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.

April 7, 2009

Hootie patootie?

Well, if nothing else the Columbia City Ballet’s presentation of the Hootie Ballet has gotten people talking.  Interestingly enough though, many of the people talking don’t know what they are talking about.  And I don’t mean that in a snide way — I mean it literally.  So many of the people with opinions on the subject either did not attend the ballet or never had any intention of attending it.  Which raises the question — how did they arrive at such incredibly authoritative positions on an arts adventure that they had absolutely no authoritative information about?  Fascinating.

I mean, I’ll be the first person to admit that if one really doesn’t care for the repertoire or the style of a musical group then ones chances of enjoying seeing them perform drop dramatically.   The thoughts of seeing someone dance out an interpretive piece on the work of Toby Keith or Kenny Chesney, for example, makes me a little nauseous.   So in other words, if you don’t like Hootie, then you don’t like Hootie and you’re dismissed from the discussion.  You didn’t do anything wrong — you’re dismissed because you don’t have an open mind about Hootie, having already arrived at a stance on the music, very much the way that my closed mind would disqualify me from the discussion if we were talking about a Toby Keith hoe down.  And again, let me just say ugh.

Music having been dealt with, then let’s move on to dance.

It is quite fashionable to criticize one ballet company or another in this city, dependent primarily upon who you know who dances or what you’ve heard about the artistic director.  There are really only a handful of folks who regularly attend the majority of dance events in our city.  I know this because I am one of them and I see who else is there.  Given this rather unscientific conclusion that I have made, I posit the obvious — that having seen only one or two performances by only one or two companies does not make one an expert on Columbia ballet, and certainly does not make one capable of predicting the quality of dance that will be showcased on any given night. 

In other words, for every principal dancer in a company, there is the dancer who just barely made the cut – hence there is a wide variety of talent on display no matter what company you’re talking about.  Factor in the good nights and bad nights that every dancer experiences with the dancers who may be dancing corps roles now but are on the cusp of breaking through to soloist positions (and these really always are the ones to watch — the ones who are still fighting their way up), and all predictions are off. 

Therefore, if you are a person who, a priori, arrived at the position that the Hootie ballet arts adventure was going to be sub-par based on the assumption that the dancing and or choreography was going to be poor, then you have shot yourself in the foot and therefore don’t have a leg to dance on.  Not because Columbia City Ballet is always good, but because Columbia City Ballet, like almost all arts organizations, is sometimes good.  It is absolutely illogical to summarily dismiss an arts event because you think you are certain an event is going to suck. 

Now, I’m not talking chances here as that would require mathematical abilities I do not care to engage.  What were the chances the show would be good or the chances it would be bad — yeah, I’m not going there.  It should also be said that if you have seen a specific artist or arts organization many, many times, as have some of our local ballet aficionados and, through your exposure, you have learned that you do not care for the particular dance or choreography coming out of a specific camp, then I am not talking to you.  You have made an informed decision, rather than floating along on the breeze that is popular discourse.  That is the prerogative of someone who really follows the arts.

I bring the whole argument up primarily in response to comments made on the Free Times blog about the Hootie ballet, prior to the ballet event.  Most people who commented were either definitively certain the performance would suck or definitively certain the performance would be stellar.  Neither stance made much sense prior to the show.

But what I’m really talking about here is not logic or premature and ill-informed judgement.  What I’m really talking about is the vast number of luke warm arts patrons out there who, let’s face it, want to look cool.  And that, my friends, is just sad.  With barely enough artistic energy to combat the nay-sayers who argue that there is little to no room for the arts in our economically threatened environment at all, how silly is it for patrons and artists themselves to expend an ounce of that valuable resource on becoming nay-sayers as well?

When it was all said and done, the show wasn’t bad; it wasn’t bad at all. 

But interestingly, having seen the show both Friday and Saturday nights due to ticket issues, the Friday night show was quite different from the show on Saturday night, which I preferred by far.  And this proves my point again.

I’m not an expert on ballet, but I am quite good at being a ballet patron, having seen upwards of a hundred performances by companies like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet, the Kirov, the Bolshoi and more, not to mention quite a few by the student company at the NC School of the Arts and almost everything any of our local companies have done for the past twenty years.  That said, there were some fine moments in the Hootie Ballet.  Regina Willoughby and Maurice Johnson are beautiful dancers even when they are just taking class, and Katie Smoak and Jose Serano have enough energy and stage presence for the entire company.  Of course, as an armchair artistic director there were certainly things I would have done differently, (most notably doing away with the finger spin at the temple crazy mime in I Only Want to Be With You), but who knows how it wouldhave turned out.

But one thing I can safely say is that the crowds for the most part were happy.  And if just a few of those first-time ballet go-ers come back to see this company or another company dance — or if they learn that the arts aren’t quite so stuffy as they thought and they come out for Artista Vista, or to see a play at Trustus, or they hit a gallery opening and check out some visuals and munch on some free nuts — then good.  Good for William Starret, good for all of Columbia ballet, good for Hootie, and good for Columbia.

Good for the world of art.  Good for the world.

(Disclaimer — I am a Hootie junkie.)

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