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Ringling International Arts Festival: Ringling Museum of Art, Baryshnikov Arts Center Join Forces

Published by Arlene Struzik

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In a most unique partnership, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Baryshnikov Arts Center have created the biennial Ringling International Arts Festival, with more than 30 performances in dance, music and theatre. It all takes place at the Ringling Museum, part of Florida State University, overlooking Sarasota Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Renowned Conductor Robert Spano Opens

The event opens with the Festival Orchestra led by world renowned Conductor Robert Spano, music director for the Atlanta Symphony. Spano, son of a flute builder and instrument repairman, first conducted a composition of his own at age 14 for his local orchestra in Elkhart, Indiana. Today, he is known for his adventurous presentations and is a staunch supporter of contemporary composers. Spano made several Grammy Award-winning recordings with the ASO and has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Spano is joined by New York-based pianist Pedja Muzijevic, Director of Music Programming at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Born in Sarajevo, Muzijevic has performed around the globe.

Dance from Traditional Flamenco to Modern-Day Cabaret

Dance aficionados will enjoy a dizzying range of performance styles at the Ringling International Arts Festival. Among the best known names is María Pagés, one of Spain’s leading flamenco virtuosos and winner of its highest honor, the National Dance Award. Pagés and her company of nine dancers will perform her latest work, Flamenco Poesía, which combines the José Saramago and Federico Garcia de Lorca with pulsating dance.

Israeli-born choreographer Deganit Shemy brings her latest work, Arena, featuring five women playing an intensely physical game governed by mysterious forces and taking place somewhere between imagination and reality. Shemy was named “Young Choreographer of the Year” by the Israeli Ministry of Education in 2004 and formed her dance company in New York the next year.

Perhaps the most anticipated performance is that of Meow Meow, described as a “sequined sex bomb waiting to detonate.” Her kitschy brand of glam puts a post-modern pop culture twist on cabaret and performance art. Physical comedy, deep emotion and sexually charged drama and dance make for a must-see show.

Drama Takes the Stage

Emerging playwright Ella Hickson’s debut play Eight is performed daily throughout the festival. It is an insightful look into what it means to be part of the current generation through the eyes of a range of characters from a single working mother to a young Iraq War veteran. Eight swept the major awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and features a cast of young actors from the UK and students from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.

Also performing is acclaimed experimental theatre company Elevator Repair Service, presenting a premier of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Legendary director Peter Brook will present the US premier of his newest production, Love is my sin, which presents William Shakespeare’s sonnets as intimate diaries.

Art Exhibitions Throughout the Festival

Three special art exhibitions are featured throughout the festival. Louise Fishman Among the Old Masters juxtaposes the contemporary artist’s abstract paintings against those in the Ringling Museum’s permanent Old Master collection, highlighting unexpected connections in color and textures.

Venice in the Age of Canaletto features paintings, sculptures and rare artifacts from 18th century Venetian Republic. And Path to Paradise: The World of Buddhism exhibits artifacts from multiple Asian cultures.

Performances and exhibits are hosted in the Ringling Museum’s Historic Asolo Theatre and in the Mertz Theatre and Cook Theatre, both located in the adjacent Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts. The Ringling’s Italianate courtyard will serve as a 1,000-seat ampitheatre for outdoor events. Street theatre, lunchtime concerts, lectures, films, workshops and artistic discussions take place throughout the galleries and gardens of the elegant Ringling estate.

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