Season of the Arts

image courtesy of ringlingartsfestival.org

image courtesy of ringlingartsfestival.org

With no frosty winds or falling leaves to announce its arrival, it’s hard to tell when autumn arrives in Southwest Florida. Instead, our version is more easily noticed by dry sunny days, deliciously cool nights; and, of course, by curtains going up at a variety of performing arts venues throughout the area.

While there’s no official date when the region kicks-off its annual season of the arts, October 11th would be an excellent choice for this year. On that evening a block party in the courtyard of the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art will formally open this year’s Ringling International Arts Festival. For five days, dozens of performers will take to the stage of the Historic Asolo Theater, as well as across the street to the stages of the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. The festival—an extraordinary collaboration between the museum and New York City’s Baryshnikov Arts Center—was such an immediate success in its debut year that plans to hold it every other year were quickly scrapped in favor of making it an annual event.

This year’s festival—which runs through October 16—includes performances by internationally acclaimed Irish step dancer Colin Dunne, the brilliant and hilarious dance company Doug Elkins & Friends, solo and ensemble musical works by Piano Foursome, the global sounds of vocalist Meklit Hadero; and a re-purposing of Richard Burton’s famous 1964 production of Hamlet by The Wooster Group acting company. In addition, more contemporary dance will be presented by the Company Stefanie Batten Bland and by Oscar winning actress/singer Soledad Villamil who brings the power and passion of Argentinean Tango to life in concert with Hermanos Macana, the famed dancing duo from Buenos Aires. Brooklyn Rider, the genre-defying string quartet, will show off their wildly eclectic repertoire as they headline the opening night block party and three additional performances.

If none of these names sound terribly familiar, that’s because the Baryshnikov Arts Center famously functions as something of a creative incubator for a vibrant community of important new artists from around the world. Which brings us to the main point of this article.
Were it not for a community whose citizens passionately support the arts in all its various forms, it’s doubtful that such an ambitious artistic collaboration would ever take place in Southwest Florida. But near sellout audiences in its first two years not only testify to the breadth of that support but have also generated an air of excitement around the upcoming festival that extends from New York to Europe. Baryshnikov himself made a rare performance at last year’s festival.
In most communities of this size (or larger), an event of this stature would be the pinnacle of an entire season. In Southwest Florida, however, the Ringling International Arts Festival is just the beginning; the opening night, if you will, of our entire season of culture. For still to come are the 2011-2012 seasons of the Sarasota Opera, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Sarasota Orchestra, Venice Theatre, Sarasota Ballet, West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, La Musica Chamber Music Festival, Florida Studio Theatre, Players Theatre, Key Chorale, Manatee Players, Charlotte Players, The Royal Palm Players, Lemon Bay Playhouse, Higher Ground Performing Arts Company and literally dozens of other theater, dance and music companies too numerous to mention (with apologies to all).
None of this, of course, happens on its own; especially in challenging times—such as these—when arts funding is usually the first victim of belt tightening. It is made possible by an engaged community who sees the arts as more than just a pleasant evening’s diversion. In lining up to purchase tickets, fill seats and underwrite productions through large individual and corporate donations, local arts patrons are putting the world on notice that theirs is more than just another Florida beach town. In addition to receiving standing ovations for being home to America’s top rated beach, we enjoy a cultural life that receives top marks from serious arts fans, critics and visitors from around the world.
In an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about this year’s event, Mikhail Baryshnikov said: “People come to me and say we are changing our plans and coming to Sarasota early.” All-in-all, a very good idea. We can think of no time of the year when visitors will enjoy a better sampling of our outstanding lifestyle and natural beauty than when they can spend a day with their toes dug into America’s best beach, and the evening at one of our premier cultural events.
For ticket information and to learn more about the Ringling International Arts Festival, visit RinglingArtsFestival.org; or call (941) 360-7399.

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