by Kay Kipling
The fifth annual Ringling International Arts Festival ended Saturday night with a party and fireworks in the Ringling Museum courtyard–a nice celebration at which many of the artists who had performed over the four-day fest took the chance to relax and mingle as well.
But let’s rewind to Friday, a day when I dug into the full RIAF experience by attending three separate offerings. The first, Hamlet, Prince of Grief, was a presentation of the Leev Theater Group of Iran and featured one actor, Afshin Hashemi, in a free (very free) adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic by Mohammad Charmshir. Sitting at a table and opening a suitcase filled with such items as plastic toys, tissues, a bottle of water and other necessities to act out his story, Hashemi (speaking in the second person) is a young man who wants peace and pleasure but finds himself responding to the murder of his father by his mother, who’s been having an affair with his uncle. That’s the broad outline of the original, and, along with the famous “To Be or Not to Be” dilemma, it’s what occupies this version–albeit with a cast featuring toy zoo animals. It’s surprisingly effective, thanks largely to Hashemi’s strong presence, and at about 40 minutes it’s just the right length for its style of presentation.
Next up was an outing that proved to be the most pure fun of the festival: composer/pianist Stephen Prutsman and the Aeolus Quartet, a young, talented Juilliard ensemble, performing Prutsman’s score to a screening of Buster Keaton’s famous 1924 silent picture, Sherlock Jr. Prutsman encouraged–and got–audience participation, as members gladly went along with cheering the hero, hissing the villain and sympathizing with the love interest in a story that mixed elements of comedy with melodrama and a great chase, and featured the then-revolutionary idea of having Keaton’s character, a movie theater projectionist, step into the screen of the film he’s showing in order to enact his detective fantasies. Prutsman’s score (complete with kazoos) was the perfect accompaniment, never overshadowing the film but heightening its elements and emotions and reminding us of what it really means to see a movie with a community of like-minded viewers.
I left that performance on a pleasant high that did not, unfortunately, last through that evening’s presentation by Tere O’Connor Dance. Try as I might, and appreciate though I did the dancers’ hard work here, O’Connor’s point in the two pieces on the program, Sister (featuring two dancers, Cynthia Oliver and David Thomson), and poem (featuring five other members of the company), eluded me. So much so, in fact, that I stopped taking notes about halfway through and relinquished all hope of explaining it to a reader.
Oh, well, that’s the way it is with a festival; there are highs and lows, memorable experiences and not-so-memorable ones. As ever, this RIAF was still an opportunity to see and hear works of art most Sarasotans probably would not otherwise participate in. And that’s always worth celebrating.