Let's Dance.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Sarasota community, and more than 100 artists from around the world joined creative forces to form a very rare U.S. event. The Ringling International Arts Festival is the name of this extraordinary happening where history meets the future.

Artists from the USA, Canada, Australia, England, Israel, Scotland, and Spain deliver  diversity for all during what The John and Mable Ringling Museum of art, one of the United States' leading art museums, and the radical NYC's Baryshnikov Arts Center have fabricated.

From classical music to experimental theater to contemporary dance, this festival will guarantee that the Ringling legacy continues in the 21st century.

The magic begins on some large pebbles that float blissfully in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Sarasota and her islands sit on what is known as Florida's Cultural Coast and for good reason. The sugar-white sands of these keys offer beach and outdoor experiences of all flavors and levels, yet along with these, abundant cultural amenities are there for your every indulgence. 

Nestled between Tampa (60 miles north) and Fort Myers (75 miles south) are these coconut-laden, resort-haven islands which play hostess to guests of The Ringling International Arts Festival.

Filigrees of fun.

Performances are held at the theaters on the Ringling grounds:

Harold E. and Esther M. Mertz Theatre - built in 1903 as an opera house in Dunfermline, Scotland.

Historic Asolo Theater - America's only 18th-century European theater from Asolo, Italy.

Jane B. Cook Theatre - A contemporary space designed for audience/actor intimacy.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Classical music is alive.

Beautiful people with beautiful smiles spill into the Mertz Theatre on Opening Night after the reception held earlier in the Museum of Art Courtyard.

The Florida State University Symphony Orchestra is led by Robert Spano, Music Director for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

He has a discography of nine recordings and six Grammy awards and a career of leading the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, San Francisco, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestras.

Mr. Spano's elaborate list of experience continues on and can also be experience in the music of Beethoven and Steve Reich. After the piano concerto and symphony, a sparkling jazz and champagne reception awaits us.

Flamboyant Flamenco.

Sponsored by the Marriott Courtyard/Springhill Suites/Residence Inn, Webu Public Broadcasting, and Christine and Bill Isaac, 'Flamenco y Poesia' is presented by Compania Maria Pages along with her company of nine dancers and musicians. A passionate display of song, dance, and music, Flamencos' origin is commonly known to have originated in southern Spain yet there is still debate. What isn't debated is the passionate and intense dancing (baile), guitar playing (guiterra), and songs (cante) in a mixture of all three combined or any single element on its own. The energy of performers singing, kicking, clapping, snapping, and using hand-held percussion instruments (castanets) together with body movements reverberates through the theater and into the hearts and souls of the audience.

Post-post-modern cabaret diva Meow Meow performs at New York's Lincoln Center, London's West End, Joe's Pub (NYC), Highline Ballroom (NYC), The Glamour Room Shanghai, Hebbel Theater Berlin, The Berlin Philaharmonic as well as many numerous locations and international arts festival.

During the Ringling Arts Festival in Sarasota, Florida she is sensational, according to her global audience. Her performance is manic, humorous, sensual, and downright a number-one sellout.

Choreographed chaos.

Aszure Barton, a young Canadian choreographer, finds her place in the international dance scene. Ms. Barton has choreographed for  Mikhail Baryshnikov, Sydney Dance Company, Broadway, and The Martha Graham Dance Company. Her masterpiece for this festival draws upon ballet in its classic form and contemporary dance. Strong, graceful, flexible dancers etch out a work of movement embraced with sound and vivid color. This young group will etch out a beautiful future for themselves at the ambitious rate they're going.

Short script plays.

Short scripts, behind-the-scene insights with the festival directors, performers, writers, and choreographers, chamber music, performances by Florida State University, and so much more keeps the Ringling grounds bustling.

Yet The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art's exhibits holds a performance of their own. Lively music, a cash bar, laughter escapes from the modern Treviso restaurant, and a bold sun glistening on the water weave a symphony that gets rave reviews from everyone in the museum's main lobby. The enormous rooms open up to a most incredible courtyard with perfect landscaping, statues hidden amongst native grasses and flora. Special events such as this past Christmas' Holiday Swing-Big Band Courtyard Concert allow people to  make full use of the beautiful grounds.

Venice in Sarasota.

Yet all is hush in order to give the exhibits full attention. 'Venice in the Age of Canaletto' is an artistic documentary of Venice in a realistic manner. The city that seems to float on water is captured in oils on canvas. Each painting takes you on a walk through the era and the city that was on the brink of change at a most critical moment in the history of art.

'Inside the Chinese Scholar's Studio' is on display until June 27, 2010. The Chinese literati's studio is reconstructed and works of art that are typically shown in a scholars home are displayed. Ceramics, furnishings, carvings in jade, calligraphies, and paintings lends an understanding of the Confucian scholar in China.

The new 'Gothic Art in the Gilded Age:  Medieval and Renaissance Treasures in the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling Collection' exhibit is the center of Ringling's collection of medieval and Renaissance art.

Expansive Gilded Age and Gothic walks.

Ah! The art of food. From upscale dining including French cuisine and fresh-caught seafood to eat-with-your-fingers-and-stick-to-your-ribs fare, Sarasota has it all. The Lido Beach Resort serves the finest Veal Spiedini. Wrapped in prosciutto and peppato cheese and served with roasted cherry peppers stuffed with garlic and christened with arugula, the flavors of the area are amazingly theatrical. 

Miniature Circus set.

There is so much left to mention but one cannot possibly do so in one feature. But Sarasota, Home of the American Circus, must be included.

For over half a century John and Charles Ringling and their 155-acre circus was a dominating social and economical force in Sarasota County. Sarasota is still a tribute to the Ringlings and their circus, and one man, Howard C. Tibbals, spent most of his life creating the largest miniature circus in the world. This two-story display of miniatures is so detailed that even the tiny watermelons have seeds; housed inside a large building called the Circus Museum's Tibbals Learning Center, it is on the Ringling grounds. This rather large miniature version of the circus could well indeed be just as good as the actual circuses!

Like eight beautiful gemstones intricately strung together, each island has its own brilliance. Siesta Key has quaint little cottages and B&B's for a laid-back, eclectic beach hangout. Residents include writers and artists who share the tiny island with tourists who come to experience the funky little artsy beach hangout. The silky sand of Siesta Key has made it world famous.

And so much fun . . . !

Lido Key/St. Armands is where European charm mingles with eccentricity. Stroll along the many unique boutiques, eateries, and specialty shops where the best ice cream cones in the world can be discovered. 

Longboat Key has a sophisticated, stylish way about her. Luxurious, upscale accommodations, shopping, and dining on a sliver of sand with water views on either side is a sandy getaway for the discerning. A must-stay is the Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort. Absolutely to die for. Enough said? Jen Boutolone and the Hilton LBK Team will insure that your every whim is catered to.

Search for shark teeth at Venice then enjoy a totally Venetian day complete with the preserved Mediterranean Revival structures. Relish the Waterway Park and experience what is was like by in the 1920s.

Family time is the best time on these islands. Sharks, manatees, and sea turtles at the Mote Aquarium will help make the trip even more fun (imagine that!).  An underwater petting zoo is available for petting sea creatures.

Other favorites in this area that will thrill children of all ages are:

The Tibbals Learning Center at Ringling
Historic Spanish Point
Wiz, the Hands-on Science Museum (make a lightning bolt!)
The South Florida Museum
Crowley Museum and Nature Center
Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast
The Sarasota Children's Garden

Hailed by the Travel Channel, Family Fun Magazine, Florida Living Magazine, and many others, this string of dazzling jewel islands hold many ribbons and trophies. Visit Sarasota and Her Islands Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.gobeyondthebeaches.com for more of the island's many attractions.

The festival, The Museum, the performances, the shopping, the kayaking, the dining, the history, the architecture, the culture... Florida and Her Islands. Be their guests and go beyond the beaches!

— Feature and photos by Lena Hunt, Jetsetters Magazine Florida Correspondent.

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