The success of 2009's Ringling International Arts Festival persuaded its organizers to present it as an annual rather than bi-annual event, beginning the very next year. Eleven theatre, dance, and musical events central to the Festival included world premieres and RIAF-commissioned works. Daily programs on Ringling Museum Grounds included Jazz Sunsets, a Sunday Soiree featuring regional artists, a Family Fun Fest, panels on development of specific theatre and ballet presentations, and a performance of Antigone Now by FSU/Asolo Conservatory students (Refer to Florida Reviews on this website.). All Ringling Museum sites (such as Ca d'Zan mansion) and permanent as well as special (such as Viennese Tapestries) art exhibits were open to Festival attendees. On and off the Ringling grounds, pre-regular-post local arts shows and performances offered a fringe-type festival under the rubric sARTee. Following are reviews of RIAF's theatre and dance-theatre features.
by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Michael Donald Edwards
Historic Asolo Theatre, Ringling Arts Center
An RIAF-commissioned world premiere, Hurricane has the makings of a play but debuted as an interpretative theatre performance of a dramatic prose-poem. This, despite much activity, stirring performances and epic-style direction by Michael Donald Edwards. Nilo Cruz reportedly began work for RIAF on a monodrama but abandoned it for his allegory of a storm-tossed family. His allotted hour wasn't nearly enough to explore his new theme of loss and redemption. To maintain interest, the characters need more humanizing, more definition, and not just in late gobs of revelation. Better than their predicaments and words, after Kevin Kennedy's great storm sounds, what drew us in is Dane Laffrey's scenic design of crinkly blue-water (tarp) background, of hurricane-felled melons and suspended, floating pieces of colorful wooden furniture, windows, clothing.
Carlo Alban's sweet Aparicio talks to us from a diving board ladder, to be considered a roof but actually metaphoric preparation for his story's final unfolding between sea and land. He says his father Forrest thought him lost in the storm. In an accident searching for him, Paul Whitworth's Forrest Hunter (we note the symbolism) lost both his ambulatory ability and memory. Maybe thus his past faith and close connection, as a Christian minister, with God. Or a pagan one with gods, like the god of hurricanes he's now been railing against (forcefully yet humbly, as Whitworth beautifully manages). Aparicio blames himself for causing Forrest's accident: if only he had been with his parents....
The stock amnesiac device for dredging up Forrest's self-seeking also allows his wife Ria (beautiful, intense Kim Brockington) and Aparicio to prod his memories of identities by revealing theirs. Ria recalls her earlier life of terror as a human trafficing victim whom Forrest saved. Yet Forrest feels deeply guilty. He seems to recall someone mysterious, possibly a woman or angel named Andrea, possibly a part of himself, that he didn't save. As for Aparicio, so-named because he'd suddenly appeared floating Moses-like down a stream in a container, Forrest and Ria found and adopted him. Was his real father the god of hurricanes? Do we care? We mainly follow the plight of the man who redeemed others to see if he's redeemed. We want to know if his family can be reunited, but playwright Nilo Cruz does not as yet fully show how, why. After the son Aparicio goes deeply back into the sea, we fear until he flies out of and above it to claim his own version of his name's meaning: "to appear once again." Second coming or second chance?
We might wish director Edwards would help the playwright further develop Hurricane, for his direction of the debut seemed invaluable. Besides scenery, Dane Laffrey designed the Carribean costumes. Aaron Muhl met well the challenges of varied lighting, especially working with circus star Pedro Reis on his super special "flying" effects. Sarah Gleissner was stage manager.
Starring Mikhail Baryshnikov & David Neumann
Choreography by David Neumann, Benjamin Millepied, & Alexei Ratmansky
FSU Center for the Performing Arts/ Mertz Theatre
Despite the title of the program, it began with a
"Commute" mimed and danced by both Mikhail Baryshnikov and its
choreographer and sound designer David Neumann. In their businessmen's
overcoats over tailored suits buffeted by the wind and holding down their hats
on a suburban station platform, the men awaited their train. They balanced
briefcases under each arm or between legs, handled newspapers without spilling
their coffee, crushed the cups when finished drinking. And to strained strains
of "Crazy" with deft movement, controlled stillness, facial
expressions obviously taken from real models, they turned their wait into
suspense, then achievement. Philip Burke Brown supplied the early windy morning's
To Tom Waits' recorded jazz beats as if on worn vinyl,
"Dose" was confidently danced clean-up-and-down-dirty by
choreographer Neumann in an outfit he designed that reminded of Sinatra's on
his "Come Fly with Me" LP jacket. Especially the jaunty hat and a
blazer Neumann would toss over his shoulder and hold with few fingers upon
exiting. Every "dose" flowed into a memory of an exciting street
scene's leading character.
Baryshnikov's classically danced
"Valse-Fantasie" had him at first listening to the recorded story of
a love he lost as a youth, some pining for a while, but later seeing the love
and finding it was better to have lost. Complementing his unerring execution of
Alexel Ratmansky's basically traditional choreography, to the music of Mikhail
Glinka, Baryshnikov demonstrated his dramatic flair, including for comedy.
Jennifer Tipton provided shining lighting; Deanna Berg Maclean, the casual
white slacks outfit with red suspenders.
The addition to Neumann's "Tough the Tough
(redux)" title indicates he has newly redeveloped its earlier choreography
and---with Hal Hartley and Jane Shaw---its music, under RIAF commission.
Dancing also to a Will Eno text voiced by DJ Mendel, Neumann became Steve, the
typical man of mankind, with his ups and downs. His body reflects what's in his
mind. Sometimes it's empty. He runs in circles, patterns, haphazard directions.
A metal chair attracts, then challenges him. He'll show it! He brings a host of
chairs from offstage, manipulating them high up and every which acrobatic way.
Moving with broad assurance. A triumph. A letting down. A let down. Finally, up
again, as the sound track wonders at the circularity of human action. Is this
dance-theatre of the absurd? Lighting designer: Chloe Brown.
"Years Later" reminded me of 20th century playwrights' playing with time, especially of Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape which staged a man's present and past at the same time. Choreographed for Baryshnikov by Benjamin Millepied, "Years Later" began with Baryshnikov dancing with his contemporary filmed image shown on a giant scrim, reminiscent of Gene Kelly dancing similarly on screen. Baryshnikov moved with assured grace, but less athleticism, to Philip Glass and Eric Satie's more contemporary music. Then a challenge: could he compete with a black and white film of himself as a 16 year old ballet student? He marveled at his youthful feat without attempting to duplicate it, seeming to laugh at an impossibility. But what a power in his attitude, his surety in accepting what he can do, and so exceptionally. Like fine wine, he's aged to give a lasting taste-full bodied, delicious. Asa Mader was responsible for film and video; Jennifer Tipton, lighting; Marc Happel, costume; Olivier Simola, video concept. Photography director was Ghasem Ebrahimian.
Performed as Conceived by Forman Brothers Theatre
Based on Karel Loos' 18th Century Opera
Circus Museum, Ringling Arts Center
Surrounded by darkness, in front of Petr Horky sitting on the floor before his lighting equipment, next a vintage harpsichord to be played by Vitezslav Janda, then an elaborately framed but traditional rather small size puppet theatre, brothers Matej and Petr Forman introduced themselves and their puppeteer partner, unrelated Milan Forman. They wore blue and white striped outfits, reminiscent of comic sailors, but after briefly chatting up their audience and posing for pictures, what they would launch into was their version of an 18th century Czech Opera about a Comically Small Crooked-Looking Chimney Built by Masons, or "the Quarrel Between the Landlord and the Masons." Most times the Formans could be seen manipulating their painted, costumed puppets on strings from above. Sometimes their hands nudged the little "actors" from top or sides, using traditional marionette techniques or shoving the flat puppets. In the story, well described by title and subtitle, two workers are doing an awful job on chimney bricking. They draw the wrath of the larger, artistocratically dressed landlord along with yelling from his wife. To add to the chaos of sagging chimney, three little impish children run in and out. A supposed piano lesson in the parlor is continually interrupted, while shenanigans take place on the roof as well as the ladder to the swaying chimney top. Even animals get in the way. All lead to a comic disaster, which didn't in the least detract from the audience's delight in the comic opera's song and silliness, as well as The Forman Brothers Theatre's multifaceted performance.
Created & Performed by Andrew Dawson
Directed by Jos Houben
Narration by Gavin Richardson
FSU Center for the Performing Arts/ Cook Theatre
On the black curtained stage behind a black draped table
down center, Andrew Dawson in long sleeved black pullover displays his lead
actors, his hands. Strategically lit from above, they're at times accompanied
by facial and torso movements and once---to indicate a rocket trajectory---by a
side turn and arms thrust. Dawson has no lines but reacts to John F. Kennedy's
recorded challenge to put Americans on the moon. His hands take over acting to
strains of Shostakovich's 10th Symphony and a voiceover narrative of the Apollo
11 journey to, during, and back from its July 20, 1969 landing on the moon.
Dawson's fingers become crew members marching into an arched hand on the ramp
of his laid forward fingers. Hand flutters to propel the rocket formed by hand
and arm. A finger traces the path of the ship thrust by one arm up, one below
his body viewed from the side. Hands convey the first leap onto the moon, the
activities such as rock-gathering there, and the reboarding and flight home.
The "men" must return at an angle. What a great fanfare as they're
picked up by the USS Hornet!
Their simulated journey in the vastness of space, via Dawson's mastery in only 30 minutes and quite small performance space, "locks up in wonder."
9 Chapters from Feodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov
Adapted & Directed by Sergey Zhenovach
Performed by Actors of The Theatre Art Studio, Moscow
English Surtitles translated by Tatyana Oskolkova from Russian
FSU Center for the Performing Arts/ Cook Theatre
Well suited to staff, actors and young students committed to a theatre of ideas, a side-plot concentrated in Part IV, Book 10 of Dostoevsky's fictional masterpiece inspired The Boys. At start of the play, a group of about 11 year old schoolboys unmercifully taunts Ilyusha, 9, (intense Sergey Pirnyak). He fights back and even tries to pen-knife a man he thinks sides with them. (In the novel, it's Kolya, the boy's friend but taskmaster.) Here he's Alexey Karamazov (Alexandr Koruchekov), who becomes a sympathetic listening post for the story to be dramatized of Ilyusha and his family. Revealed as a reason for the boys' bullying is the decline in fortune of Ilyusha's pitiful father Nikolay Ilyitch Snegiryov (Alexey Vertkov), former infantry captain, and family, including mentally disturbed mother. Further suffering ensues when Ilyusha becomes deathly ill. Andrey Shibarshin's wonderful Nikolay Krasotkin, wise beyond his nearly 14 years, spreads his compassion for the dying boy to his former torturers and his moral and philosophical reasons for the need for all to change. Despite long ethical ruminations, Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Shibarshin fascinates. As Nikolay also brings along his dog to cheer Ilyusha, who'd lost one, the ethical boy adds the most merciful final moments to Ilyusha's life. Injecting humor and pathos, the dog is wonderfully embodied by Sergey Abroskin. He even cheers father, mother (Anna Rud), Ilyusha's sisters, and the Doctor. Although The Boys was RIAF's longest presentation at 2 hours, without intermission, its power never let up. State manager was Olga Gavrina.
MAGIC, MYSTERY AND OTHER MUNDANE EVENTS
Choreographed & Designed by John Jasperse
Performed by John Jasperse Company
Historic Asolo Theatre, Ringling Arts Center
Though the title promised a hefty doze of theatre as well as dance, that promise was largely unfulfilled. Basically performed by duos Erin Cornell and Eleanor Hullihan, Neal Beasley and Tony Orrico, but not often as a foursome on equal footing, as it were, except in scenes of seduction, the dancers performed a number of styles, either modern or contemporary versions of older ones. In an attempt to find neutral expression, they reminded of Grotowski's Theatre Lab abstract works half a century ago. A successful illusion had the women come out from between a pink-flowered rug hanging and identically patterned parasols wearing costumes of the same design. Another made a kind of diagonal chorus line of the four performers slicing well lighted through darkness. Cheap or chic or clever? As for the magic, John Jasperse's "magic" trick of making small and smaller balls disappear and reappear certainly qualified as mundane without being clearly part of his plan. The extended circular movement near the finale, though skillful, became boring. Hahn Rowe's music didn't. Jasperse and Joseph Levasseur designed the interesting lighting. James Clotfelter was production manager.
Dance and music performers not reviewed included Sanda
& the Takeishis (gypsy song), jazz bassist and vocalist Kate, Rubberdance
Group, Les Slovaks Dance Collective, and violinist Tim Fain. The latter
executed a world premiere work for solo violin by Philip Glass as well as "Partita in D Minor" by J. S.