Something I forgot to mention earlier with all the talk of death — there’s a lot of spring and rebirth on stage at the festival as well. And weather-wise this may be the most beautiful opening weekend I’ve experienced.
But I wasn’t out in it much. I was inside and most of that time in new venues for the festival. The first was the early 20th century home of the Charleston Library Society where the “Conversations” series is being held. Not all that old by Charleston standards, it has that charming shabbiness for which the city was once famous. Yes there’s still grit and grime, but there are also many places like Rack Room Shoes and the Dunkin’ Donuts on King and the TD Arena on Meeting, the last of these serving as a venue while the Gaillard Auditorium is being rebuilt. Looks OK outside, but boy is it ugly and soul-less inside. And finding the correct seat seems to be giving audiences and ushers headaches.
Saturday afternoon it has plenty of soul with the dance company Compagnie Kafig. I’ll not say much about their overall performance right now, but found something other groups have done that’s worth talking about. That’s doing something magical with almost nothing, which they did with plastic cups and raincoats. Tristan Sturrock did all sorts of wonderful things with a toy helicopter. At that first Conversations, one of the puppeteers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream turned his bottle of water into a living, breathing creature. The guys at the Marion Square Farmers Market can do something incredible with a couple of simple things — shrimp and grits.
If you have the right ingredients and know how to use them, it works.
The Spoleto Festival is supposed to be about something life-affirming; at least that’s what someone says at the opening ceremonies.
I’ve generally thought of that as just a generalization handily trotted out. Yeah, yeah, of course the arts are life-affirming, except for completely nihilistic works.
Although we hinted at it yesterday, that sunny, breezy beautiful opening day wasn’t the time to bring up the theme that has already emerged in the festival: death. Now it’s not all bad because while it may be about slipping off this mortal coil and the fragility and briefness of this life, it is also, yep, life-affirming.
To repeat a few things from yesterday: this year’s festival is dedicated to its first chairman Ted Stern, who died in January at 100; this is choral music director Joe Flummerfelt’s last festival; and chamber music series founder Charles Wadsworth will give his final public performance at the festival.
The opening chamber concert featured the monumental Quintet in C Major by Schubert with two cellos to make it darker. This was Schubert’s last work, written just two months before he died at 31 in 1828. Talk about the fragility of life and the unfairness; Schubert wasn’t considered a very important composer during his life and this quintet wasn’t performed until 32 years after his death. Schubert knew death wasn’t far off and this can be heard in the works from his final and finest few years.
In the opera Matzukaze, death is more obvious when the ghosts of two sisters appear to a traveling monk. The 2011 opera by leading Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa had its U.S. premiere Friday night in an original production by the festival in conjunction with the Lincoln Center Festival. The ghosts in Matzukaze are not the quiet sort — they’re sopranos. The opera set on a sea coast took on added significance when just months after it was written, Japan was hit by a deadly earthquake and tsunami.
Departures were very much a part of the first few hours of the 37th Spoleto Festival.At opening ceremonies foremost in the remembrance was Ted Stern, the founding chairman of the festival board, who died in January at 100 and to whom the 2013 festival is dedicated. Joseph Flummerfelt, director of choral music since the festival started and who leaves the festival when this one ends, was up on the stage. On the front row down at Broad and Meeting sat festival chamber music founder Charles Wadsworth, who will be making his final public performances at the final chamber concert. Up by Flummerfelt was Ellen Dressler Moryl, who recently retired as director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, a post she’s held almost continuously since it was established 35 years ago. And there was Joe Riley, who can’t be mayor forever, but who seems to be doing fine.
I’ve attended about 20 of these opening ceremonies and sometimes dread going. But even if the words were not particularly inspired this time out, the sentiments were, and the importance of recognizing those who made the festival possible — those who are, as Flummerfelt put it, “leaving the stage” — was genuinely moving.
When we heard that Spoleto SCENE was hosting their Le Grand C after-party at a South of Broad mansion, we expected a fancy affair. But like the French acrobatic show, which is a more bare-bones spectacle than the commercialized Cirque du Soleil, the party was a laid-back affair where old friends mingled with new.
The soiree took place on the first floor veranda and interior parlors of 1 Meeting Street, all lit up with red lighting. A champagne cocktail made with lemonade, Brut, and Cathead vodka was too sweet, and made us wish for a simple Lillet cocktail to complement the French performance. The food assembled in the center of the table was similarly off-theme, a smorgasbord of cupcakes and cookies that had us fantasizing about macarons and brie. It sat mostly untouched, rejected by those experienced enough to know that Spoleto season is a marathon, not a sprint.
But a boring food spread was balanced by a great line-up of characters. Editor Cator Sparks mingled with friends while textile designer Harper Poe talked fashion with Kari Kaldon. Performer Anne de Buck tossed her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter in the air along to the music of pianist Laura Ball, as savvy patrons gave each other knowing looks as if to say, “That one’s going to grow up to be an acrobat.” Members of the SCENE steering committee, among them Matt Mill and MacKenzie Kay, circulated through the rooms making conversation and introductions, a subtle tactic that can transform a party from a collection of cliques into a cohesive event.
Le Grand C performer Birta Benonysdottir chatted with partygoers about the company’s previous stops in Mexico City and Buenos Aires. When asked about her reaction to the news that they’d be traveling to Charleston, she demurred, admitting that “I didn’t know what South Carolina was.” It was a great reminder of how unique Charleston truly is, despite national trends and meaningless rankings. Nashville may have Husk, but they’ll never have Spoleto.
Yesterday, City Paper photographer Jonathan Boncek stopped in to the Memminger Auditorium to check out the members of Compagnie XY as they prepared for their show Le Grand C, which officially opens tonight after two preview performances. You can read our interview with the acrobats here, but if you want to see them in person, you'd better go ahead and buy your tickets. We hear it's one of the most popular offerings on the festival lineup thus far.