for humor and everything is a competition.
The Ringling International Arts Festival continues through the weekend with doug elkins choreography, Eighth Blackbird and Gravity and Other Myths returning to the stage amid performances from theater artist Thaddeus Phillips, the French satirical choreographers of LMn03, the musical stylings of cello virtuoso Matt Haimovitz and a collaboration between the Finnish circus Circo Aereo and New Zealander comedian Thomas Monckton. With final performances on Sunday, October 16, follow the link below for showtimes, locations and tickets.