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End of a Remarkable Run PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor   
August 2017

After 38 provocative seasons, Tigertail Productions takes a final bow

TArtFeature_1igertail Productions, the premier trail-blazing cultural presenter in Miami history, has decided to end its 38-year run this year. There’s no doubt the organization’s departure will leave a gap here -- it exposed us to local, national, and international artists forging experimental pathways in music, dance, performance, and poetry.

In retrospect, it seems fitting that founder Mary Luft named her organization after Tigertail Avenue, the street where she first lived here, in Coconut Grove. She refers to the arc of Tigertail’s history as a trail, and as a circular journey, one in which she never knew exactly where she was going.

Along that road, Tigertail hosted hundreds of artists, formed alliances with entire countries (Brazil and France, for example), started the mixed-ability dance series “danceAble,” founded a teen LGBTQ spoken-word project, developed the dance-on-film ScreenDance festival, and funded local artists to pursue their dreams here and abroad.

It’s hard to image what Miami-Dade looked like when Luft moved here in the 1970s. There were very few glass high-rises, even fewer art galleries and museums, no Metrorail or Arsht Center -- even the cocaine cowboys hadn’t yet arrived. Born in Sioux City, Iowa, and trained as a ballerina, Luft studied with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in New York City when she was just 15.

But then, she recalls with a laugh, she found herself driving into Miami with former husband Jack, five months pregnant and with a plan to stay for a year: “We were going to move on to London or San Francisco.…”

That wasn’t to be her path, however. She started dancing with the defunct Fusion Dance Company, but realized her passion was in finding new music and choreography, and plotting to bring it to her adopted home. She researched music and participated in panels and programs across the country; and in 1979 she formed the small Mary Luft & Company.

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After missing the inaugural New Music America festival in New York in 1979, Luft was determined not to miss the second one -- and it involved a road trip, this time to Minneapolis. The festival showcased 20th-century composers in an exhaustive week of presentations, concerts, and conferences. Luft and some friends jumped in a car for the long ride.

“As we crossed the Florida border, the transmission fell out,” she recounts. When they got it fixed, they raced north to arrive in the middle of the night, but it was worth it, Luft says. Highlighted were Laurie Anderson and Steve Reich, among hundreds of other composers.

Inspired, she renamed her company Tigertail Productions and started hosting new music in Miami. In 1984, Luft co-produced the New Music America in Hartford, Connecticut, and finally brought it to Miami in 1988. Pre-Art Basel, it was the biggest cultural week in Miami’s history.

“We went from a $25,000 budget to a million,” she says, pulling in national and local grants, and involving numerous venues and artists. “Nothing had been done like it before, and nothing will again.”

ArtFeature_3Tigertail’s reputation was cemented. But Luft insists there never was a grand plan: “Things happened organically.” She expanded into presenting dance and performance, and supporting poets and artists. As Tigertail entered the 1990s, the cultural world of Miami was rapidly changing. New presenting organizations, such as Miami Light Project and the Rhythm Foundation, had hit the scene. The Miami City Ballet and New World Symphony had found their footing, and two contemporary art museums broke ground.

Still, remembers Luft, presenting and hosting artists was relatively affordable, with venues and hotels within reach of a medium-size budget and airlines offering discounted fares for cultural excursions. She and her Tigertail team started spending more time looking for experimental talent in South America.

It was an unpredictable time, she recalls, as the era of the dictators was coming to an end. “I remember arriving in Peru very late at night, but eight composers were there waiting for us,” she says. Conversely, in Chile “no one met with us -- they were still [frightened], as Pinochet was still in power.”

The most fruitful connection turned out to be with Brazil, which became the basis of the FLA/BRA festivals during the 1990s, when cutting-edge artists came from that culturally rich country and locals studied in exchange programs back in Brazil. Unfortunately, as Luft recounts, the interaction came to a halt after September 11, 2001, when it became too difficult to procure visas.

Luft would go on to find artists to present from France for the two-year run of the FLA/FRA festival. She also started, and then discontinued, the danceAble series, from 2000 to 2008. For financial reasons, she says, it was hard to keep bringing mixed-ability dance troupes here, but the experience was invaluable.

ArtFeature_4“We learned so much,” she explains. “What is it like to be a person with disabilities, what access do they even have at hotels? In 2000 that was still a problem.” Dancer and choreographer Karen Peterson went on to study mixed-ability dance in Brazil and form her own acclaimed troupe, thanks to Tigertail.

Along the way, Tigertail has introduced spectacular talent to Miami audiences. Memorable names include the legendary electric guitarist James Blood Ulmer, ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro, the unique Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, and extraordinary dance from the likes of Montreal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Ivorian/French Nadia Beugré, and the other worldly site-specific performance at Vizcaya from Japan’s Eiko Otake.

But Tigertail also nourished the locally grown. For instance, Luft presented jazz vocal virtuoso and Miami native Cécile McLorin Salvant in 2014. ScreenDance Miami concentrated on local filmmakers, dancers, and choreographers, presented over the past few years in January. It became so popular that Miami Light Project will continue the program.

In 2009, Tigertail featured a concert from musician, composer, and MDC professor Alfredo Triff, whose lush violin “Dada-Son” music is truly made in Miami. Luft, Triff says, “presented what she thought was best for our city.  In terms of cultural range, quality, and history, Tigertail will remain forever a model to follow.”

As for Mary, she and longtime partner John Kramel are heading to the Hudson River Valley, where her sister runs a B&B and where she will be close to the cultural life of the Northeast. There the people of New York will get to know the woman with long silver hair, distinctive hats, and an eye for avant-garde culture.

She says nothing about Miami is pushing her out, but rather that it’s simply time to move on. Like dance, life is movement, she says: “There is no hard ending -- it’s all continuous. And I look forward to following the careers of great Miami artists.”

 

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