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

March 17, 2010

Blogging, ballet & beer — with a perturbed poetry mention

I remember when I used to blog.

I know, it’s been a while.  Coming up on a month, actually.  So many cool things to write about and yet I don’t seem to be doing my job.  When we left off, Bonnie and I were just returning from New York City where it was cold and all Alan Shore-y.  Oh yeah, and a nice man in a bar bought me a drink while I was talking to the Beer Doc on the phone.  That still feels good.  I went out to the Art Bar last night to check out the final poetry slam competition — scouting for an upcoming undefined poetry reading (and by the way, Chris McCormick was robbed!) — and couldn’t find anyone to go with, so I put on my big girl panties and went alone.  Lo and behold, another dude tried to buy me a drink while I was talking to my friend Gillian on the phone.  He was creepy though — cowboy hat creepy, to be precise — so I gave him the Nora look and moved into another room.  (The Nora look is this “eat shite you pathetic fool or I’ll burn your house down” snarl that is passed genetically through the Boiter side of my family.  My dead grandmother Nora had it, and my also late Dad had it, then me, then Bonnie.  Bonnie has actually perfected it — you’ve probably seen it before from one or both of us.)

  In the interim since my last post, the Beer Doc and I spent Spring Break doing some final research on NC and SC beer.  Actually, I’m working on a story for Sandlapper on SC micros and brewpubs — focusing on COAST beer in North Charleston — a wife/husband team who are brewing organic, environmentally conscious beer that absolutely rocks; RJ Rockers in Spartanburg — home of the Son of a Peach summertime sensation; Thomas Creek in Greenville — home of the Deep Water Double Bock which is sumptuous; the Aiken Brewpub, which is in Aiken; and our own local Hunter Gatherer — the place I keep calling “our” pub and for some reason, people who don’t know it think it belongs to us.  I tend to get a little proprietary, I guess.  People who don’t know the Cellar may think I own it, too. 

In any case, much has been written about beer lately and less about my beloved arts.  (No, I don’t own them — it’s a figure of speech.)  However, I have done a couple of reviews for the Free Times of local Columbia dance companies over the past few weeks.  Here’s the piece on Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin, in case you missed it.

And I’ll try to be a better blogger in the future.

 

Issue #23.10 :: 03/10/2010 – 03/16/2010

Aladdin Gives us More — and Less — of What We Expect from Columbia Classical Ballet

BY CYNTHIA BOITER

   

Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin presented itself last Friday at the Koger Center as something big — something spectacular. In many ways, the company met its objective. Resplendent costuming in shimmering warm shades; a multiplicity of dancers at various stages of training; informed choreography courtesy of the rare former dancer who actually knows how to choreograph; delicate women; threatening thieves; and a plethora of adorable children littering the stage.  There is no arguing — it was a big show.

Based ever-so-loosely on a Middle-Eastern folk tale taken from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (though the characters of Jasmine and a blue Genie do not appear in the story’s history until Walt Disney Pictures adapted the tale in 1992), Aladdin is a classic tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back and defeats the evil sorcerer with the help of a genie in a lamp. Choreographed by Classical Ballet resident choreographer Simone Cuttino — a John Cranko Ballet alum — the ballet Aladdin offers quite a lot of dancing.

In the first act, some might argue, it offers too much.

It’s not that exposition in a narrative ballet is a bad thing, but Act I could have used more of the fine-tuning — the winnowing out of superfluous movement and detail — that Act II demonstrated.

In a word, the first act was long.

That said, one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the ballet came in Scene Two when Aladdin, danced by Aoi Anraku (a Gold Prize winner in the All Japan Ballet Competition in Nagoya), encounters Lauren Frere’s Goddess of Diamonds and her accompanying attendants (danced by Anna Porter, Renata Franco, Kaori Yanagida, Akari Manabe and Dee Dee Rosner).  Though Anraku rarely demonstrated much commitment to his character, stepping in and out of choreography as if it were a series of disconnected exercises, the women accomplished their parts exquisitely.

It can also be argued that the ballet itself didn’t fully take off until the very end of Act I when the character of Jafar, danced by the Ukrainian Oleksandr Vykhrest — who heretofore had lacked the menacing energy one might expect from a villain — came alive with malice as he danced the lights down on the act. Once the ballet found itself, the remainder of the program was a delight.

The highlight of the night was the desert scene in Act II, when the company rallied to produce a mesmerizing scene of conspiracy and deception. Jasmine, danced by Kaleena Burks (former student of Magda Aunon and Magaly Suarez), demonstrated particularly stunning pointe work and arabesques while committing to her character in a manner she had previously yet to reveal. Vykhrest’s Jafar exhibited not just a capacity for peril, but also for affection, as he pined hopelessly for the princess. Kazuki Ichihashi, in the role of the Genie, might have relied excessively on his turns to wow the audience, but he executed them spectacularly. The lighting, courtesy of technical director and lighting designer Aaron Pelzek, painted the desert scene with subtle, yet beautiful changing hues suggesting the passage of time as the scene progressed.

Why did this simple scene with few props and no stage clutter satisfy so?

Because big isn’t always better. Give me the respect for the aesthetic of dance, the purity of exquisite technique, the confidence of simplicity audiences have come to expect from director Radenko Pavlovich’s classically trained and, usually, impeccably coached dancers, any day. My favorite Pavlovich productions are the ones with little production at all — beautiful, proficient dancers on a bare stage with nothing but a capable lighting director to illuminate their prowess.

We got to see a peek of this local treasure Friday night — but only a glimpse and not nearly enough to last until next season begins.             

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

   

 

 

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December 10, 2009

Dale Lam, Andie MacDowell, Andie’s daughter, my daughter, and The Two Claras

We have quite a few hidden artistic treasures in Columbia.  Some are folks who not a lot of people know about so these treasures labor along in the glow of the fortunate few who are aware of their magic.  Some of our treasures are underused — they are the people who could shake things up, put us on the map, as it were, if the right spotlight found them at the right time.  And then there are those of our treasures who are actually quite well-known and much in demand away from town but, having plied their wares on us before without due recognition, they have surrendered to working quietly for a larger audience and given up on being known for their greatness on a local basis.

Choreographer Dale Lam fits into all of the categories above.

Dale is the owner and artistic director of the Columbia City Jazz School and Company, a non-profit performing arts organization which will be presenting a modern version of the Nutcracker called The Two Claras, this Thursday and Friday nights at Drayton Hall.  You may have heard about the fact that South Carolina native film star, Andie MacDowell, who names herself as one of Dale’s biggest fans, will be performing along with the young dancers.  You may also have heard that The Two Claras is a nice break from the traditional Nutcracker in that everything from the choreography to the costuming is contemporary and upbeat — less predictable, more exciting.  But you probably haven’t heard about how much raw talent will be on the stage this weekend, or how much of herself Dale Lam has put into getting them there.

I’m not a money person.  When people start talking about cash my mind goes to that Charlie Brown place and all I hear is, “wah, wah-wah, wah wah wah.”  I don’t want anyone to hear those sounds when I talk myself, so I usually just avoid the subject altogether.  But I can’t really convey to you an accurate picture of the gift that Dale Lam gives to her students without mentioning money — or the absence of it.  Because that’s mostly what there is — an absence.  But do not think for a minute that the lack of cash in any way determines whether this woman will work with talented students or not.  Like Andie MacDowell said in an interview I conducted with her which will one day be published in Stir Magazine, Dale isn’t interested in making money — she’s interested in making dancers.

Kindness and Andie MacDowell aside, the show Dale and her kids put on is a fine one.  A couple of her male dancers are extraordinary and the young female dancer she brought in from the university at the last minute to dance the part of the older Clara has quite a dance history herself.  Yes, it’s my kid – – although at 21 it could be argued that she’s old enough that her momma ought not be bragging on her when she writes her blog.  Whatever.

Although tempting, I won’t print the entirety of my article on Ms. MacDowell which will one day appear in Stir Magazine, however, I will include below an excerpt from the piece which deals specifically with Andie’s relationship with Dale Lam — which is why I wrote the article.

~~~~

MacDowell and Lam first began their association when MacDowell’s older daughter, Rainey, had the opportunity to take a master class from the highly sought after Lam in a nearby Asheville, North Carolina studio.  As younger daughter Sarah Margaret’s interest and talent in contemporary dance grew, MacDowell recognized the unique gifts that Lam brings to her students and made a commitment to insure that Sarah Margaret continue to work with Lam, despite the distance between Lam’s studio in Columbia and the MacDowell’s North Carolina home.

Over the years, a friendship developed, turning the tables on MacDowell to the point that she sometimes refers to herself as Dale Lam’s biggest fan.

“The gift that Dale has – the gift she gives to her students,” MacDowell says with intention, “is nothing short of genius.”

She goes on.

“Dale’s musicality is literally the best I’ve ever seen.  I’ve yet to find anyone who can teach a child how to hear the music, and to feel the music, the way that Dale can.  She is a genius, plain and simple.”

That recognizable genius is what has inspired MacDowell to not only entrust her daughter’s training to Lam, but to devote herself to helping her friend, in any way she can, achieve portions of her life’s goal – sharing her gifts with as many talented children as possible, no matter what the circumstances of their lives may be.

“I can afford to pay for my daughter’s instruction, but not everyone can,” MacDowell says.  “And Dale will never turn a talented student away.”

MacDowell also points out that the Columbia City Jazz School, whose students feed into the Columbia City Jazz pre-professional company, is a not-for-profit organization; a fairly unusual enterprise among instructional institutions in this day and age.

“Clearly, Dale isn’t in this to make money. She’s in it to make dancers,” MacDowell explains. “She continually gives to these young people in her charge – she treats them like they’re her own children, not just her students, often opening her home to the children” MacDowell says.

“And if I can help her – if I can be a part of her mission – then I am delighted.”

That’s why for the second year in a row MacDowell has agreed to participate in the Columbia City Jazz Company’s presentation of The Two Claras, on December 11th and 12th at USC’s Drayton Hall.  In the show, MacDowell narrates the story of Lam’s take on a modern Nutcracker – based very loosely on the traditional Tchaikovsky classic – while jazz company members, including MacDowell’s daughter, Sarah Margaret Qualley, perform Lam’s contemporary choreography to a modern score.  Performances are at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday, with a Saturday matinee at 1 PM.

~~~~

Go see The Columbia City Jazz Dance Company Presents The Two Claras:  A Tale of “The Nutcracker” for Modern Times, featuring special guests Andie McDowell and Dana from Kidz Bop, (not to mention my kid), at Drayton Hall, Friday and Saturday, December 11th & 12th at 7:30 PM and Saturday at 1 pm.  Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling 803.252.0252 or visiting http://www.columbiacityjazz.com.

November 7, 2009

USC Dance, Stacey Calvert, Kyra Strasberg, live music, my kid, and more

As I wrote earlier this week, the USC Dance Company performed last night at the Koger Center starting at 7:30, as they will again tonight.  They are calling this program American at Heart — for reasons I’m not sure I understand.  Three distinctly different pieces have been assembled for the audience’s pleasure and, this time, there is a nice variety of dancers performing, rather than seeing the same old same old as we often do.  And yes, I realize that my own kid has probably been the most same old of all the same olds for the past three years.  Still, fair is fair, and good is good.  The program has grown through the roof with better and better young dancers showing up every fall to enroll in the Bachelor of Performing Arts degree program.  Now we get to see quite a selection of very good young dancers on the stage.  Good job USC Department of Dance.

The show starts out with one of George Balanchine’s most  beautiful ballets, Serenade. Now here’s something that not a lot of people realize.  The only way you are going to legally get to see a Balanchine piece performed in Columbia is if you have someone who has been approved by the Balanchine Trust  to stage it.  They have to meet exceedingly precise standards in regard to the application of the Balanchine style and technique, and they have to document their procedures and provide film of the performance for the Balanchine Trust to approve.  There aren’t a lot of those people just hanging around Columbia, or South Carolina, for that matter, but USC is lucky to have Stacey Calvert as their Associate Artistic Director, who is.  Stacey was a former soloist with the New York City Ballet.  Although we don’t get to see her dance anymore, I can attest that just watching her teach a class is the equivalent of watching a wonder in the dance arts.  Her movements are beautiful; her physique, which she carefully tends, is a work of art.  Stacey is one of South Carolina’s treasures — we are phenomenally fortunate to have her here and at our university.

This performance’s presentation of Serenade is a testimony to Stacey’s work in the studio and Artistic Director Susan Anderson’s work in growing her program.  Bonnie performed the same role in the same piece three years ago when she was a freshman here at USC.  But watching the performance today, compared to then, is like watching a different company.  Of course, most of the dancers are new, with the older dancers having graduated or moved on.  But the difference is in the quality of the corps and the maturity of the lead dancers — Bonnie, Sara Caton, Olivia Anderson, McCree O’Kelley, and Keith Mearns.  Even taking into consideration the bias that I probably have when watching people I’ve grown to love dance, I can say with certainty that the members of this program,the members of this company, are some of the very best dancers you’ll have the opportunity to see in South Carolina.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees.

There is a brief pause in the performance after Serenade, followed by a dance in six movements choreographed by Luis Dominguez.  The piece is titled after its music, the Bach Cello Suite.  Live music is wonderfully provided by cellist Kenneth Pruitt, who sits on the corner of the dancers’ stage.  This is a bit of a minimalist piece, and it is lovely.  Keep your eyes on dancers Ashley Johanson and Lauren Shankle.  They are significant parts of the future of the dance program at USC.

After intermission you return to the audience for Thaddeus Davis’ and Tanya Wideman-Davis’ choreographic work, If At First We Dream, set to the music of Andre Previn.  The violinist is Ashley Horvat and the pianist is Rosemarie Suniga.  Kyra Strasberg, Columbia native, distinguished artist in residence, and former principal dancer at Boston Ballet, celebrates her return to the stage with this piece.  Carolyn Bolton, McCree O’Kelley, Ryan Thomas, and William Smith also offer exceptional performances.

Come out to support your local university and take advantage of some truly exquisite dance and innovative choreography.  The USC Dance Company is on its way to being one of the top companies in higher education in the country.  Come see it now, so you can eventually say that you remember seeing it back when.

September 29, 2009

The USC Dance Company Dances Their First Performance of the Season — This Friday and Saturday

I went to see my daughter Bonnie and several of her rock star friends dance last week at a preview of the USC Dance Company’s next performance.  It was a casual intimate glimpse into what a well rehearsed group looks like a week or so out of their concert date.  They opened with Alan Hineline’s contemporary ballet — some on point, some on flat.  There are no real soloists in the piece, instead there are 3 main couples and a small corps of women.  Bonnie dances with Keith Mearns, previously of the Pennsylvania Ballet; the beautiful Olivia Anderson (previously of Houston Ballet II) dances with former Broadway dancer, McCree O’Kelley; and the amazing Carolyn Bolton dances with Ryan Thomas.  While Carolyn is a product of Stanilas Issaev’s good work at the SC Governor’s School for the Arts, both Bonnie and McCree come from the handiwork of the late Melissa Hayden at North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem.  The fact that these dancers, along with other dancers from NCSA, SCGSA, Columbia City Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre and other prestigious places of either professional dance or stellar dance training, are in the USC Dance Company can be attributed to the state of the program that Susan Anderson has built at the university.  First she brought in Stacey Calvert, a former soloist with New York City Ballet, then she brought in Kyra Strasberg, a former principal dancer with Boston Ballet.  In between, Miriam Barbosa came along and brought her expertise in contemporary dance, specifically the works of Martha Graham — though Miriam has left to pursue building her own company, the SC Contemporary Dance Company.   In her place, Susan brought in Thaddeus Davis and Tonya Wideman-Davis, of the Wideman Davis Dance Company — (Tanya was principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem) — and both partners have become so enthralled with the program that they would like to make Columbia their home.  All this is said because it is important to recognize that the caliber of both student and instructor showing up at the university is indicative of the quality of the education and performance opportunities being given there.  In other words, good stuff is going on in dance down on Sumter Street.  This USC Dance Company is not your mother’s USC Dance Company.

Given that this showing was only a preview — the dancers were wearing studio clothes, for example, and Stacey, et. al., were giving corrections — the dancers only performed a small piece of  Hineline’s lovely choreography.  But it was enough to see that those of us who fell in love with “Twist,” the choreography he gave the company last year, will not be disappointed.  Twist won the company a slot in the finals of the American College Dance Festival  competition last year in New York, and it was dancing this piece that lead Bonnie to being named one of the top 10 college dancers in the country by the same organization — Alan Hineline’s choreography has a way of bringing the best out in his artists. 

The next piece the company performed was an excerpt from Tanya Wideman-Davis’s new choreography.  Tanya brings this funky new vibe to the company that is at once loose and relaxed but also metrical and balanced — perhaps this is what the body will do when given an agency of its own?  Being the parent of a bunhead, I don’t often get to see the modern dancers do their things — and watching these women dance made me regret that fact a bit.  Their movements were measured, but intense.  Where that ballet dancers make me soar on the inside, these women made me boogie.  I loved it.

The final bit of a piece was an excerpt from the second act of Giselle.  Olivia Anderson dances the title role of Giselle and the casting is perfect.  Olivia, the dancer, is an old-souled young woman who places a priority on kindness.  Not that pretend sweetness-now-let-me-eviscerate-you-behind-your-back kind of kindness; Olivia is genuinely good, and you can see that in the way she dances — her face, the way she holds her shoulders, the position of her chin.  She is perfect as the heartbroken Giselle, both dancing and portraying the role beautifully.  Giselle dances opposite Myrtha, queen of a group of female ghosts, called wilis, who were jilted at the altar.  The role of Myrtha requires large brave guy-like leaps, stoney eyes, and the ability to control ones adversaries (dare I say family and friends?) with nothing more than the look on her face.  And the witch can seriously dance.  Bonnie in this part?  Yeah, bingo!  I won’t use this space here to say how proud I am of my kid, but I will say that she was made to dance this part and I’m so glad to get to see her do it.

I hope all of you will come out and watch this upcoming performance, as well.  The quality of dance in this company has risen so high so quickly that, if you came to see a performance more than a few years ago — you just wont recognize the company anymore.  

The USC Dance Company will be performing at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday nights, October 2nd and 3rd, at the Koger Center.  For tickets call 777-5112 or 251-2222.

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