Last week I stood guilty of some kvetching over the sometimes staid and stuffy art scene in Sarasota. Now I'm compelled to highlight another institution that continues to impress me with a remarkable knack for keeping up with the times: the Ringling Museum of Art. From Beyond Bling's edginess to the mesmerizing Turrell Skyspace to the rockin' Ringling Underground series, there's so much evidence that the brains behind the operation are thinking about people like me, and how to seduce us down those marble halls.
The museum's latest come-on takes the form of a contemporary performance series titled "Narrative in Motion," running through the first week of March. Mr. Date and I numbered among the lucky crowd at the opening night of Word Becomes Flesh by Marc Bamuthi Joseph.
We swaggered into the Treviso for a sunset supper on the balcony overlooking the lily-pads that dotted the pond. Other than the guy who brought us our bread, Mr. Date and I were the youngest folks in the restaurant, but outside we saw younger couples, families and knots of students ambling around the grounds as dusk settled, off to enjoy some cocktails and socializing at Art After 5.
Thoroughly buttered up from plates of gnocchi primavera and fried ravioli, we felt the need for a little jolt of caffeine before settling into the warm, dark cocoon of the Historic Asolo Theater. The dreadlocked barista at the upstairs coffee lounge complimented my batiked silk scarf and sang a poppy little ditty to herself while she cranked out the espresso for my latte. The spring in my step upstairs to the theater's second tier could have been the java buzz, but I like to think it was her infectious attitude.
The hall was illuminated by the fierce glow from a bright, red-ochre screen that filled the entire back wall of the stage. In the right corner, Dion Decibels grooved behind his turntables and a couple of laptops as hip-hop beats ricocheted around the room. As I peered over the balcony into the front rows below, I could see the tops of the heads of about 50 students from Booker High, Ringling College, New College of Florida and several other schools, who'd been brought by bus thanks to donations from community members and an initiative by the North Sarasota Library.
The library's artist-in-residence Lonetta Gaines stood from the row right in front of us and gave a big wave to Associate Director for Exhibitions and Programs Dwight Currie as he applauded the success of student turn-out, saying, "I wish every night at the Historic Asolo looked like this."
What to call the performance that followed---a play? A ballet? A poetry slam? I'd rather borrow from Currie and call it "storytelling." Gripping, wry, athletic and brutally honest storytelling of how one man, in six voices, brings a son into an unforgiving world. At times we burst into laughter, at others we groaned with the story's heart-wrenching weight, and we rose to our feet as the company took their bows.
After they toweled off, the actors met us in the lobby, where they had artwork, albums and other items from many other creative projects for sale. You'd think they'd have spent everything onstage, but the electricity of their excitement and energy crackled through the room. I won't finish by saying "you had to be there," only that you'll want to be when that lobby looks much the same throughout the weeks to come.