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
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
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.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Cornering a Spoleto performer on an elevator is what SCENE parties are all about

Going down?

Posted by Kinsey Gidick on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 11:24 AM

  • Caroline Enten

Two major events occurred last night at the SCENE party in celebration of artist Aakash Odedra:
  1. The reappearance of a delicious pork-based snack, this time taking form in pulled BBQ sandwiches
  2. The debut of a Spoleto performer at a party in their honor

More to come on my encounter with Odedra, but first, allow me to set the scene.

At precisely 7:30 p.m., I confidently rode the elevator inside The Restoration up to the rooftop bar, The Watch. I poked around the deck and back room of the bar looking for the party, pausing briefly to admire what is definitely one of the best “new” views in town. Something, however, was not right. The lack of attractive men in floral sportcoats tipped me off and I realized that I must be in the wrong place. After a few minutes of questioning the restaurant hosts, I found myself kindly escorted to another building entirely by hotel employee and all-around-nice-guy, Dawayne Prioleau. As usual, off to a great start.
Requisite handsome man in floral sportscoat - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Requisite handsome man in floral sportscoat

Unflustered, I checked-in, received my wristband sans probleme, and sashayed over to the prominent Gentry Bourbon display in the courtyard entrance to the hotel. The super attractive reps (were they two sets of twins? We’ll never know) poured a Spoleto Fizz, their same, signature cocktail from the Prohibition party. Inside, I spotted my pal and SCENE board member Jenny Ferrara, who looked quite at home posing upon a velvet chair in the gorgeous hotel library in her '50s-inspired polka-dot dress and twisted updo. Ferrara mused, in her many years of Spoleto-infused wisdom, that of all the performers in the festival, it’s usually the dancers who are most likely to attend an after party. I quickly google-imaged Aakash Odedra, and committed his sweet, beardy face to memory.
Erin Perkins and Dawayne Prioleau - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Erin Perkins and Dawayne Prioleau
The party was in full swing upstairs by about an hour-and-a-half later. Inside one room, singer McKenzie Eddy crooned sweet and moodily from a corner, while party-goers fueled up on pork sliders and deviled eggs (I’m sensing a theme to the food at these shindigs, and I’m not complaining) and lined up for refills on top-shelf beverages including glasses of Miraval Rosé aka the wine of Brangelina, people. The company swears that Brad has touched at least one grape in every bottle they produce. I am happy to report that via the transitive property, I have basically now been fully fondled by Brad Pitt. 
  • Caroline Enten
  • McKenzie Eddy

Through a hallway and down a fire escape, SCENEsters outside bopped their heads along to DJ Party Dad. The idea of spreading the party out over essentially four different spaces, some inside and others out, some well lit and others dim, made it feel really special and fancy. Like that movie Stealing Beauty with Liv Tyler, when she goes to Italy to find her real father, and attends that awesome party in a villa? And every room has a different vibe and all the beautiful people? That’s what last night felt like. But I digress. 
  • Caroline Enten
  • DJ Party Dad

The absolute best part of the evening was when someone pointed to a duo of seated gentlemen, one of whom was wrapped up in three layers of black clothing in spite of the heat. He was no Charlestonian. I checked my phone several times to be sure, and as I gathered my courage to approach him, Aakash Odedra rose and left the room with his small entourage. Springing to action, I accosted Odedra at the elevator and asked if I could ride down with him. He kindly obliged, and thus triggered Niagara Falls amounts of sweat to start pouring down the back of my neck. Introductions made, I asked him how the show went (it was great), how he was liking Charleston (it’s really beautiful) and where he was off to next (Turkey!). At a loss for words, I informed him that he must be hungry. He was. Like the weather, food is always a safe topic. We discussed restaurants, and then relaxed into an easy conversation about ethnic food. Don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and see Odedra behind the counter of an Indian restaurant here in Charleston. Noting how few we have, he jokingly suggested he'd maybe return and open one. 
Caroline Enten, Aakash Odedra, and Anand Bhalt - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Caroline Enten, Aakash Odedra, and Anand Bhalt

This is your SCENE dollars at work; it isn’t all about the booze and food and, well, scene. It’s also about gaining access to performers and creating a sense of proximity to these world-class acts in a relaxed, fun setting where you can swap inane food-related observations with someone who just riveted an audience for 1.5 hours through dance and movement. Spoleto SCENE — I’m sold. 
Ben Hebel, Ally Murphy, Whiteney Naramore, and Katie Norlander - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Ben Hebel, Ally Murphy, Whiteney Naramore, and Katie Norlander
Austin Pitcairn and Allie O'Donnel - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Austin Pitcairn and Allie O'Donnel
Brangelina's rose - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Brangelina's rose
  • Caroline Enten
Lauren Powell and Allen Pendarvis - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Lauren Powell and Allen Pendarvis
Sarah Parker, Tyler Wright, and Eleanor Brockington - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Sarah Parker, Tyler Wright, and Eleanor Brockington
Gentry Bourbon reps - CAROLINE ENTEN
  • Caroline Enten
  • Gentry Bourbon reps

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Critics are split on Spoleto's Little Match Girl

Match Box Plenty

Posted by Chris Haire on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 10:27 AM

  • Julia Lynn Photography

I can honestly say that I will never forget Spoleto's Little Match Girl, and while I thoroughly enjoyed Helmut Lachenmann's score and the performance by the show's two singers and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, the shadow puppet-aspect nearly snuffed out any fire the already cold production had left in it. 

I wasn't alone of course. Our very own Dustin Waters had a similarly dim view of the shadow puppet perforce. But what of other writers?

The Post and Courier's Jonathan Neufeld loved it, although it seems that a good deal of his appreciation for the production was the result of an earlier chat by Lachenmann. Neufeld writes:

Helmut Lachenmann’s “The Little Match Girl,” performed for the first time in the United States at the Spoleto Festival, presents the familiar story as a series of feelings and images in sound. Under Mark Down’s and Phelim McDermott’s co-direction, the core of the libretto is made more explicit by the projected words and images of shadow puppetry. With the addition of two texts, one from 1970s German radical Gudrun Ensslin and the other from Leonardo da Vinci, Lachenmann throws the social injustice at the heart Hans Christian Andersen’s story into sharp relief...

Lachenmann’s avoidance of melody and tonal structure has made a detractor describe his music as musica negative — music drawn from the negative space around tones, music that refuses to be music. While this isn’t a completely unfair description (and I suspect at least some of the 26 or so people who left in the middle of the performance might have something even more negative to say), it does fail to capture the richness of the sound, feeling and gesture of this immersive music. To listen to Lachenmann’s work is to see and hear the gestures of sounding bodies...

Lachenmann’s music is not easy to listen to. But why should listening to a story of a poor hungry girl freezing to death on the street be easy?
(Note: If you are having trouble with the P&C's paywall, click here to learn how to get around all that BS.)

The Wall Street Journal's Heidi Waleson wasn't as enthusiastic, writing:

Helmut Lachenmann’s “The Little Match Girl” was the real period piece of the three—circa Darmstadt, the experimental music mecca, in the 1970s— with its large orchestra, chorus and two soprano soloists, led by John Kennedy, who made noises for an hour and 45 minutes. Alternately chilly and assaultive, it purported to create the atmosphere of Hans Christian Andersen’s dark fairy tale, overlaid with political commentary regarding outsiders, the poor, and the responsibility of “the system.” It was mostly tedious. Co-directors Mark Down and Phelim McDermott devised an ingenious shadow-puppetry production, including cutouts of text fragments, which supplied some orientation and diversion, if not much illumination.
James R. Oestreich of The New York Times was decidedly in the love-it camp.
The production, directed by Mark Down and Phelim McDermott, is performed mostly in darkness, using shadow puppets. The text appears as titles among and around the shadowy representations — mere suggestions, actually — of people and settings. The only actual character, oddly, is Leonardo da Vinci, reading from his “Codex Arundel”; Adam Klein plays him, and also reads texts by Gudrun Ensslin.

John Kennedy, with much of the music happening behind him in a surround configuration, conducted the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra and the Westminster Choir in a logistical tour de force. The sopranos Heather Buck and Yuko Kakuta were similarly adept in their vocal gymnastics, producing all manner of grunts, clicks and pops. Stephen Drury and Renate Rohlfing were the pianists.

Appropriately, and probably just as Mr. Lachenmann hoped, this is music hard to warm to, but there is no question that he achieved his effects. And a couple of dozen deserters aside, the crowd seemed to love it.
For the record Oestreich's statement that the crowd seemed to adore the show is something of a head-scratcher. I was there on opening night, and the crowd, aside from a handful of standing-O-vers, made a speedy exit. This is significant for the simple fact that Spoleto audiences are famously generous for giving standing Os for almost any work; to have an occasion where less than half, if not more, of the audience either stayed in their seats or got up to leave is telling. Then again, perhaps we were at different shows or perhaps I was so disoriented by the entire proceedings that I was knocked out of my senses until I was outside of the theater.

Susan Gailbreath of DC Theatre Scene was similarly enchanted but did offer a few useful critiques:

Spoleto is known for bringing not just the best from around the world. To retain its preeminence, the festival must bring the most daring and thus challenge our preconceptions about music, dance, theatre and opera advancing those forms. Haven’t most of us heard the story of the angry riot that ensued the first time Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” played in Paris?

Many of us are afraid of what we can’t understand. Art can make us look at and confront this phenomenon. Great art can move us forward.

Lachenmann’s work indeed challenges, but I found it most remarkable if not always likeable. One of its most brilliant aspects was in his choice of material. The Little Match Girl is an uncomplicated but powerful story. Most of us carry some sense of the work from our childhood, flickering images as if, like what was staged before us, lit by a match. The audience co-participates in imbuing the sounds and images with meaning. We feel the cold, get lost in the darkness, huddle there in a sense of aloneness, and drift as the little girl does from a kind of hyper-vigilance into semi-consciousness as the sounds continue to swirl around us...

There are a couple of elements that have not yet come together. James F. Ingalls is one of the most talented lighting designers working on the world stages. He has managed a remarkable feat in reducing his forces and creating a clean, “primitive” use of pinpricks of light visually to match the composer’s minimalist style. However, the cans that needed to shoot through from upstage to light the words on placards that were yanked on and off stage were not timed sufficiently well. Sometimes the signs became blurry, at others the lights grievously flooded into the audience’s eyes and reminded me of the excesses of early Peter Sellars’ productions.

The second aspect I found disconcerting is that the placement of the musicians above us meant their music stand lights spilled out destroying the magic that total darkness for the screened visuals would have made.

Overall, however, this was a most important work to bring to Spoleto, and it will continue to bring up its images to my mind.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Aakash Odedra's transcendent dance with the divine and the damned

Live Deliciously

Posted by Chris Haire on Thu, Jun 2, 2016 at 12:07 PM

Spoiler Alert: Do not read any further unless you want to know details about the climax to The Witch.

When writer-director Robert Eggers released the 2016 frightener The Witch, critics universally praised this terrifying mediation on pride and paranoia. The Witch is set during the early days of colonial New England when the devout Pilgrims sought to create a Holy Land in the New World but ultimately fall victim to the same sins which have bedeviled mankind since time immemorial.

Centered around a family of exiled true believers, Egger's folk tale is fascinating for its depiction of the era and its ability to create a mood that only grows darker and more dire as the film reaches its horrifying conclusion when the family billy goat, Black Philip, is finally revealed as the Prince of Darkness himself. By this point, Black Philip has either corrupted every one in the family or killed them, all except the virginal Thomasin, who has been accused of being the titular witch by her now-dead parents and siblings.

Broken and alone, Thomasin willingly gives over her soul to Satan, signing her name in his unholy book. As the film closes, Thomasin joins her fellow witches who are dancing with wild abandon around a fire in the New England countryside. Naked, gyrating, and in the midst of a some sort of sinister ritual, Thomasin's body slowly rises from the earth and soars to the top of trees as ecstasy washes over her face. It is a look of unrestrained joy and freedom, a look that runs counter to our preconceived notions of how this moment should be, as good character willingly joins the dark side.

Watching all of this, I was reminded of the performance I had seen earlier in the day by the Indian-influenced British dancer Aakash Odedra called Rising. It was a work that was filled with moments of what felt like religious ecstasy. One piece in particular, In the Shadow of Man, came to mind in those closing minutes of The Witch

Underneath somber red lighting, Odedra was on his knees as the performance began. He was completely still. But then his body began to move, his bony shoulder blades seemingly pushing his skin to what surely seemed like the point at which it would tear. And at that moment, it became clear that what we were witnessing was the birth of a terrifying creature, a beast that would grow to something rough and fearsome but which was now frail, frightened, and alone in the world. Black Philip would have been pleased. Thomasin would have understood.

However, that one work, regardless of how much it left an impression on myself and many others in attendance, was the lone moment in Odedra's well-staged exploration of light and darkness in which the dark was, if not victorious, winning. The other works were transcendent, drawing the audience into a spiritual rush that was as powerful as a tent revival or the endless spins of a whirling dervish. If anyone had lost their religion prior to this show, they surely found it as Odedra danced among slivers of light which seemingly cut the stage or the bright orbs which hung from the ceiling like stars in the hands of their creator.

As the show came to a close, Odedra took hold of one of the glowing orbs. He shook, he shivered, he seemingly felt pleasures — and terrors — that few but the most holy have ever felt before. And while he didn't ascend to the lights, it was clear that his spirit and ours had briefly touched both the damned and the divine.
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