Dispatches from RIAF 2014 Part 1: Auspicious Beginning

Todays News


What looks like over a hundred people gather outside and around New College’s Mildred Sainer Pavilion to celebrate the kickoff of this year’s Ringling International Art Festival. It’s an idyllic setting: the grass is green, the sky is blue with just a smattering of puffy white clouds keeping a respectable distance and providing intermittent shade. But the temperature is fine and the crowd is dressed to the nines, enjoying hors d'oeurves and sipping champagne.

I am woefully underdressed.

The same scene, minus my raggedy jeans and untucked shirt, plays out at two other locations across the Ringling grounds, as the community gathers for the premiere performances. At the Historic Asolo Theater, people are waiting to see the classical dance/circus fusion from Tangram, at Cook Theatre to see The Pedrito Martinez Group, a jazz-funk band steeped in Afro-Cuban Rumba. I lounge and try to look unaware of my fashion faux pas until we’re ushered in to see Duo Amal, the Israeli/Palestinian pianist duo performing across the globe in the name of tolerance and understanding.

They open with a piece from Schubert, with the pair, Bishara Haroni and Yaron Kohlberg, seated at a single piano with their benches turned sideways, playing in harmony. Moving to separate pianos, they unleash the rest of their show, at one moment playful the next somber, culminating in a riveting Rachmaninoff so intense the performers nearly leap from their seats.

It’s a masterful performance, equal parts precision and heart. It’s world-class right here in Sarasota.

The music ends, the applause roars and we head out into the night.

Reconvene in the Ringling Courtyard for a post-performance celebration and Bolero Sarasota. It’s packed. The party is already in motion and the drinks are flowing. At the buffet lays a whole roasted pig. The word ‘buffet’ suddenly seems terribly inadequate.

In the front hall, a great crowd of besequined and colorfully adorned performers gather. Top hats and leotards. Flowing gowns and headdresses. Choreographer Larry Keigwin’s Bolero Sarasota is ready to begin.

This will not be Keigwin’s first boler, a Spanish dance typified by triple time and feet-stamping rhythms, punctuated by dramatic poses and pauses. Keigwin has been choreographing and organizing boleros in communities across the country since 2007, including in New York, Chicago and Santa Barbara.

The courtyard walkways are cleared as troupes of dancers glide into the space from all sides. The drums echo off the walls, where stone guardians look on in direct contrast to the swirling motions below. Unicycles and hula hoops loop through the performers as they ebb and flow, bursting forth in a torrent of dance before receding into the wings, as synchronous as the tide.

The lights flare and the dance ends, the performers frozen in time as the fireworks erupt over their heads. Our artificial borealis illuminates the scene as the speakers pipe in what sounds like a remix of Walk This Way.

The fireworks ends but the party continues. I leave tired but satisfied, exhilarated and drained. I have an article to write and a late night ahead of me, but I’m looking forward to Day 2.

RIAF runs until Sunday, Oct. 19. Upcoming performances thus far unmentioned include the dance troupe Keigwin + Company, the humorous puppetry of The Table, the jazz group Vijay Ayer Trio and the sci-fi live-action graphic novel The Intergalactic Nemesis.

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