Ringling Unveils RIAF 2017 Lineup

Performance

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY MAR 23, 2017

When approaching a new experience, whether it be artistic or otherwise, one is presented with a choice, says Ringling Museum Curator of Performance Dwight Currie, speaking to an assemblage of patrons and staff in the Chao Lecture Hall of the museum’s Center for Asian Art. “You can always be a very skeptical knower,” he says, “or always be a very hopeful believer.” For Currie’s part, he aims to be an ever-hopeful believer, and this year’s lineup for the Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF) belies that dedication. The artist takes the audience to places previously unexplored, he says, and the audience must agree to explore alongside. Running from October 18–21, the seven shows of RIAF 2017 boast two US premieres, two significant Sarasota connections and one production that remains a mystery even to Currie.

In the realm of theater, two performances come to Sarasota, including the US debut of the high-flying Italian performance artists of eVenti Verticali. Installing a three-story-high projection screen in the Ringling Museum courtyard, these opening night performers suspend in front of the screen from cables to dance and run and fight across the scrolling images behind them, creating the illusion of traversing cityscapes or making a high-speed escape down a desert highway. “Like stepping into a video game,” says Currie. At the other end of the spectrum, German photographer Volker Gerling’s Portraits In Motion offers a less rambunctious and more introspective experience through his “thumb cinemas.” Trekking hundreds of miles across the European countryside documenting its people, Gerling reveals poignant moments through flipbook-style shorts composed from his photography, sharing stories with the audience as he goes.

For music lovers, RIAF 2017 brings the US premiere of Nobuntu, an a cappella quintet from Zimbabwe. Melding traditional Zimbabwe folk music with Afro jazz and gospel, Nobuntu brings an exuberance in their voices matched only by the vibrance of their garb. Joining Nobuntu on this year’s musical roster is Sarasota’s own ensemblenewSRQ. People asked, says Currie, if an international arts festival in Sarasota should feature artists from Sarasota, to which he had one response: “When they’re this good, yeah.” Taking part in a new RIAF series placing performance within the galleries, ensemblenewSRQ will perform both within the James Turrell Skyspace and the Huntington Gallery. In the Skyspace, the musicians will play a piece created by acclaimed contemporary composer John Luther Adams, written specifically for the Skyspace. In the Huntington Gallery, ensemblenewSRQ will perform works from the late contemporary composer Luciano Berio’s Sequenza series, a trying selection of solo performances that Currie dubs, “intensely physicalized works of bravura.”

When it comes to dance, RIAF 2017 brings two almost diametrically opposed choreographic interpretations of life in the 21st century. Ing an Die, from Antwerp-based choreographer James McGinn, tells a pre-apocalyptic love story in three parts, with each emphasizing a different aspect of story telling, the result is “almost operatic in its thematic ambition,” says Currie. Born and raised in Sarasota, including an education at Booker High, this will be McGinn’s first display of his work in his hometown. At the other end of the spectrum, the wild and wacky antics of Monica Bill Barnes & Co. in Happy Hour show that dance can also just be a lot of fun. Setting up behind the Circus Museum, where the audience can eat and drink and laugh and sing karaoke, the performers "crash" the party in character as two besuited businessmen looking for a good time but “desperate to fit in and hilariously inept.”

The final performance comes from Nassim Soleimanpour, an Iranian playwright forbidden from leaving his country. Entitled White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Soleimanpour tells his story by sending it abroad in sealed envelopes that cannot be opened until the night of performance. At each performance, an actor (selected with the help of Urbanite Theatre) will receive the envelope for the first time and give an unrehearsed and undirected performance of Soleimanpour’s words. “It’s something that I trust will surprise us all,” says Currie. And to him, the mystery and the willingness to embrace that mystery is what RIAF is all about.

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