Festivals in Miami conform to a bit of a mold: They're typically bass-heavy, unflinchingly hedonistic, and rhyme with "shmultra." Mary Luft of Tigertail Productions has worked tirelessly since the '80s to break that mold. Her company concentrates on bringing to the 305 the most contemporary and avant-garde performers for events that otherwise might never see daylight in South Florida.
“Tigertail started in 1980. It has always done festivals, starting with New Music America Miami in 1988,” Luft says. “Composers and enthusiasts from all over the world attended.”
Luft is quick to point out the multinational focus of Tigertail's programming. “We moved to our FLA/BRA (Florida/Brazil) festival for ten years and then the two-year festival FLA/FRA (Florida/France) and then on our annual element festival, Water, Fire, Earth & Air.” The nomadic sensibility is tied into Tigertail's curatorial ethos, which seeks to bring performers on the cutting edge of their craft from other locales while engaging with creators in Miami.
The upcoming Fire Festival has an additional, singular focus. “All of April, Tigertail takes on the element fire — fire of passion, fire of excellence, fire as a transformer, fire as a force that results in civic engagement, social examination, and activism,” Luft says. To her, the titular element is a force of extreme drive and clarity, and one that her chosen acts will use to illuminate their political and artistic views.
The combination of passion and politics is tangible in works such as composer Frederic Rzewski’s performance based on revolutionary music of the 20th Century, which opens the festival, and Reggie Wilson’s performance group — Fist and Heel — and its charged work Citizen, which asks questions about belonging in America.
Trailer for Fire Festival provided by Tigertail
“In Fire, we examine how artists help reimagine the world, and engage in the vital role artists play as critical thinkers and catalysts for interpretation and social evolution,” Luft adds. She's also driven to use the cultural programming to help shape life in Miami. “This project is part of a larger reimagining and reinterpreting of South Florida through the lens of creative projects.”
It's rare to see such politically and culturally minded curation in the Magic City's entertainment sphere. “This work generally never comes to Miami, so, very simply, Tigertail needs to bring it. This approach has been true since day one in 1980,” she notes. “I look for works of excellence led by artists who understand their craft and who have a lot to say. I have been wanting to bring Frederic Rzewski to Miami since the early 1980s. I brought both of his other Musica Elettronica Viva members, and now the circle completes itself when Fredrick performs in Miami April 1st."
Regarding her local picks, Luft is no slouch. “Artists from this community are in the Fire Gods in the Garden series at Vizcaya (Carla Forte, Marissa Alma Nick, Hattie Mae Williams, and Pioneer Winter); the Kiln Tour (Polo Ramirez, Jenna Efrein, Carolina Sardi, and James Herring); and young teens from our What Is American poetry contest (Dylan Somerville-Hall and Sara Helena Morales) who are performing prior to concerts,” she explains, listing some familiar Miami names. “Artists were selected because their work is solid, developed, professional, and because they are not 'cookie-cutter.' Most of the contemporary dance being performed in Miami comes from the 1940s, not today. This is fine, but Tigertail is most interested in the artists who reflect this time, this moment.”
It's not an easy job, but Luft says Tigertail's unique viewpoint is a necessary component of Miami's cultural scene.
“Curating is a creative process. It is a canvas that I use. Tigertail is willing to see in a different way, to take risks, to be adventurous, to be timely, flexible, to use our landscape as a palette. I am interested in what is happening now, the temperature of the times.”
Presented by Tigertail throughout April. Full event schedule available at tigertail.org.
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