Saturday, June 11, 2016

Spoleto has an identity crisis with Golem, Opposing Forces

Who Are You?

Posted by Chris Haire on Sat, Jun 11, 2016 at 3:41 PM

During the final week of Spoleto, the arts festival found itself in a bit of quandary. With the bulk of the fest behind it, and after exploring the black experience for days on end, Spoleto was having an identity crisis.

Now mind you, it wasn't your typical identity crisis. If you can attach sentiences to something like an arts festival, Spoleto knows exactly who and what it is: a world-class celebration of dance, theater, jazz, classical music, and opera.

This identity crisis was of a different sort entirely, for the question of identity was very much at the heart of this week's offerings, from Gate Theater's production of The Importance of Being Earnest and its well-crafted stage to A Gambler's Guide to Dying in which writer/actor Gary McNair tries to present an honest portrait of a larger-than-life man but only further adds to the myth-making.

No other performance tackled the subject of identity with more introspective gusto than choreographer Amy O'Neal's breakdancing think piece Opposing Forces. With five dancers of different ethnic backgrounds under her charge, O'Neal crafted a clever, thrilling, and occasionally too plodding examination of masculinity and femininity, a feat she somehow managed to do using only male dancers.

While the deejay WD4D provided the musical backdrop and a series of interviews directly addressed the central subject of gender stereotypes and sexual identity, Opposing Forces asked the audience to question their beliefs via a rather novel approach: she took old-school B-Boys, breakdancers if you will, and had them dance in a manner that we would consider more feminine. Admittedly, it was strange to see a burly B-Boy dance with all the tender and fragile grace of a ballerina, but the movement was still just as beautiful.

And therein lies O'Neal's central conceit: there is no masculine style of dancing and no feminine style of dancing. It is all just dancing and it is all just an expression of how a specific individual feels.

Some might talk of individuals being on a gender-identity spectrum, and that is all well and good. (We can dismiss the fascists who believe that gender identity is fixed from birth, and believe you me, this applies to both the straight and LGBT communities.) However, O'Neal suggests the possibility that the spectrum itself is a self-imposed prison as much as traditional male-female gender roles. 

Sadly, and at least judging by the opening night performance, far too few Spoletians saw this bold, thought-provoking performance. Perhaps those who attended the show hyped it to their friends, families, and potential ticket-holders and the remaining performances of Opposing Forces was packed, I don't know. I certainly hope that was the case. But to be quite honest with you, the hip-hop elements of O'Neal's show may not have appealed to a sizable segment of the Spoleto audience. Regardless, I would very much like to see the festival continue to publicly debate whether or not breakdancing is a part of its identity. I think it very much is, especially if the same care is put into the work as O'Neal and her dancers put into theirs. 

Questions about identity, specifically questions about the nature of individualism, are of chief concern in the theatrical troupe 1927's Golem, a Frankensteinian tale about the dangers of technology-driven consumerism. (And yes, I know that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein owes a tremendous debt to the Jewish mythology of the golem. In this case, "Frankensteinian" is simply a more effective shorthand.) 

Much like 1927's previous Spoleto offerings, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Golem combined live music and acting with animation to a delirious and delightful affect.

As usual, the mechanics behind the troupe's latest production was a marvel to behold. But the central conceit of the work — namely, that smart phones and Amazon.com were turning us into mindless consumers — was one that would have seemed far more biting had it been released at the turn of the millennium during the glory days of Adbusters and with the cinematic release of Fight Club. Golem's critique was far too simple, ignoring the ways that the iPhone, the iPad, and their imitators have fundamentally changed society. 

Yes, there are cookies that track your every purchase and search, and they're being used to curate a list of products to sell to you that are unique to you, but few view that application of technology as being particularly intrusive or threatening. After all, we still have to order the products they're selling. We don't just buy everything that is thrown in our faces. 

As fascinating and fun and funny as Golem was — it was certainly worthy of applause and praise — I wished 1927 had really pushed their explorations even further, addressing the impact of social media, constant political propaganda, and a never-ending supply of free porn has on the lives on smart phone and tablet owners. The internet has put our every desire, or at least some facsimile thereof, in our very hands, and it all can be had with a simple tap of a button.

The internet doesn't dictate to us who we are and what we do. It amplifies who we are and what we do. It unlocks the doors that once prevented us from exploring whatever subject we wanted, it destroys societal taboos, it frees us to say and do whatever we like, and it does so to both good and evil ends. Our technology is a blessing and a curse. It perverts and it empowers. But in the end, there is no question what it has revealed to us, both collectively and individually. It has shown us our true selves. 


Friday, June 10, 2016

Tickets will not be available at the Spoleto Finale gates

Get 'em while they're hot

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 11:58 AM

JULIA LYNN
  • Julia Lynn
If you're planning on heading out to the Spoleto Finale at Middleton Place on Sunday, make sure to buy your finale tickets beforehand. Due to strong advance sales, Spoleto has decided not to sell tickets to the finale at the door. Tickets will be available for purchase online until  11:59 p.m. on Saturday, and will call pickup is available at the gates, although long lines are to be expected. Gates open at 3:30 p.m.

For more on the show's headlining act, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, check out our preview. And if you need help packing a picnic basket, read some of our best tips here. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Fully Committed adds additional show this Sat. June 11

Make your reservations now

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 2:15 PM

Threshold Rep truly is, well, fully committed. With an overwhelming number of sold out shows, Threshold decided to add one more performance of the one-man comedy show, Fully Committed, to this year's Piccolo Spoleto schedule.

Starring actor Adam Miles, the play about the reservations manager at a fancy NYC restaurant, introduces audiences to 40 characters — all played by Miles. Check out our review of the show here. Grab tickets to the final show, June 11 at 9 p.m. before they're gone, here.
PROVIDED
  • Provided

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

We got an early look at 'Opposing Forces'

Pushing Back

Posted by Sam Spence on Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 5:38 PM

SAM SPENCE
  • Sam Spence
Choreographer Amy O'Neal's 'Opposing Forces' opens tonight at Memminger Auditorium. The hour-long dance show features the breakdancing we're used to seeing with nuances contributed by O'Neal in a show to challenge everyday norms of gender, race, and class.

We got an early look at 'Opposing Forces' today, here's how Connelly Hardaway previewed the highly-touted show, and check out the video below:
The performance, which ranges from fun moments of almost boy band-like group choreography, to darker moments of solo dancers standing among others lying on the ground, is both of the stage and the street. It has to be, for the B-Boys to be who they are, and to become what the show asks of them.
'Opposing Forces' opens tonight and runs through the 10th and choreographer Amy O'Neal will teach a master class on 'Street Dance Styles' on Saturday.

Opposing Forces Hightlights Reel from Amy O on Vimeo.

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Randy Weston celebrates his roots, the Post and Courier ignores theirs

Healing Music, Wounding Words

Posted by Chris Haire on Sat, Jun 4, 2016 at 11:13 AM

JULIA LYNN PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Julia Lynn Photography
Snoop Dogg is one of those rare artists who is no longer beholden to the rules that govern other artists, whether they're actors, singers, or writers. He no longer has to release a new album to stay in the public consciousness. He doesn't have to star in another movie or a reality show to remind us who the D-O-Double G is. Snoop Dogg is Snoop Dogg even when he proclaimed that he was the reincarnation of Bob Marely and renamed himself Snoop Lion. He is just as iconic of a character in American culture as Charlie Brown or, well, Snoopy.

But unlike that dynamic duo, Snoop isn't bound by the printed page. He's a living, breathing cartoon character who has a stable of catchphrases benefiting a proper denizen of the funny pages. Good grief, my nizzle. 

But like Cathy or Garfield or Hagar the Horrible, we don't seek out the guidance of comic creations when it comes to the issues of the day. We seek them out for laughs.

And so, when I first began seeing reports that Snoop Dogg was calling for a boycott of the new Roots mini-series, I figured this was little more than the latest Funny or Die video. Sadly, this wasn't the case. The one-time gang member and murder suspect was upset because the story of the courageous Kunta Kinte propagated negative stereotypes about African Americans. The irony was surely lost on Snoop, but then again, he was likely stoned when he took to the interwebs to condemn the critically acclaimed History Channel production. 

That said, Snoop's reticence to watch Roots is certainly understandable. It's certainly not light-hearted fare like the rapper-singer's Soul Plane, that wretched Starsky and Hutch remake, or the 2012 straight-to-video stoner comedy Mac and Devin Go to High School. However, the tale of Kunta Kinte, or at least his real-life counterparts, is a vitally important one that must be told. Like stories about the Holocaust, these stories must be told time and time again because there are forces among us who wish to erase those moments from our shared, sometimes shameful, but always hopeful, history.

But even worse than the deniers and the whitewashers, of which there are many, there are the hordes of the indifferent, those wretched milquetoasts of cowardly, non-confrontational dispositions who would gladly ignore the parts of history that remind them of all the ways in which their nations and their religions have been responsible for the most unimaginable atrocities. If we don't confront these things, then we fail to appreciate the victories that we have achieved and the debts that we owe to our righteous and courageous forebears. 

Randy Weston understands this. In fact, the jazz great, and black nationalist, has such a great appreciation for his heritage that he has built a career exploring the roots of American music in Africa, a fact that anyone familiar with our nation's contributions to the world of music — jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll, soul, hip-hop — knows all quite well.

Weston celebrates the fact that Africa's contributions to music go much further than simply inspiring American musical forms. All music began in Africa. As the jazz man told us in his thrilling performance Thursday night at the Gaillard Center, the continent is our collective ancestral home, and it is there that our kin first took up percussion instruments and began to sing in order to mimic the symphony that Mother Nature had surrounded them with. This music also provided mankind with one of its most basic forms of communications. Today, it's clear that there's something about music, in particular the sounds of Africa, that triggers a hard-wired part of our being. We feel it in a physical way that we don't other forms of art. Our bodies instinctively respond to it. Surely, this has something to do with, as Weston says, the rhythm of our hearts. The beat just isn't in our blood, it powers it.

Throughout the evening, Weston and his five compadres wowed the Gaillard audience with trance-like passages that were overtaken by passionate bursts in which the individual players celebrated their instruments with an unbridled joy. T.K. Blue (alto saxophone and flute) and Billy Harper (tenor saxophone) crafted intricate melodies that were one-part tongue twister and two-parts acid trip, while percussionist Neil Clarke and stand-up bassist Alex Blake surely pushed their chosen instruments to what one imagines is one beating shy of their breaking points. For the record, I would gladly follow Blake into battle, against either Donald Trumps' stormtroopers or the White Walkers — and I would do it with a smile on my face. I have honestly never seen a happier collection of musicians. 

And it makes sense. Weston believes that all music is magic and all musicians are healers who lift us up when we are feeling down. I would imagine this even applies to mournful or angry works as well, since there is a cathartic release that comes when a sad song plays or a particularly punishing round of heavy riffing comes to a close.

But what happens when you deny your roots — regardless of whether those roots are good or ill? What happens when you deny yourself that catharsis that can only come when you face your fears, your demons, your sins? Where there is this denial, there can never be healing. 

Which brings us to one of the more disconcerting parts of the current Spoleto season. Mind you this has nothing to do with Spoleto Festival USA. Nothing. It's all about our local daily newspaper, The Post and Courier, and their inability to honestly look at their history regarding not just racial matters, but Porgy and Bess

In the months leading up to Spoleto, I wondered just how the P&C would treat Porgy and Bess. Would they acknowledge the various criticisms that have been leveled at the opera? Would they discuss the work's controversial history? Would they discuss the role that their parent paper the News and Courier played in Porgy's history? Needless to say, I didn't expect them to delve into any of this in great detail. Instead, I reasoned their coverage would amount to little more than a celebration of the opera and its ties to Charleston. 

So consider me surprised when the Post and Courier actually mentioned that an attempt to stage Porgy and Bess in the 1950s fell through because of a fight over desegregated theaters. While that was true, the P&C couldn't help but try to cover up the sins of the past, either so as not to offend the bigots in our midst or to protect the paper itself. Perhaps both. No, surely both.

According to the daily, the Gershwin estate nixed the production, which, incidentally had already been hosting rehearsals. While the estate may have objected to segregated theaters elsewhere or at some later point, that's not what stopped the 1954 Charleston production. What prevented Porgy and Bess from being performed for the first time in the Holy City was the bigotry of the then-leaders of the Dock Street Theatre, who refused to allow blacks and whites to sit side-by-side in the audience, intermingling and mixing. It's a troubling omission, but one that becomes all the more glaring when you consider the role the News and Courier, in particular its long-time editor Thomas Waring, played in all of this.

In the years after DuBose Heyward published his novel Porgy, the work from which the celebrated opera was adapted, Waring became something of the book's chief promoter, according to the stellar 2012 book by Ellen Noonan, The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess. Following Heyward's death, Waring transformed into the chief propagandists of all things Porgy and Bess, mythologizing the work, its Charleston creator, and its connection to our town. That his good friend Dorothy Heyward, the wife of the Porgy author, had something to financially gain from all of must have surely played a role in this coverage, despite the ethically questionable nature of it. 

Waring was also a loathsome bigot, who, among other things, believed that desegregation would lead to the extermination of the white race. To make matters worse, Waring was still a proud supporter of segregation and Jim Crow in 1985.

With all of that mind, it should come as no shock that Waring was miffed that the black community in Charleston objected to a segregated theater for the show. He even had the gall to assign blame to outside agitators. Like many paternalistic bigots, Waring viewed blacks as a largely compliant race who willingly and happily accepted the tenants of Jim Crow. (As a side note, despite hosting the production, the Dock Street Theatre refused to allow the show to take place in its historic theater. Make of that what you will.)

In regards to the canceled show, Waring wrote, "In demanding that the audience be racially mingled, in disregard of South Carolina laws and customs, these Negroes in our opinion have not helped to promote good race relations. If upsetting these customs is the only terms on which they will participate, it is better that the project be abandoned."

He even went as far as say the white community would likely refuse "to make other attempts at public cooperation" because of this outcry and that the protest was another "wedge driven between the races." And it was. Make no mistake about it. But not in the way that Waring imagined in his bigoted little mind. The wedge hadn't been driven by the black community, but by Charleston's white community which insisted that African-Americans remain second-class citizens.

What makes all of this — the omissions, the deception — even more troubling is the fact that to the best of my knowledge the Post and Courier has never acknowledged the role that this family-owned company played in fostering racial animosity, if not hate, in the Holy City. Today, the daily is more than happy to write about the shameful past of the white terrorist and former South Carolina governor "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman, but it's not so willing to look at the bigotry in their own house. Hell, it didn't take a stand against the Confederate flag until after the Mother Emanuel shooting and it continues to ignore the fact that current College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell defended the racist barbecue baron Maurice Bessinger in the early 2000s. 

If the Post and Courier is unwilling to face their shameful past and to admit to the pain they have cause the black community in Charleston, the harm they encouraged, they can never heal — this town can never heal. Yes, the P&C can talk about post-Emanuel unity all they want, but as it stands today, we cannot expect the paper to honestly cover racial issues if it can't honestly address their own bigotry, by omission or otherwise.
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