Here’s how Larry Keigwin pictures the Oct. 15 opening night of the Ringling International Arts Festival: The courtyard at The Ringling is packed with guests. Hundreds of sharply dressed men and women are sipping wine and commenting on how beautiful the night is. There’s palpable buzz in the air as the first few measures of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” begins.
A hush falls over the crowd as Ravel’s iconic score builds slowly and tantalizingly and the courtyard floods with 75 local dancers, the majority who had no formal dance training prior to volunteering for Keigwin’s sweeping RIAF performance.
These “pedestrians,” as Keigwin likes to call them, steal the 15-minute show. As they illustrate through choreographed movement everyday life in Sarasota, a series of theatrical vignettes unfold with the repetitive orchestral melody.
Anchored by six professional dancers from Keigwin’s New York City-based Keigwin + Company, the large-scale dance event will focus on highlighting the host city’s two most defining characteristics: activity and aging.
To make sure he hit the mark on these two themes, Keigwin, artistic director and co-founder of Keigwin + Company, recently sent two of his assistants to Sarasota to meet with local leaders and feel out the city and its inhabitants. To get a better feel for Keigwin, The Observer asked him to explain the inspiration behind his “Bolero” concept and why this performance –– his 11th community dance production –– is one of his biggest and most challenging “Bolero” incarnations to date.
Why set the work to Ravel’s “Bolero?”
I’ve always loved that piece of music. I’ve always found it to be epic and grand. I think it builds really beautifully. I always wondered, “How can I conquer that music on stage?” Then I started thinking about recruiting real-life people, amateur dancers and non-dancers to perform this community dance.
What is the ideal cast?
The ideal mix of ages is 1 to 100 … and one animal if possible. I love a huge wide demographic of people that resembles the population.
How big is a typical cast?
Anywhere between 40 and 80. My company is relatively small. There are only six of them, and they tend to anchor the work.
So what you’re saying is even an average Joe with two left feet can perform?
I tend to think I’m good at excavating personalities. I’m looking for personalities, not necessarily the most talented person in the room. I want the person who wants to be on stage. Anyone can audition. We call it an audition, but in all honesty we take everyone who shows up … and then we ask them to invite two more people to join the show. We really lean on the community.
Sarasota’s “Bolero” will be characterized by aging and activity. What characteristics have inspired some of your “Boleros” in other cities?
I like to touch down in a community and really work off of instinct and intuition. I usually feature two prominent elements of a community. In “Bolero Suburbia,” (in White Plains, N.Y.) the theme was community and nuclear family. In “Bolero New York” it was density and diversity.
This is your 11th “Bolero.” How different in scale and difficulty is this RIAF production?
This one is big. It’s a big venue and a large cast. It will definitely be challenging. What’s unique about Sarasota is that it’ll be outdoors. We’ve only done one other (“Bolero”) outside before (in Richmond, Va). This particular space should be inspiring. The architecture gives you so much to work with.
Will rehearsals be grueling?
I’m going at people’s abilities. People will be volunteering, so it’s not like I can drill them. A lot of it is not dancing, anyway. It’s follow-the-leader.
Is this anything like a flash mob?
There are definite similarities. It’s a mob certainly, but it’s not a flash. Everyone knows it’s going to happen. It’s more of a theatrical event. To me, what’s so cool about it is that it’s a work about a community, built by a community that, during the creative process, becomes another community.
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE?
Auditions for Keigwin + Company’s community dance event, “Bolero Sarasota,” will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29, at Longwood Run Gym, 6050 Longwood Run Blvd., Sarasota. Rehearsals will run over the course of two weeks leading up to the Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF). The dance will kick off RIAF’s opening night festivities at 6 p.m. Oct. 15, at the Ringling Museum. For a complete lineup of RIAF performances, visit ringling.org.