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Preview: Ringling International Arts Festival

In the first part, we talked to Dwight Currie, Curator of Performance, about previous Ringling International Arts Festivals. In this edition we look at RIAF 2014, and why this year is different from years past. 

The Ringling: Can you say something about the artists in this year’s acts?

Dwight Currie: The artist we have selected for RIAF 2014 are all very courageous performers who take creative risks in ways that are neither “slick” nor dependent on a lot of lights, sound, and technical support to create a desired effect.  They put themselves out there in ways that enable us to connect viscerally with the art – and that is deeply rewarding not only for the audience but all for the performers. 

For example, when you see the performers operating the puppet in The Table, you can lose sight of the fact that there are three of them in a physical tangle to make it happen.  One guy controls the feet, one guy the head, and one the body in order to make this puppet – this two feet of comedy and anxiety – perform as if he were a real human.  You can see the puppet’s full range emotions in the faces of those puppeteers – even those who are manipulating the hands and the feet.

The first thing you mentioned about this year’s RIAF was The Table, is that a performance that you really wanted to bring to RIAF?

I first saw it three years ago and initiated the conversation with representatives of the Blind Summit Theater at that time.  These are brilliant artists who fully realize the freedom of expression that comes whenever you put on a mask or operate a puppet.   With this group, it seems the more they are “hidden” as the puppeteer, the more they are really exposed as artists. 

And it requires a great deal of raw physical strength – as does all performance.  Duo Amal performs these huge piano works for four hands and two pianos that are incredibly demanding.  For Stefan Sing and Cristiana Casadio of Tangram, the performance requires incredible precision.  She is en pointe while he is juggling all around her.  They cannot “phone in” these performances.  They have to be very present.

You mentioned two of the performances at RIAF, what are some of the qualities in the other acts that caught your attention?

One thing that really intrigues me about this year’s line-up for RIAF is the unlikely nature of some of the onstage pairings.  In Tangram you have a ballerina dancing with a circus performer.  With Duo Amal, you have two pianists – but one is Israeli and the other is Palestinian.  And with the Pedrito Martinez Group, who have an Afro-Cuban interpretation of Rumba that is also influenced and enriched by musicians from Peru and Venezuela as well.   It is similar with the Vijay Iyer Trio, where three jazz musicians from distinctly different cultural backgrounds come together to create a new sound that defies easy categorization.  In The Intergalactic Nemesis you have a mash-up of old-time radio theater and comic-book graphics.  These unlikely groupings of art and artists result in genre-defying artistry.The Intergalactic Nemesis at Ringling International Arts Festival

This spring, we held a symposium at The Ringling that explored the question of genre – and asked whether or not we were now in a “post-genre era.”   One panelist – artist Jill Sigman - made the point that most artists do not even think of genre during the creative process.  They are focused on the act of creation and expression.  Someone else followed with the observation that curators determine genre so that the newspaper knows what headline to write, and the marketing department knows what to put into their advertisement.  

So overall, I don’t like to impose too much of a “theme” on the group of performances.   I think that can be a real mistake, because it sets up a bunch of expectations that may or may not be realized.  It’s more helpful, I believe, to just open the door a bit – to give a peek into the work – and then invite the audience to discover and explore the art for themselves.

What makes this year’s RIAF different from past editions?

We have an incredibly inclusive line-up this year – with something for all tastes and interests.  And I believe all of the work is readily accessible and highly energizing.  Anyone and everyone will feel welcome and comfortable at this year’s RIAF.

Why should someone attend RIAF?

It’s fun – it’s a festival – a feast of bite-sized, delectable works of contemporary performance that will leave you energized, not depleted. 

And, when everyone else in town is talking about the great time they had watching The Intergalactic Nemesis, or dancing in Bolero Sarasota, or spending time with 5,000 other people all engaged with great art, you will wish you had been there, too.