Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
This year's experience began with a performance by Nobuntu, a female a capella singing group from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. They sing tuned to Western, tempered pitch, although I did not see or hear a pitch pipe anywhere. They command an astonishing dynamic range from very soft to loud. Three of the five members do most of the lead vocals. Three members speak to the audience in almost unaccented English, while a fourth nods her head at a joke, indicating at least an understanding English. Nobuntu had the audience in the palm of their hands at the performance I attended, from the start of their first number. During their third number, "Nobuntu Click Song," they asked the audience to join them in clapping to a quite complex rhythm pattern. Almost everyone kept it going, giving it their all. Other songs from their program included "Impi" ("Our warrior song where we thank the Almighty for fighting for us..."), "Inkomo Zomlandu" ("A song about a dowry and a celebration of marriage") and "Black President" (celebrating Nelson Mandela).
Next up, Happy Hour by Monica Bill Barnes and Company, begins with an audience interactive segment, hosted by Robbie Saenz De Viteri, leading a game of bingo for prizes. At the announced showtime, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass appear, androgynously dressed in men's suits and ties. They do a combination of dance and clowning, with a little bit of mime thrown in for good measure, to a series of popular songs from multiple eras and various styles. Some of the songs included are "Hurts So Good" by John Mellencamp; "Love Me Tender," sung by Elvis Presley; "Come Rain or Come Shine" from Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall; "Build Me Up Buttercup" by The Foundations; and "Smile" by Nat King Cole. I was unable to engage with what I was seeing, and audience response was tepid.
After a break, I attended Wanted, presented by eVenti Verticali, which had opened the festival. A large screen and a huge metal rigging dominate. The set up begins with a large wanted poster on the giant screen and evolves into an elaborate chase sequence. Two brothers (Andrea and Luca Piallini) on guy-wires, hanging from the top of the heavy rigging, chase each other and fight in front of elaborate computer graphics on the screen. In style, the graphics move between today's elaborately intricate video games, earlier versions of same, and cartoons. In a mere 40 minutes, this show offers enough of an entertainment wallop for a show twice as long. It is just old-fashioned fun.
Other shows available but not covered include Ing an Die by James | McGinn & Again, a dance event, Portraits in Motion by Volker Gerling, photography, and two programs of modern music by ensemblenewSRQ. Still to come is White Rabbit Red Rabbit.
This year's RIAF seems to be living up to past incarnations: artistic endeavors one might not otherwise have a chance to experiencetwo that I have liked a lot, one not so much.
Ringling International Arts Festival, at the Ringling Museum of Art through October 21, 2017 at 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL. For information, call 1-800-660-4278 (Box Office) or visit www.ringling.org.