Sarasota calling: Ringling Int'l Arts Festival

A must for fans of cutting-edge theater, art, music and dance.

Also on tap: the eclectic string quartet Brooklyn Rider; an “unsentimental homage” to Irish step dancing by Colin Dunne (perhaps he can banish all memories of Riverdance from our brains); Terra Firma, a dance by Company Stefanie Batten Bland that explores the challenges of travel by boat (an intriguing idea for a usually landlocked art form); singer Meklit Hadero, combining the sounds of Ethiopia, folk and rock in a musical form known as Tizita; and Piano Foursome, classically trained pianists who perform solo and as a quartet.

Ringling Museum courtyard.
  • Ringling Museum courtyard.

The festival is worth a visit for its ambience alone: a marvelous mix of never-seen-before and always-wanted-to-see and did-you-see-that, all taking place in and around the beautiful facilities of the Ringling complex, including the painstakingly restored Historic Asolo Theater. Believe it: If arts aficionados are making a trek across the Atlantic to sample RIAF, then we have no excuse for not taking a relatively short drive down to Sarasota to enjoy one of our area’s most distinctive cultural attractions.

Ringling International Arts Festival, Oct. 11-16, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Tickets begin at $20. Purchase tickets online at or call the box office at 941-360-7399 or 800-660-4278.

click to enlarge Asphalt Orchestra - Stephanie Berger
Stephanie Berger
Asphalt Orchestra

  • Stephanie Berger
  • Asphalt Orchestra

If a Central Florida arts festival is being talked up as far away as London, you’d have to think it was kind of a big deal, eh? Well, you’d be right; the Ringling International Arts Festival at Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art is a big deal — in the words of TimeOut London, its “progressive program… would rival anything in New York or London.”

The festival boasts a supreme NYC/European pedigree; it’s presented in partnership with New York’s Baryshnikov Arts Center, whose namesake artistic director, ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov, oversees the selection of talent and attends performances. I still remember the inaugural season three years ago, with Mr. B himself roaming the lobbies while a wonderfully motley audience gathered for offerings like the well-oiled Elevator Repair Service adaptation of The Sun Also Rises, now a sensation Off-Broadway.

This year, we’re once again being treated to a mix of theater, dance, music and art on the cutting edge. Among the must-sees on my list: Doug Elkins and Friends’ Fraulein Maria, a goofy/poignant choreographic take on The Sound of Music; the Wooster Group’s reimagining of Richard Burton’s famous black-turtlenecked 1964 Hamlet; Canta Tangos, a potentially revelatory performance of traditional Argentinian man-to-man tango; the mechanized kinetic sculptures of Swiss artist Zimoun at the Museum; and an opening-night performance by the Asphalt Orchestra, billed as a mix of halftime show and contemporary music concert that might just be the marching band to end all marching bands.

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