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The charming nature and breathtaking views of Vizcaya Museum and Garden have allured Miamians for over 100 years. While not as grand as the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, Vizcaya’s luscious green spaces are filled with blooming flowers and hundreds of statues. Guests can easily lose themselves in the beauty of the estate’s gardens.
And on Friday, February 26, guests will have the opportunity to see them in a whole new light.
Spectral Vizcaya: An Evening of Illumination aims to illuminate the gardens with bright floating lights and colorful lanterns — all while telling a uniquely Miami story. The museum worked with local artist Sebastian Duncan-Portuondo to orchestrate the one-night-only event.
Duncan-Portuondo was given access to Vizcaya’s archives, where he unearthed stories of the property’s evolution over the decades. Spectral Vizcaya transports the grounds back to 1921, right around when the house was nearing completion. Actors will be stationed throughout the gardens performing vignettes for wandering guests. Stories will range from interactions between staff, members of the Deering family, and even rum raiders.
“Everything that’s going to be at the show was founded from Vizcaya’s archives. We’re bringing to life a winter scene at Vizcaya 100 years ago,” says Rebecca Peterson, community program manager for the museum.
The primary way they’ll be doing this is through light projection — including a large shadow theater box.
“We decided that the show wouldn’t follow a linear narrative,” Peterson adds. “This enables guests to stop in at any part of the show, anywhere on the estate, at any time, and still get the whole picture. In some ways, the surprise element makes it more exciting.”
Guests will be permitted to stroll the gardens at their leisure and pop into different parts of the story along the way. Since each scene is written as a standalone, there’s no chronological order to the evening. At one point, though, visitors will be given their own floating lantern.
“As the night unfolds, the gardens get more and more illuminated, and the evening gets more and more immersive,” Peterson teases.
Aside from seeing the grounds awash in lights and paper lanterns, Peterson says she’s looking forward to seeing an illuminated gondola floating on Biscayne Bay.
Charles Deering, the estate’s creator, had a gondola and a gondolier in the early years of Vizcaya.
“I’m so ready to see the floating illuminated gondola,” Peterson admits.
Spectral Vizcaya is part of the museum’s Participatory Public Art (PPA) program, where every year the staff produces one event that involves the community first-hand. Due to COVID-19, the summer event was pushed to the fall of 2020 and eventually pushed again to winter 2021.
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Peterson says the biggest obstacle was always ensuring the stories were compelling enough for visitors.
“[Guests] don’t have the chance to dig through the archives the way that Sebastian [Duncan-Portuondo] did, so all you get are these little snippets,” she says. “There’s just so much to see and to say, and you only have 90 minutes to do it all.”
In years past, the museum’s PPA events would draw crowds of upwards of 1,300 people. During pandemic times, Vizcaya is limiting participating and capping tickets for 300 guests. Of course, Peterson cannot stress it enough: facemasks will be required at all times.
“There are ten acres of formal gardens for people to explore, so social distancing is really easy to do in that way with such a small audience,” she explains. “Vizcaya is excited to be able to continue to do these kinds of events during these [difficult] times, but the only way we can do this is if everybody who is on-site abides by the health and safety practices.”
Spectral Vizcaya. 7 p.m. Friday, February 26, at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 3251 S. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-250-9133; vizcaya.org. Tickets cost $10 to $22.
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