The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

October 30, 2009

Dracula — revamping is always good

I went to see Columbia City Ballet’s new and improved Dracula last night — actually, the whole family came along.  It’s always fun to ooh and ahh at the parts that Annie and Bonnie used to dance when they were members of William’s and Mariclare’s flock.  Annie got to blow bubbles, while Bonnie’s job was to scamper around the stage — the casting was perfect, and it was a long time ago.

A lot of people have asked me what I thought about the additions and omissions this production includes, and I have to say, my feelings are mixed. (Personally, I’d rather see fewer people on the stage as long as those dancers have excellent skills, than an abundance of dancers on the stage, some of whom don’t measure up to the better dancers. But CCB has always brought a big show and a full stage — this production of Dracula is consistent with that culture.)

But, there are parts from the old Dracula that I miss — I’ve always thought that William makes for the best Dracula, with Robert Michalski coming in a close second; and parts that I’m glad to see gone — blood spurting into the first few rows like gushers of Gallagher’s watermelon juice a few years back, was a bit over the top even for CCB.

There are additions to the new Dracula that I love — kudos on the new costumes and the extended Undead dance in Act III; and other add-ons, like the lengthy Act I seduction scene, that I hope will be edited after a few runs before a live audience.

And I think many people will feel the same way, but probably about different things.  We get attached to tunes and costumes and sequences just as we can also get annoyed by them.  It’s called taste and it varies from person to person — something important to remember when you’re reading reviews.  (Two or more expert critics can see the same show in diametrically different ways.  Don’t get me started on what happens when non-experts offer official reviews.)

So while my feelings may be mixed on the results of the new and improved part of Dracula this year, my sense of satisfaction and optimism that the scene has been shaken up a bit, is fully formed.  I love it that CCB has the audacity to tinker with what was a proven and effective formula for them.  To me, this demonstrates a willingness to grow and evolve, rather than stay stagnant with the tried and true.  It’s been almost fifteen years since my little girls were blowing bubbles and skipping around the stage.  They’ve changed a lot since then — it would be sad to think that nothing else had.

Since my role is not to critique, I will not labor on what I didn’t like.  My role is to support, so here’s my shout out for my favorite parts of the show.  Top of the list — Regina Willoughby and Jose Serrano are consistently good dancers with strong technique who always bring their A games — Katie Smoak has the energy of a tiny yip-yip dog and she brings it to the stage — Katie Massey, who danced the role of Victoria, looked like a seasoned performer & I was surprised to find that she is just in CCBII —  Barry Sparks rocks on lighting, as usual — and Thomas Semanski’s score is still bouncing around in my head and will be until Tchaikovsky sets in — which will be sooner than any of us think.

So, Happy Halloween, Everybody.  Go see Dracula at the Koger Center tonight or tomorrow at 7:30 — and let me know what you think.

 

PS — Someone really should consider doing a Dragula production next year — wouldn’t it make an excellent fund raiser?

 

 

 

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October 29, 2009

UNBOUND, 701, the Ghost of Michael Jackson on Friday night — nuff said

This weekend presents another exercise in tough choices for folks on the look out for All Saints’ Eve fun.  The Beer Doc and I haven’t made final decisions about all the events in our three-day long celebration of Samhain and all things pagan and punchy, but there is one event I know we won’t be missing — Unbound Dance Company’s multi-artist extravaganza presentation of Carpe Noctem, Friday night at 701 Whaley.

Caroline Lewis-Jones and Susan Dabney have called in all that is wild and good in Columbia and assembled it into an entire night of stimulation for the brain and all points south.  You got your dancing from not one, not two, but three of Columbia’s finest, including the Unbound women themselves, plus the mesmerizing Natalie Brown, and that oh-so-sophisticated stuff that Erin, et. al., throw down over at Vista Ballroom.  You got your cabaret singing from Dale Goodrich and more music from DJ Chris Wenner.  You got your art from Travis Teate, Scott Bilby, and Michael Krajewski.  You got your food, and you got your cash bar — what else could anyone expect for a mere fifteen bucks?  These women are cutting your butts a deal.

Wear a costume for the contest or come as the adult you want everyone to think you are.  It all starts at 6:30.  Don’t be a Halloweenie — see you there.

 

For more info check out Unbound at http://www.unbounddance.com

October 27, 2009

Dance in Columbia a la’ Stir Magazine

If you haven’t had a chance to read my Art Scene column in the latest issue of  Stir Magazine, you can pick up a copy of the swanky-looking publication at some of the finest spots in town, (I got mine from Mr. Friendly’s), or you can take a look at the whole cyber spread by clicking this –>www.stircolumbia.com and turning to pages 8 – 9, or you can read my piece only below.

I tried to at least give a nod to everything going on dance-wise in the city, but I may have missed something, and I hope you’ll let me know if I did.  I’d also like to hear what you think about my argument for multiple dance companies in Cola town.  Do you think that a multiplicity of dance companies in one city raises the barre (pun intended), or does it dilute the audience and funds? Chime in — it’s a debate worth having.

Now for Something a Little Different

Everyone who loves the arts has something they love the most; a medium that most satisfies their inner cravings for meaning and soul-baring expression.  For one woman it may be the theatre, and the houselights don’t go down at TRUSTUS without her feet beneath the seat of one of the cozy chairs Kay and Jim Thigpen keep warm down on Lady Street.  The next guy may be all about music:  he thinks Charles Wadsworth is Jesus and can hum the cello suites in his sleep.  For someone else it may be the visual arts with the sun rising in Mana Hewitt’s metalworks and setting in David Yaghjian’s oils.  I’m like most art geeks in that I love it all – my favorite time is opening night and I’d seriously consider voting Morihiko in as mayor if he’d run.  But the thing that does it for me most is dance.

And that means I live in the right place.

As a city, Columbia has more than her share of dance entertainment opportunities, and unlike some folks who argue that one dance company to a town is enough, I heartily disagree.  Just as no two dancers are the same, neither are any two companies.  Each brings something different to the stage.  From the sultry undulations of Unbound to the rhythmic punctuations of Terrence Henderson’s Leo Award winning Vibrations; from Martha Brim’s mature and modern Power Company, to the scarily cute kids from Dale Lam’s Columbia City Jazz; from Dancewordz Ballet that combines movement with poetry, to Wideman/Davis that is poetry in and of itself; from CMFA’s Carolina Ballet, which has been around forever, to USC’s Dance Company which has come into its own; and from William to Radenko – there I said it – they all have something unique to offer.  And the benefactor of this wealth of diversity, this embarrassment of riches, is the Columbia, South Carolina dance audience.  We never have a reason for being bored.

One of the freshest and most exciting dance ventures in town this fall is Miriam Barbosa’s new iteration of the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company, housed by her Gyrotonics studio down on Lady Street.  Inklings of this company began back in 2007 when Miriam was still on faculty at USC, with those inklings developing into a two-person performance of Story Lines earlier this year, original Barbosa choreography staged around Beth Melton’s textile installation at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Art on Whaley.  Since then, the company has grown in number – there are eighteen professional dancers now; in support – Marvin Chernoff and Chuck LaMark have both signed on as associate executive directors; and, in target audience – performances are already booked in Columbia, Charleston and Charlotte and the calendar seems to grow every day.

The premiere performance for this newly re-formed company is coming up on September 17th, at 7 p.m., at the Koger Center for the Arts, and there are two pieces on the dancebill.  Miriam’s previous life as a dancer in the Martha Graham Company allows her the licensure to stage Maple Leaf Rag, the last piece choreographed by Graham before her death in 1991.  Set to the turn-of-the-century music of Scott Joplin, Maple Leaf Rag was inspired by Graham’s visit to Charleston when her company performed at the 1989 Spoleto Festival.  I had the opportunity to watch a rehearsal of the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company perform this piece on a muggy afternoon in August, and though my toes told me I was in Columbia, Charleston all but came alive in that sweaty brick studio in the Vista.  Staged around a massive black lacquered joggling board that could have easily just bounced off a portico somewhere South of Broad, the dancers perched and pranced and balanced in time to the seventh chords and syncopations with, dare-I-say, glee.  Unlike so much of Graham’s heavier choreography, this piece is seventeen upbeat minutes of fun.

The stage gets more serious during the second act of the night when the dancers perform a piece of Barbosa’s original choreography called, Catharsis. Set to the music of Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, Catharsis was choreographed in conjunction with the visual art of Marcelo Novo who has found the theme of catharsis rise often in his work of late.  The ballet is performed in three acts and takes on issues of love, passion, chaos, war, and purification, hence catharsis, and incorporates Marcelo’s original images into the backdrop and set.

Miriam explains that Marcelo’s completed work, “found voice and movement within my own experiences and so the collaboration was a fluid exchange of ideas that fit together perfectly, also reflecting a lot of our shared South American background.”

The choreography is full of typical Barbosa faire – fullness, strangeness, lyricism, and athleticism.  It’s almost as if the limited dimensions of the dance floor aren’t enough, so she takes her dancers into the air and actually suspends a few of them above the stage, using harnesses to simulate flight.  Previously performed in 2005, there are changes to the choreography including the addition of a tango performed upside down.  She’s also changing up her costumes a bit and has Barry Sparks, Columbia’s great thaumaturge of all things light and sound, doing her lighting, giving us even more to look forward to from this performance.

With Columbia’s dance season upon us, there is no shortage of excitement in store. Full length dance follows fantasy storylines that range from the frightening – hunchbacks and vampires – to the frivolous – mermaids and genies in bottles.  Wideman/Davis takes on homelessness, while USC gives a nod to the classics and a wink to contemporary choreography a la’ Alan Hineline. There is dancing to poetry and there’s the poetry of dance.  And God knows there’s a plethora of Nutcrackers, with Columbia City Jazz offering not one, but two Claras this season.  There is plenty to love on the dance floors of our good city.  Not too much and, thankfully, not too little.  When it comes to a good thing, we’ve got it good.

For more information on the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company visit their website at www.scdanceco.com.

October 26, 2009

My friend David Sedaris and the USC Lab Theatre’s production of The Book of Liz

Filed under: David Sedaris,USC Lab Theatre,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 00:02
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I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend David Sedaris lately.  I don’t really know David Sedaris, although I certainly feel like I do.  I’ve seen him in person twice — once at one of his readings at The Strand bookstore in New York City, clearly one of, if not the greatest bookstore in the world — no make that country — with the greatest bookstore in the world being Shakespeare and Company, of course, in Paris’ 5th arrondissement by the Seine — (I have spent way too many hours fantasizing about my life in a parallel universe where I live as a tumbleweed in the store, eavesdropping on Gertrude Stein’s estimations of how much Hemmingway doesn’t know about literature, and stealing glimpses of Man Ray’s latest photographic adventures as he flashes them about the room in a transparent quest for external validation)  Another time I saw David Sedaris  giving a reading at the Peace Center in Greenville, which was, pretty much all there was to that.  There’s not much more to say other than that the thought of living in Greenville is terrifying to me — my fear being that one day the fundies would push me a little too far and I would crack, with Rachel Maddow covering the story later that evening of how one South Carolina woman terrorized the campus of Bob Jones University by blasting the music of the Black Eyed Peas from her boombox a la’ Lloyd Dobler, offending the congregation, I mean student body, on a multiplicity of levels, the least of which being interracial bump appreciation.

But I also feel as if David and I are friends for other reasons.  For one thing he is a southerner, though a bit of a carpetbagger in that he was actually born in New York but was moved by his family to Raleigh where he promptly and viciously began note-taking in his journal on all things Southern Gothic — recording anecdotes to which he claims rights but, lacking his southern birth, I’m just not sure that I agree he deserves.  Still he clearly grasps what it is about southern stupidity that makes those of us who recognize it, love it — despite our better judgment.  That said, I may be his biggest fan.

So I was pretty psyched when I discovered that the USC Lab Theatre would be presenting one of the plays that David Sedaris has written with his sister Amy, pseudonymously (yeah, we’re gonna call that a word) under the name The Talent Family.  The Book of Liz is not the best of the Sedaris’ offerings, but it brought a lot to the table for the four young actors playing the multiple roles to contend with.  To start with, each of the four actors plays from two to five decidedly different parts requiring a range that encompasses religious zealots and East European ex-pats and beyond.  There’s also that classic Sedaris blend of intention that requires an actor to deliver lines both in earnest and tongue-in-cheek at the same time — not that easy, I’m thinking.

But you know, we were pretty happy with the show.  I thought that seventy-five percent of the actors did a fine to very fine job, with the other twenty-five percent just floundering slightly at times.  Jennifer Goff directed the show, doing a better than decent job of filling the shoes of the show’s original director, the infamous and oft-mentioned Hugh, as in Hamrick, David Sedaris’ luvah extraordinaire.  Anne Reid, who played Liz, has that I-know-a-secret look about her that made me never want to take my eyes from her face, and Brittany Price-Anderson (who I learned from the playbill happens to be from my hometown of Greer — shout out!) is a fierce and fearless actor who I hope I get to see again before she shakes the dust from this little town from her feet as George Bailey would have her do.  Rocco Thompson (seriously? Rocco?) is an infant — I mean, a tiny little freshman baby boy who already has a nice little stack of credits under his belt and enough attitude/smarts to at least claim to love both Shakespeare and Ingmar Bergman.  Kudos, son.

Personally, I love the fact that this little black box theatre exists down on Wheat Street across from the Blatt, and that they charge only $5 a pop to get into the show.  Kids, this is a cheap and impressive date.  I’m also pretty happy about their line-up for the rest of the year, which can be found at http://www.cas.sc.edu/THEA/2010/LabTheater0910.html.  I’m less happy, however, that there were vacant seats at the show Friday night.  Funny, but just about anybody in town could have told you who the Gamecocks were playing on Saturday evening.  Hey USC Powers That Be — there’s talent, and then there’s talent.  I don’t care that the football team brings in enough moolah to fund a nano-orgy.  Do the right thing by your artists — give ’em some props; come see their shows.  Kevin Bush is a helluva cheerleader — but he shouldn’t be the only one who suits up.

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