Please excuse my ignorance but I’m not up on dance terminology. But, I suppose that’s the beauty of the Ringling International Arts Festival, an annual celebration of today’s performance art in Sarasota, Fla. It’s art for everyone to appreciate. My narrow, stereotypical view of ballet was shattered last night while the contemporary Mark Morris Dance Group performed as part of RIAF. I have to admit, the only reason I snagged a ticket for the performance was to see one of the twentieth century’s top ballet dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, perform.
Mark Morris Dance Group: Fun & Fresh
With the announcement of Baryshnikov’s appearance, I was lucky to grab a ticket but that’s the joy of being a solo traveler. Although in the balcony, I had a front-row, aisle seat of the Mertz Theater at the Aslo Repertory Theater, a great viewing point to look down and around. Music and dance mesmerized me so much that I found myself practically leaning over the balcony.
I’m far from being a cultural aficionado yet I found the performance fresh, fun and even a little quirky and whimsical. There were no frilly tutus and no shiny ballet slippers. Instead, there were modern costumes appropriate for each performance, ranging from white T-shirts and black leggings to dresses in rich regal colors as emerald green, sapphire blue and ruby red with dancers performing in bare feet.
There weren’t any skinny Minnie dancers either. Performers, both male and female, were extremely fit bundles of healthy muscle, giving me that encouragement to continue a regular gym routine. There were four vignettes within the 85-minute performance and with each one, I grew to appreciate the athleticism required to dance.
Watched Him Wiggle
Mikhail Baryshnikov, who is also the Ringling International Art Festival’s artistic director, performed in Mark Morris’s newest work (which made its East Coast debut in Sarasota this week), “A Wooden Tree.” He was one of the gang, so to say, in this mid-twentieth century story set to recorded music – not typical of Mark Morris. It was sprinkled with smatterings of fun and dark humor. Sure, Baryshnikov is the well-known name yet all of the dancers shined in this quirky performance. His smile as he wiggled and danced was contagious.
And yes, I’m admitting my appreciation of the internationally renowned ballet dancer didn’t come with his White Nights
performance with Gregory Hines but as his portrayal as Aleksandr Petrovsky in Sex and the City. (I’m a pop culture aficionado, not a cultural one.)
If You Get the Chance, Do It!
Prior to the show, by chance I met one of the managers of the Mark Morris Dance Group and casually chatted with her. It literally takes a village to travel and put on a performance. The dancers may be the stars on stage but it takes a family of support to create a memorable performance, including a brilliant artistic director, precise musicians and even talented marketing people.
If you have a chance, see the Mark Morris Dance Group dance. Visit their website (http://markmorrisdancegroup.org) or Facebook page (Facebook.com/MarkMorrisDanceGroup) to see where they’ll be performing next.
As for the Ringling International Arts Festival, I definitely need to clear time in my 2013 calendar to see more performances. There was an incredible lineup this year and I would have enjoyed seeing Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa; Ensemble Basiani, a Georgian Folk Ensemble; or the Pig Iron Theatre Company, but, I’ll have to wait until next year to see what’s on schedule.
Planning your own visit to Sarasota? Here’s a list of my additional things to do in Sarasota posts.