Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Follow the Arts Mavens to Spoleto

        Transcendent moments: a hushed audience before the curtain goes up, time-traveling on music from centuries ago, immersing yourself in a character until you forget he’s an actor; art that brings tears, memories, laughter or insight.  Beyond entertainment, we’re all hoping our Spoleto tickets bring enlightenment and joy.  That’s a tall order.  Over 150 performances with such claims as  “a spellbinding thriller”, “breathtaking feats”, “revolutionary instrument techniques” and influences ranging from Brazilian choro music to South African ancestors, not to mention ticket prices up to $100 can be intimidating. To cut through the confusion, I’ve polled arts mavens for their suggestions.
        As the purveyor of fine instruments all over the city, Charles Fox of Fox Music recommends the opening ceremonies.  Free, lively and short, this is a perfect splash of culture to begin the 17 days of artistic experiences.  He says, “I dearly enjoy the feel and connection of the opening ceremony at city hall.” And there’s always an artistic surprise.  One year it was a composition played on car horns, once an elephant.  I hear this year involves opera. Catch it on Friday, May 23 at noon outside City Hall, the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets.
        Judy Vane, long-time arts supporter and former Spoleto board member is looking forward to the Leoš Janáček opera “Kat’a Kabanova”.  The themes of freedom and guilt set to shimmering 20th century music promise a provocative evening. “We had a whole weekend dedicated to Janáček a few years ago so I learned to appreciate him” which you can also do by attending the free artist’s talk with the opera’s director Garry Hynes on May 24. Judy’s also a big fan of the Gate Theatre.  “They’ve become friends of mine,” since they’ve performed in the festival several times.  “My Cousin Rachel”, a play by Daphne du Maurier is a new production by the company this year.
        Another fan of the Gate Theatre is Dana DeMartino, a local actress who trained at conservatories in music, dance and theatre.  “One thing that keeps me returning to festivals like Spoleto is their commitment to present new works or old works that are brought to life within a new concept.” She says of the Gate Theatre, “I love the company and find whatever they’re doing exciting to watch. They have often taken a very dated piece of theater and turned it into a gem.”  

        Ellen Dressler Moryl, the retired director of Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs says, “The older I get the more I need excellent choir music to sustain my soul.” She recommends the Westminster Choir and especially Handel’s “Te Deum”.  She also describes John Adams as “a groundbreaking composer in every way” and is looking forward to his opera “El Nino” with its mixture of Mexican poetry, the nativity story and female voices. 
        Music lovers recommended the Chamber Music series. As local flutist Susan Kraybill said, “I always like the Dock Street Chamber series, but then, who doesn’t?” Charles Wadsworth’s able protégé Geoff Nuttall curates these twice-daily programs that always include familiar gems beside unfamiliar works.  Composers may premier new pieces while listening from the audience.  It’s an intimate, often humorous and casual way to hear the country’s best small ensembles play their hearts out.  Many of the musicians are rising stars following the path of such luminaries as Jean-Yves Thibaudet who performed here before he became an international sensation. 
        Dance lovers have much to anticipate this year.  Eliza Ingle, a local dancer, choreographer and College of Charleston dance professor suggests that you not miss Hubbard Street Dance. “… a beautiful and powerful company showing the best choreography of today.”  But she has a hot tip for us:  “I’m told the sleeper is the solo work from Gregory Maqoma from South Africa doing a full evening dance/storytelling
evening.”  A reviewer said of this show “a runaway triumph in terms of artistic excellence, aesthetic sorcery and responses…” It does what Spoleto does best: showcase an exotic culture through a compelling mixture of artforms. Dottie Ashley, journalist and dance expert also recommends them as well as Dorrance Dance which she says is on the cutting edge of the tap dance revival she’s noticing on Broadway.

        It’s very unusual for a local group to play Spoleto venues, but the finale this year features Shovels and Rope who have catapulted from Lowcountry stages to fame. They’ve been touring extensively since winning the Americana Music Honors and Award’s Emerging Artist of the Year in 2013. I’ve been in and out of town for months,” says Cary Ann Hearst who performs with her husband Michael Trent in the duo.  A large crowd is sure to welcome back their mixture of honky-tonk, country, folk and rock as it fills Middleton Place on June 8 for the all-day party of picnics, beer and fireworks amidst the beautiful gardens. 
Ellen Moryl admonishes that it’s easy to become a “jaded voluptuary” and take for granted this world-class festival with its stellar experiences.  So choose carefully but choose.  You will undoubtedly find yourself transported, enlightened and entertained.   

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This story originally appeared in Lucky Dog Publications:  The Island Eye and Island Connection


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