Hundreds of arts lovers crowded the grounds of the Ringling Museum—and the three theaters there—for the opening of the second annual Ringling International Arts Festival last night.
The evening, and the festival, kicked off with a glass of champagne on the steps leading to the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. Then attendees, reportedly numbering about 1,200 in all, dispersed to their various shows and venues.
I headed into the Mertz Theatre, where an evening of Solos with Mikhail Baryshnikov (artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, which partners with the Ringling to present the fest) and David Neumann was the prime attraction.
The audience was sold out and enthusiastic. The performance began with first Neumann and then Baryshnikov portraying commuters, briefcases and newspapers in hand, waiting for a train. It was a brief and fun introduction to the rest of the dances chosen for this program.
We next saw Neumann dancing in a loose and limber style to his self-choreographed Dose, with music by Tom Waits, in which Waits’ well-known gravelly voice endlessly pitched products (with many consumer warnings attached) to a jazz vibe. This was possibly Neumann’s best expression of pure dance in the evening; his other work showcased him as much as an actor-mime as a dancer, but that’s in no way a bad thing.
Next up: Baryshnikov portrayed a man, dressed in white with a black jacket, apparently viewing an exhibit of sorts about composer Mikhail Glinka. Glinka, it seems, had at one point a deep passion for a young woman from whom he was then separated. In his absence from the loved one and inspired by her, he wrote the beautiful Valse-Fantasie; when he returned home, alas, he found himself with no more feelings for her. Baryshnikov danced the story of that love and its ironic end with an assured mix of insouciance and yearning.
He was followed by Neumann performing Tough the Tough (redux), which in this version is termed a RIAF commission world premiere. (An earlier version dates from 2006). This was a treat; Neumann first walks on to the stage carrying a folding chair. Then we begin to hear the accompanying text by Will Eno that sets the tone. The recorded voice (by DJ Mendel) is portentous, but the words are amusing, as they tell the tale of Neumann’s character (Steven/Stefan/Steve/aka mankind) as he goes about his day, sometimes standing around, aimlessly checking his pockets, sometimes madly dashing into activities that ultimately seem pointless. Neumann lends both vulnerability and a sort of stubborn determination to the role as humanity’s stand-in.
But probably for many attendees at this performance, the highlight was the concluding piece, Years Later, with choreography by Benjamin Millepied. To music by Philip Glass and Erik Satie, Baryshnikov dances, at first alone, and then with both his own looming shadow and black-and-white footage of himself as a much younger student of dance (including a loop of a seemingly endless pirouette) that has the older Baryshnikov ruefully shaking his head and admitting that he can’t do that anymore. It’s a reminder to all of us of the passage of time, as we remember both ourselves and this master dancer when we were all younger. But it’s also a wonderful reminder that no matter what his age (62 now), Mikhail Baryshnikov still dances like Mikhail Baryshnikov, and no one else. Unsurprisingly, he and Neumann were greeted with a standing ovation and the need for repeated bows when they made their curtain call.
RIAF continues today, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday with performances of dance, music both classical and jazz, theater and more; and some tickets still remain for select performances. Call 360-7399 or go to ringlingartsfestival.org for full details.