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?

 

 

 

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.

September 20, 2009

Columbia City Ballet’s Lauren Hahn

Filed under: Columbia City Ballet,Lauren Hahn — cynthiaboiter @ 22:36
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I’m not really in the mood for a big blog entry today.  I spent this cloudy Sunday working on freelance items and putting out some feelers for future work here and there, but I’ve had something on my mind that I do want to briefly mention.  Basically, I just want to give a shout out to someone who seems to be doing a really fine job at the tasks set before her — Lauren Hahn over at Columbia City Ballet.

The arts are no different from any other industry when it comes to overlooking the people behind the scenes without whose dedicated work most productions, events, and troupes or companies would likely fall to pieces.  These are the folks, (more often than not women for reasons that are embedded in the patriarchy), who make the phone calls, and do the scheduling, and clean up the messes, and seem to make miracles happen every day so that someone else can look good. 

Lauren Hahn is the Director of Development and Membership at the ballet and the face she has put on the Columbia City Ballet Company lately looks particularly good.  It looks fresh and innovative; it looks creative and new.  These are the very adjectives our city ballet company needs more of.

We were awarded a nice breath of the fresh air Lauren brings to the company last Friday night with the CCB fundraiser at The White Mule.  My group got there late but not too late to catch the multi-disciplinary dance off, or to chat up the impressive assortment of delightfully tipsy artists, editors, photographers, patrons, and dancers at the bar.  Happy faces all around.  And who do we have to thank for all that big fun?  The whirling blur of a woman in adorable shoes, single mother of two, Lauren Hahn.

Don’t worry if you missed this weekend’s CCB fundraiser though, Lauren has another trick up her sleeve scheduled for October 2nd in Columbia’s old Arcade Mall at Main and Washington Streets downtown.  She and her team are re-creating a Carnivale di Venezia from 7:30 until midnight, with food and drink, custom designed Venetian masks, entertainment and a silent auction, to boot.  (And I hear that it is perfectly fine to show up a bit late –after, for example, you’ve witnessed the glory that is the USC Dance Company concert the same night.  USC also dances on Saturday night — a perfect weekend with these two events combined!) 

Innovative.  Creative.  Fresh.  Fun.  Quality stuff, huh?  Kudos to CCB’s Lauren Hahn — Come sarebbe bello per questi aggettivi per descrivere la società dal basso verso l’alto.

If you’re interested and would like more information, give Lauren a call at 803-799-7605.

February 10, 2009

Community arts as as family?

I shouldn’t be writing now, and I certainly shouldn’t be blogging — I should be grading papers.  That will come, of course, because it has to.   The students are waiting and they are expecting.  Just like stories I’m writing on deadline or contests I plan to enter.  Those things get done because of external parameters.  Such is the life of the soldier with little self discipline.  It doesn’t torture me anymore.  It just is.  Self disciplined people have their own demons with which to do battle and those of us with less strident crickets precariously perched on our shoulders have ours.  We know our demons — we may not love them or appreciate them, but they’re ours, and we accept them.

Which brings me tenuously to a look at the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC.  Having lived in the SC midlands for over 20 years now and always been a patron of the arts, I’ve been watching the culture for a while.  Though I am a student of the literary arts, dance is the point of departure for much of the art culture that I know intimately.  Our daughters started out as students and one of them became a serious dancer, who danced principal parts as a student at NCSA, then was lured back to USC by a juicy scholarship and the opportunity to learn under Stacey Calvert.  One or both of our girls have danced at some time or another in almost every studio in the city, as serious dancers are likely to do.  Their studies have given me some insight into what happens beyond the studio door.

Which brings me back to the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC and the concept of family.

Columbia has recently enjoyed a dance-happy period of arts opportunities with performances coming steadily for four weeks in a row — Life Chance, then USC Dance Company’s American Treasures, William Starrett’s Off the Wall, and this week, for the rambunctious amongst us, Riverdance is performing  on the same stage as all of the above in the weeks before.  In about a month, we’ll also have the chance to see Simone Cuttino’s staging of the Wizard of Oz for Radenko Pavlovich, followed by William’s full length Don Quixote, then USC’s presentation of the Ballet Stars of the NYC Ballet, dancing along with USC’s company.  I’m probably leaving something out — Carolina Ballet usually brings their group of talented and enthusiatic young dancers to the stage in the spring as well.

Clearly, despite being something less than a southern arts Mecca, Columbia is rich with chances to observe one of humanity’s purist exhibitions of angst and joy — dance.  And to the casual observer, this would be something to celebrate.  But for those of us who are saddened by the lack of comraderie among some of our local dance powers that be, there is often a little less spark to the spectacle due to the dulling nature of the politics that go on behind the scenes.  Grudges, old wounds, misrepresentations, rumours, insecurities and fears abound — less with the dancers themselves and moreso with the big guys, old timers and occasional patrons who must think that one day their loyalty will be rewarded — or maybe that negative energy is good for the soul?

Not me. I often have curious folks from one camp question why I continue to support the other camp despite all the flaws, real and imagined, the curious folks so easily see.

The reason is simple.  Like it or not, the Columbia arts community — particularly those who are, know or love dancers — is a family.  And not just a run of the mill family, but a Southern Family, at that.  All of our members are right out there on display, including extra helpings of crazy aunts who in any other part of the country might be hidden in the attic.

And just like a family, there is no getting away from those to whom you are related.  Everything that is done is done in the reflection of one another.   Sure, you can try to hide.  You can move to another state or studio; you can marry or change your name.  But every single person who has danced, will dance or watched dance in Columbia, SC is connected to one another through training, technique, history and experience.  We’ll all come together at the funerals in the end.

But why wait?  Why not adopt the policy of those competitive California wineries back in 1976 when Chateau Montelena slapped the French wine snobs in the face with the proverbial white glove and went on to win the Judgment of Paris?  Or similarly that of the Pacific Northwest craft beer breweries who, though actively competing for the price of the pint, are positively stoked by one another’s successes?  For those big fish, a win for any ONE in their small sea is worth a win for all.  How nice it would be to hear one Columbia dance artistic director compliment another, or cheer from the audience, or better, encourage his dancers and students to be both patrons and artists.

Because that is what we do when we’re family.  We know one another — we may not love or appreciate one another, but we belong, we accept — we’re family.

Now, I really have to get back to writing — grading.

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