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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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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