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    Why Performance Art Matters

    Curator of Performance Dwight Currie and a veteran of every Ringling International Arts Festival since the inaguaral in 2009, sat down with us to discuss past RIAFs and how performance artists connect with audiences.

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    Why is performance art important to you?

    It is the immediacy of performance. It’s the authenticity of it. These artists are reacting instantaneously to the world around them, and they are codifying this into an art form, which they recreate for different audiences and under different circumstances. So for me, there is a certain integrity, vitality and intensity of intention that I am not going to say is absentfrom visual art, but it is more compelling for me in performance.

    Right now the world calls for a more immediate response, and that’s what I see in a lot of this work.

    What are some of the moments from Ringling International Arts Festival that stand out to you?

    At the first RIAF, Sarasota’s reaction to Meow-Meow, when she brought the audience up to the stage, and she just jumped, body dove, into a Sarasota audience in the Mertz Theater. She was just insisting that they pay attention.  And they loved her.

    Aszure Barton was just beginning to be really important as a choreographer, and Busk, the piece that they premiered just catapulted her into a whole new realm.

    Eight was the last performance to be added to the schedule that first year. We brought over four actors from Scotland, and they worked with four young actors from the Asolo Conservatory. And it was an extraordinary thing to see the actors from Scotland come together with the actors from the university.

    The second RIAF, Tim Fain was remarkable. He is a solo violinist, and he was doing both Bach, which can be extraordinarily difficult and Phillip Glass, which can be hard for anyone. It was in the Cook, and the stage was painted all black. Fain just walked out, and we had a solo spotlight, and he was amazing.

    The third year was the first time I heard Meklit Hedero play, and the Asphalt Orchestra was amazing. It was opening night in the Courtyard with the world’s only classical, new music marching band. The whole place turned into a conga line of 700-800 people. It was a lot of fun.

    Doug Elkins and Friends’ Fraulein Maria, there were people struggling to get tickets to that. Also being able to present the Wooster Group here was an incredible achievement.

    Why is that?

    They define what it means to be an ensemble based theater. Richard Burton did a legendary stage performance of Hamlet, and someone had filmed it. Wooster Group director Elizabeth LeCompte asked what would happen if we tried to recreate the video on stage. So there were projections from the original with live action. In live action, everybody has a point of view and the frame remains constant.  So the performers have to play to every set of eyes. In film, it is just the lens. So you go from one form to the other and back again. Chairs would be on the mechanisms and instantly shoot across the stage and come forward. If the camera would pan in on Hamlet, then the chair would shoot towards the audiences. They are geniuses, and it was wonderful to have them here.

    Most of your highlights seem to be about the audience connecting with the artist.

    It goes to back to what I mentioned before. These artists are here to make a commitment to their work. In doing so they expose themselves in ways that most of us do not. Most of us hide the vulnerable parts of our souls. And these artists bear theirs in ways that provide insights into the world that we live in. It’s a kind of expression that we do not allow ourselves.        


    Dwight previews this year's RIAF in part two.