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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January 24, 2010

Looking at LifeChance

It was so nice to see such a great crowd at LifeChance Saturday night — and not just folks who got trucked in, but just a whole lot of people from the community. Here are a few observations:

  • The show was great — I love it that the show even exists and that Radenko Pavlovich brings in such fine talent from the far corners for us to see.  The talent and choreography should help to inspire local companies and dancers, especially the contemporary pieces performed by Lia Cirio, her brother Jeffrey Cirio, and Sabi Varga and James Whiteside.  Lia, who literally just got word that she was promoted to Principal dancer at Boston Ballet, is a force to be reckoned with.  Her exhibition of controlled energy is a tutorial for aspiring dancers — every inch of her body  was expressive and beautiful — not a wasted second or movement in her performance.  Total commitment to the dance — amazing.
  • Brooklyn Mack rocked.  I am completely biased because I love the boy so, but he was totally on — ON, and it was glorious to watch him take in all the love from the audience.  You have to know how humble he is to understand this.  He continues to see himself as a student, as a struggler, as someone who is working so hard to get where he wants to be — no fears about resting on one’s laurels here.  Not all the stars and wannabes from Columbia are this way, so it’s very refreshing to see.
  • That said, who was the chick he was dancing with and where did she come from?  This is a rhetorical question because I know the answer to both of them.  But what I want to know is why she was dancing with Brooklyn.  I’m not going to criticize her and say that she had a bad show — I’m not even going to say the child’s name — I think she just wasn’t up to the part.  Le Corsaire, the pas that she and Brooklyn danced, is all about lightness — we expect our dancers to skitter across the stage — to take flight.  That just wasn’t happening with her last night.
  • OK, and while I’m pretending not to be critical, (should I add a “bless her heart” here?), here’s my take on classical variations.  I ONLY want to see them if they are excellent — not just good.  Because any student of ballet who has been at it a while and has some hope of ever having a career even at a fourth or fifth tier company knows how to execute these classical variations.  They may not be excellent or even very good — but they can get ’em done.  If I want to see a future star of tomorrow, I’ll go watch a class or sit in on a YAGP competition.  For $30 — I want to see a pro.  Like  Meaghan Hinkis out of ABT II who we only got to see dance Don Q. This chick took a part that I’ve seen done way too many times and added her own energy to it to such a degree that I actually liked it.  So many dancers, when they do these tried and true (read dull and boring, imho) classical variations, work so hard to be precise that they suck the very soul from the dance.  This is why I shudder a little bit every time I hear music by Minkus, Asafiev, or Adolphe Adam.  Here’s to being so good that you add your own interpretation to ancient choreography. Go Meaghan Hinkis.
  • I’ve never seen the Trey McIntyre Project perform before, but after watching two of their dancers last night — I’m going to put it on my to-do list effective immediately.  Dylan G-Bowley and Chanel DaSilva brought synergy to the stage last night in a way you don’t always see in modern dance.  Loved it.
  • Can we talk height for a minute?  Little DeeDee Weatherly-Rosner, who went to NCSA with Annie and Bonnie, is s0 short — she’s like a tyke, right?  Well looking at Radenko’s corps last night, DeeDee was, well, she was mid-sized.  For some reason the Columbia Classical Ballet company this year appears to be made up of very talented kinder-gardeners.  This isn’t a criticism — it’s just an observation.  Wee dancers.  Tiny.
  • And speaking of DeeDee — good show, Child.  You stood out on the stage and, as an NCSA mom, I was proud of you.
  • OK, another observation — are we dressing up again?  I say this because, back in the day, LifeChance was the night that we put on the ritz — tuxes and sequins and faux fur (yeah, I know this is magical thinking on my part — I have to pretend that all fur is fake to suppress my compelling desire to drench it in a gooey red substance).  I’m thinking that we started dressing down after 9/11 — is that right?  At the risk of sounding like my friend The Shop Tart, who is clearly the authority on finery, I couldn’t help but notice a bit more bling last night.  And black velvet — which I was even wearing myself — and I loved it –ain’t nothing that feels any better on the bod that black velvet.  I’m OK if we are dressing up again — I was telling Jeffrey that since we don’t go to the Phil anymore that I rarely get to do it up.  To which he replied, Come to the Phil, then.  Probably not.  I’m betting that next year we’ll see more tuxes — which is good for me.   The Beer Doc looks especially fine in his tux.
  • Finally, I just want to give a shout out to Lee Lumpkin — who may be the most generous woman in town.  Her devotion to Radenko and Columbia Classical Ballet is the sole reason that company is alive, especially in the recent economic malaise.  I’m sure Radenko knows this.  Her support has allowed him to realize his dream — and it has allowed us to attend some quite excellent after-parties year after year.  Thanks to Lee and Mike for their hospitality and generosity.  You both rock.

January 14, 2010

Be true to your school, I do, they dance, no day but today, & Beer! Beer! Beer! — + strings & jeans

It seems that life is getting back to normal these days — the parties are over, the garland is down (most of it, anyway), and the routine is starting to set in — if you believe in routines, that is.  I’ve never been one to dig into the rut — too claustrophobic for me.  I can see why some folks find the rut functional –it’s safe and can be comforting, I guess.  But if the rut gets too deep, it becomes harder and harder to see out of it and the next thing you know, it becomes a maze — and then — you’re trapped.

I’ve always been a fan of second and third careers, changing majors mid-stream, and letting the flow take you where it may.  Life never gets dull — it’s a sin to be boring.  That said, this is what we’re doing this weekend, starting tonight.

On Thursday at 7, my eldest and her beloved are going with me to see the Women Gamecocks play some mighty bball at the Colonial Center.  The Beer Doc drags me to as many of his little sporty events as he can, but never seems to be going in the direction of the arena when the Big Girls play.  Yesterday, after mentioning that the guys were playing LSU last night and that we should all Go Cocks and the like, one of my new students, the amazing Ms. Ebony Wilson who happens to play guard for the Women Gamecocks — and no, don’t give me any of that “lady” Gamecock crap until you’re ready to call the boys the “Gentlemen” Gamecocks when they play ball — asked me if I was going to their game tonight.  Zap!  What kind of Women’s Studies instructor am I if I don’t go out and support some of the toughest and most talented women of the university?  So, I’ll be there waving the garnet foam finger that Annie gave me for Christmas — Gamecock women are #1, in my book now, and Ms. Ebony Wilson happens to wear a #1 on her jersey.  Tonight’s game will be preceded by the best chee-boogie & brew in town at my beloved Hunter Gatherer.

And then there’s Friday night.  If you read my last blog & review of the film, you know that I’ll be attending the 5:30 showing of La Danse at the Nick, which will be preceded by some used-to-be surprise nuptials of two dear friends.  For all intents and purposes, the I dos are still a surprise if you haven’t been formally invited to the wedding or if you aren’t friends with the folks — of friends with their friends — on Facebook.  So, everything that I wrote yesterday still stands if you find yourself still in the dark — and I hope to see you there. In the light, before the film starts.

But for me and the Beer Doc, we’ll be darting out the back door of the theatre about half way through so we can grab some snacks and libation before we head down to TRUSTUS to see Rent.  This will only be like my umpteenth time of seeing this play, all other times on Broadway, but I am just so excited about seeing Kevin Bush play Mark — a role that both he and Doogie Howser were made for.  It only runs through next weekend and tickets are slim pickin’s, so if you have your heart set on going, as well you should, call the theatre at 254-9732, and beg Joe for a ticket.

After Rent we hope to make it down to CMFA at 914 Pulaski Street to take part in my friend Aaron Pelzek et. al.’s artist-driven extravaganza, Playing After Dark #4 — Free Form.  Aaron and buddies have brought together an awesome group of artists who will bring you everything from art-in-the-making via my friend Karen Storay, to Sherry Warren’s choreography (also my bud), a local band called The Noise, puppetry, poetry by Charlene Spearen (yes, a bud), scenes from Jaques Brel is Alive and Well — a play I was just writing about in the Beer Book, oddly enough, and, hell, I don’t remember — a bunch of stuff.  My friend Jeffrey wrote a nice little ditty on this event on his blog at http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/.  The shenanigans start at 7:30 — which is why we’ll be coming in at the tail end, but never fail — the whole shebang is going to crank itself back up again Saturday night at the same time, same station.  Tickets are like $5, so seriously, head out to this event and show some love to local artist driven arts.  It’s the way it should be.

Which brings me to Saturday — the day of the second annual Columbia hosting of the World Beer Festival at the Columbia Convention Center.  There are two sessions, afternoon and evening.  Having made the mistake of attending as many sessions of beer events as offered before (read about this in Bob, Beer, and Me, coming out this spring/summer, by god!), we will only be attending the afternoon session — after which we will promptly crawl to our hotel room in the Vista and snooze until the evening festivities commence with yet another freaking basketball game — the Gentlemen Cocks, this time.  Is it possible to OD on sports?  Is that something that happens to the hard-core — read Beer Doc — or has he developed an immunity or a tolerance — built it up in his system, as it were, leaving him protected while his neophyte woman remains susceptible to sports poisoning and may just have to sneak out at half time, already clad in her blue jeans, to the Koger Center for some strings?  It is time for the Philharmonic’s Beethoven and Blue Jeans, after all.

After running in and dropping off a coat closet of old coats at the Art Bar last night — thanks to Chris Bickel for his generous offer of collecting a scad or two of coats for the cold during karaoke — I felt the yearning for the good Art Bar people in my soul, so the night should finish us up, just a few blocks from our hotel, at the best place to be in the city after 1 am.  We are so lucky to have that place.  Really, take a minute and thank your maker for the Art Bar.

Whatever your drug of choice, get drunk on the goodies going on in our beloved city this weekend.  I’ll see you around town.

Cheers, Y’all.

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.

September 8, 2009

Marcelo Novo, Twyla Tharp, the if ART Gallery, and the thrill of creativity

I spent an hour or so last week sitting down over coffee with local visual artist Marcelo Novo.  We wanted to talk about Marcelo’s contributions to the upcoming performance of the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company’s Catharsis, choreographed by Miriam Barbosa.  The take away message?  Collaboration is good and Marcelo Novo is brilliant.

The story of how Marcelo and Miriam met is interesting in that they were introduced after the 2004 Verner Awards ceremony by a  mutual friend who thought their common South American heritage would provide a pleasant point of departure for conversation — and it did.  They spent the evening conversing in Spanish, comparing notes on assimilation into North American culture, and talking about art.  When the evening was done the two artists parted as friends, exchanging numbers with the promise  that they would one day work together on something special. 

Still feeling the ache of his father’s passing, Marcelo’s art had recently been inspired it seemed by the need to cope — to get through difficulties, to survive and grow.  Miriam had also experienced some deeply personal challenges of late.  When the artists met over coffee, it was toward the concept of catharsis,  the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through art, that their interests leaned.  Within a year’s time the artists had developed the ballet Catharsis, and now, five years later, we get to take another look at this ballet with new dancers, new costumes, and new surprises.

For me though, the excitement of seeing the ballet this time will be enhanced by the fact that I feel like I’ve already seen it, when I really haven’t.  Yes, I sat in on a portion of rehearsal a while back and I saw brief pieces of a grainy film on a small screen, but no, I did not see the dance itself.  I saw something not necessarily better, but certainly more intimate. 

I was allowed the luxury of looking through Marcelo’s sketchbook and viewing the images of the ballet as it was born from that sequestered space in his subconscience through his hand, to his pen, and onto the paper.  Sketched sometimes on scrap pages, I saw the seminal work, the very beginnings of what would eventually be a fully realized artistic endeavor — the lines of the leotards, the surreal masks, the details of what would ultimately be quilted wings, tediously applied make up, and lights falling over dancers and onto a stage floor. 

Sometimes Marcelo recorded his thoughts in complete sentences and formed them into paragraphs that provided a narrative he would ultimately return to as the process of creation continued.  At other times he just jotted down words, phrases and visual flashes that sparked off of concepts that were revealing themselves to his consciousness at a rate too rapid to fully comprehend.  A teaser; something to come back to later.   There were frame-worthy sketches on coffee napkins — complete characters as well as small details of costume design.  It was astounding.

And as I write these words I know that the reader might think me fawning over the attractive Marcelo, but I’m not.  What I am in awe of though is this process of creation — no matter who gets to experience it.  Hell, I’m even thrilled with myself when I turn the clever and occasionally eloquent phrase.   As I told Marcelo, I am reminded of a book I picked up by the choreographer Twyla Tharp called, The Creative Habit, written in 2003.  Tharp opens the book with the words, “I walk into a white room …” and she goes on to explain how she transforms the emptiness of that white room through creativity into art.  “Filling this empty space constitutes my identity,” she says.  And I find that sentence humbling, too.

If like me, you’re a sucker for the creative process, your own or somebody else’s, check out these three things:  Catharsis, presented by the SCCDC on September 17th at 7pm at the Koger Center; the opening of Marcelo’s new show at the if ART gallery on Lincoln Street on the following night; and Twyla Tharp’s venture into the written word, The Creative Habit:  Learn it and Use it for Life.

 

Oh, and here are some important websites as well:  www.marcelonovo.blogspot.com and www.ifartgallery.blogspot.com

August 25, 2009

Bubba Cromer

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Bubba Cromer.  In many ways, Bubba is Columbia’s own little personification of the gothic South.  He is our color chartreuse; our fried Moon pie.  Both our Bible salesman and our Joy Hopewell, to Bubba we are all good country people.  Bubba Cromer is what would happen if John Waters and Andy Griffith had a child.  More than anything though, I am a fan of Bubba Cromer because he is ours — and everyone knows how I feel about loving our own.

I recently wrote an article about Bubba for Lake Murray Magazine and it was published just a few days after he had found out that his beloved dog, Biscuit, who is pictured with Bubba alongside the story, was diagnosed with cancer.  We lost our golden retriever Bradie a few years back from the same diagnosis, and the crack that started in my heart that day hasn’t stopped spreading yet.  Bubba called me to thank me for the story, but had a hard time keeping his voice about him as he expressed his kind thoughts.  This is another reason that I’m a fan of Bubba’s.

The State hasn’t put the article online yet and I’m not sure that they will.  So here’s my own copy of the story, and you’ll notice that I included the website for Bubba’s films.  (It was cut from my story.)  If you don’t already have your own copy of  The Long Journey Home or The Hills Have Thighs, then now is a good time to do some shopping.

 

A Coach Cromer Production:

 Filmmaking with South Carolina Attorney – James Bubba Cromer

 

By Cynthia Boiter

 

            When considering the case of James Bubba Cromer – former South Carolina State Representative, novelist, attorney, recipient of the Governor’s Order of the Palmetto, Bigfoot aficionado and Reading Clerk for the South Carolina House of Representatives – it’s not always easy to take seriously this southern boy extraordinaire.  Goofy, tall and sweet-cheeked, with a drawl like molasses and the manners of a Baptist minister, Bubba Cromer may be the kind of award winning enigma it’s tough to take seriously.

            But seriously folks, you should.

            Over the past three years, Cromer has written, produced, directed and starred in two independent Southern cult films:  The Long Way Home:  A Bigfoot Story in 2007 and, released earlier this year, The Hills Have Thighs:  An Appalachian Comedy.    While The Long Way Home has won numerous awards including Best Narrative Feature Film at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2007, and The Hills Have Thighshas also been received with significant acclaim, neither of these films is what one might expect from an ersatz southern politico with a law office downtown and a resume replete with offices held and awards earned. That’s because on paper Bubba seems like a typical successful southern guy.  In film though, he’s really something different.

            Bubba’s films are exercises in comedic absurdity, embracing the extremes of loony-ness and going beyond the quirky, all the while telling loosely entertaining tales.  His casts of neo-gothic characters fall one notch below freaky with everyone from snake handlers to drag queens to an Appalachian gangster with a penchant for hallucinogenic plants.  Names like Drip Drywall, Velveeta Adams, Tree-Tree Davenport and Pooter Brown dot the scripts, if scripts there be, and scenes take place, for the most part, in and about the funny side of the Blair Witch Woods.

            Suffice it to say, a Coach Cromer production is no more a typical independent film than Bubba is a typical South Carolina attorney.  

            A 1980 graduate of Dreher High School, Bubba attended Clemson University and the University of South Carolina School of Law.  As the prize for winning a best legs contest at a South Carolina bar – the drinking, not the judicial kind – Bubba was flown to Hollywood ostensibly to be cast in a California Wine Cooler Commercial.  Instead, the ever resourceful Bubba used the free trip as an opportunity to shop himself to Hollywood law offices where he was successfully hired as an associate at a Los Angeles law firm.  After two years on the west coast however, homesickness got the best of the Southern boy and, as Bubba says, he sucked up his pride, tucked his tail between his legs and hauled his sad self back home.

            The next few years would find Bubba practicing law, writing a novel, serving two terms as the only Independent member of the South Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction, and being elected as the Reading Clerk for the South Carolina House of Representatives for ten years straight.  Interestingly enough, throughout it all, at no time did the future filmmaker even entertain the idea of making a motion picture.

            According to Cromer, it was almost four years ago when he and his parents were having cocktails at his family’s mountain get-away near Brevard, North Carolina when “yet another ridiculous Bigfoot Documentary crawled across the television screen.”

            Exasperated, Bubba declared to his father that even he “could make a better Bigfoot Movie than that!”   

            To which his dad replied, “Well son, here’s a hundred dollars that says you can’t.” 

            It was based solely on this dare that Bubba took on the initial filmmaking project from which The Long Way Home:  A Bigfoot Story sprang. 

            “I never expected that making a movie could be so much fun; so satisfying,” Bubba says.

            Influenced by innovative and favorite filmmakers like John Waters, David Lynch and Christopher Guest, Bubba plied the praise and criticism he received from both patrons and professionals on his first project into his second venture, The Hills Have Thighs, focusing more intently on quirky comedy.  The result is a mystery movie that Bubba himself describes aptly as “a piece of my warped and twisted mind.”

            Does that mean that the filmmaker-slash-attorney doesn’t take himself any more seriously than his loyal following is prone to do? 

            Actually, yes.

            “My films, I take seriously,” Bubba explains.  “But taking yourself too seriously is a dangerous road upon which I have no intention of traveling.  People who take themselves seriously are seldom very happy.”

            To that end the storyteller offers up the tale of one of his favorite moments in his short filmmaking career.  It was earlier this year at an advance screening of The Hills Have Thighs in Charleston and a hundred people were squeezed into a sixty person-sized room to see the premier.  The movie was well underway when a group of six disgruntled viewers made a commotion of haughtily leaving the theater in protest, slamming the door behind them.

            “The room was quiet for a moment after the slam, and then suddenly the remaining 94 viewers erupted in applause,” Bubba recalls.  “I knew then that I had my audience.”

            Seriously.

 

(For more information about Bubba Cromer’s films, including sneak peeks, viewing and ordering information, visit his website at http://www.thehillshavethighs.com.)

August 19, 2009

Miriam Barbosa and The South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company

I had the opportunity to spend an hour this afternoon watching a rehearsal by Miriam Barbosa’s new group, the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company.  Miriam gathers her dancers into a small but nicely sprung space that is just by her Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis studio down an alley off Lady Street. 

The company is rehearsing a program they have scheduled for next month at the Koger Center.  They’ll be performing two exciting pieces.  The first one on the docket is the Maple Leaf Rag — the last piece Martha Graham choreographed  before her death — and the piece that was inspired by her 1989 visit to South Carolina.  Miriam dances the principal part to music by Scott Joplin, but her other dancers are amply used in this whimsical number that is fun and upbeat and not nearly as somber as many of Graham’s other choreographic works.  It makes me happy to think that this was the music and these were the movements last on Ms. Graham’s mind before she shuffled off to the next realm.  Happy, peaceful and fun.

The second number the company will be performing is a re-do of one of Miriam’s pieces, Catharsis, on which she collaborated with local visual artist Marcelo Novo.  I saw a lot of what I’ve come to recognize as classic Barbosa choreography in this piece — fullness, strangeness, lyricism, and athleticism.  It’s almost as if the limited dimensions of the dance floor aren’t enough for Barbosa, so she takes her dancers into the air and actually suspends a few of them them in flight above the stage.  This dance was harder to visualize in the studio but Miriam let me watch the video of a previous performance done in 2006.  She’s changing up her costumes a bit and has Barry Sparks, Columbia’s great thaumaturge of all things light and sound, doing her lighting, so there’s even more to look forward to from this performance.

But probably the most exciting thing about my experience this afternoon was seeing a number of familiar faces from other local dance troupes working together on the floor.  There was Maurice and Misha and Eddie from William’s house; and Sergei and Julia from down at John’s; English from up at the university — just to name a few.  It was a cooperative dance in a city that is full of outstanding dancers, but hasn’t always been known for letting them share their talents with one another — or with us, their audience.

Kudos to Miriam Barbosa for bringing these artists together and making this company happen.  And kudos, too, to Marvin Chernoff and Chuck LeMark who are standing behind her as she does so.  I look forward to seeing the performance on the night of September 17th at the Koger Center — and I look forward to seeing what else this company can bring to our city’s stages.

I’ll be writing more on the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company in the next issue of Stir Magazine — in the meantime, for more info take a look at their website at www.scdanceco.com.

April 23, 2009

From Indie Grits to River Run

Filed under: Columbia,films,Indie Grits — cynthiaboiter @ 15:06

I wish I could blame the fact that I’m not writing this afternoon on the weather — it is so beautiful outside, and the clematis are blooming so big and blue and purple.  The cats are all out on the screened porch watching a blue bird couple build their next — and I think they look so cute, while in fact I know that each little monster is plotting exactly how she or he would eviscerate the birds and their babies if they could be gotten hold of.  Zora, I’m sure, (namesake = Zora Neal Hurston), would Hannibalize them slowly, Jonathan Demme-style, while Alice, (namesake = Alice Walker) who is more of a John Candy — may he rest in peace — would feast on them all in one setting a la’ Mr. Creosote.  Eating for Alice IS the meaning of life, after all.  The babies, Joe (named after our recently deceased uncle who was an expert on Faulkner and whiskey) and Jimmy (pronounced Yimmy, according to Bob, whose namesake is the still alive and kicking James Earl Carter), would likely act brave at first and then hide under the Larken desk at the first flutter.  Wimps.

But the reason I’m not writing has more to do with my own thoughts fluttering around an email I got this morning which went in to great detail about an activity I used to enjoy slightly north of us.  

Now, I know this is late notice, and as a humble patron I’m certainly not the go-to person for what’s happening in the arts in the Carolinas, but I do want to share one bit of info with those of you who are film freaks like me, or who were recently turned on to indie cinema via Indie Grits.  (For local info please see the final word on arts in Columbia at http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/)

The Film School at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC puts on a truly amazing International Film Festival each year called the River Run International Film Festival, and today is the second day of this year’s fest.  The films show April 22 – 29th and tickets can be purchased at www.riverrun.com, the same place where you can also preview films and check out the schedule.

I have a very special place in my heart for Winston-Salem and the North Carolina School of the Arts, given that both Annie and Bonnie graduated from high school there in ’05 and ’06 (both as high school student body presidents, by the way — sorry Girls, couldn’t help myself).  I miss the school and the film festival, the galleries and all the wonderful little places to eat and drink downtown.  So, if you make it up to River Run, please be sure to go by Mary’s Of Course for breakfast and have a bite of salmon at The Filling Station, too.  And please be sure to let me know you’ve been so I can grill you with questions about how things are holding up up there.

Now this is an older, larger, better financed festival than the Grits festival and, most importantly, Grits has a different mission: ” To break down any walls that may intimidate first time media makers by creating exhibition opportunities for work that might not make it into other festivals,” and to “present a fun, exciting and enlightening opportunity for experienced and first-time media makers to come together and share their interest in independent media production.”  So check your expectations at the door whenever you visit either of these events. 

But please do visit.

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