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

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.

November 5, 2009

Main Street has taken over my brain — FOM, Anastasia, CCJC, Miriam, Good Time Chuck, Ashley, Vista Ballroom — plus more

It’s the first Thursday of the month and that can only mean one thing — Main Street will be rockin’ the arts tonight.  Big time.

Big goings on this month, too, because the happening trifecta traditionally provided by Mark, Chuck and Travis — aka Frame of Mind, Gotham Nights and White Mule –– is getting a major boost just a bit down the street at the Sheraton where Anastasia Chernoff is opening her show cleverly titled ex true sions.  Given that I will fight you for the title of Anastasia’s biggest fan, I couldn’t be more thrilled.  Anastasia has subtitled her show as — deep emotions squeezed or forced out and reformed through a medium — because she created these works while under hypnosis.  See?  Hypnosis doesn’t necessarily make one bark like a dog or speak like Rush Limbaugh when she goes under.  (Although I’d much prefer the first to the latter.)  Even if you aren’t an arts geek like me, do let your curiosity get the best of you and stop by Posh at the Sheraton at 1400 Main Street between 5 and 10 tonight to have a drink at the bar and check this show out.

And the big news up the street (or is it down?  I admit that sometimes I am directionally challenged — but I always know where the wine is, which is a life saver) is that Mark Plessinger has put together way more performing artists than any one Main Street deserves to complement his FOM (Frame of Mind) Series, which this month features the local artist Evelyn Wong.  Evelyn is both a performer and a mixed media artist so you never know what she will come up with, and I’m excited to see what she has going on with this showing.  Her work will continue to be on display at FOM throughout the month of November.  Performance-wise though, Mark has seriously got you covered, with short features presented by Miriam Barbosa of the SC Contemporary Dance Company, solos by the lovlies Sherry Warren and Ashley Bennett, and ensemble presentations by Columbia City Jazz Company, Vista Ballroom, and Carolina Ballet.  Whew!   We’ll be kicking off this delicious dose of arts immersion at 5 and running it until 9 at Frame of Mind — 1520 Main Street, directly across the street from the art museum.

At the risk of completely overwhelming you I also have to share that both of Mark ‘s neighbors — The White Mule and Gotham Nights — have stuff going on that you are absolutely going to have to stop into as well.  White Mule has a free wine tasting and a happy bar that is always ready to pour/mix/splash you a cold one, plus some of the coolest, edgiest art in town hanging on its walls — though I hear someone has her eye on one of Mike Krajewski’s pieces, but I’ll not divulge which one lest she get beaten to the punch and I have to suffer the consequences of my big mouth.  And Good time Chuck over at Gotham Nights (Gotham Bagel, by day) will be partying down with Tim McLendon, schwing dancing, plus a fridge full of fine beer and wine by the glass.

But please be forewarned — do not stay out too late tonight as Friday and Saturday nights have a glorious show in store for you at the Koger Center.  The USC Dance Company is on the stage again, so not only will my baby girl be dancing, but Thaddeus Davis has choreographed a new piece on former Boston Ballet principal/now USC instructor, Kyra Strasburg, to the music of Andre Previn.  That plus Balanchine plus more new choreography —  more info to come tomorrow, but rest assured, you dance & music lovers don’t want to miss this show.

See you tonight on Main!

 

 

 

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 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.

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.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.