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

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 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 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.

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