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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spoleto Update: Corella Ballet and Taylor Mac shine opening weekend

Dancer Angel Corella is the founder of the Corella Ballet of Spain. His performance with his sister Carmen (right) was a highlight of opening weekend at Spoleto.
  • Rosalie O'Connor
  • Dancer Angel Corella (left) is the founder of the Corella Ballet of Spain. His performance with his sister Carmen (right) was a highlight of opening weekend at Spoleto.
Charleston's Spoleto Festival has completed its hectic opening weekend, and if there can be said to be a defining aspect to the festival this year, it's the sheer breadth and diversity of the acts. Earlier festivals have sometimes been dominated by a big name performer or a major production, but this year seems to have drawn an especially wide range of performances. From jazz divas to drag cabaret, from classical opera to traditional Cambodian court dance, it seems festival organizers decided to face troubled financial times by casting the net wide and offering a little something for everyone. Spoleto is larger than usual this year, and the side festival, Piccolo Spoleto, seems to have followed suit, exploding with offerings: improv acts from New York, visual artists, theater, blues, jazz and dance, resulting in a schedule with some days offering well over 50 shows.

Judging by the crowds on opening weekend, the strategy was a good move. All the shows we've been to, including afternoon matinees, have been sold out, and the enthusiasm seems to be widespread and contagious.

If the first weekend could be said to have a show that garnered the majority of buzz, I would place it on Corella Ballet, which played at Charleston's enormous Gaillard Auditorium. Spanish dancer Angel Corella left American Ballet Theater to found the Corella Ballet in his native Spain in 2008 with his sister Carmen. Their show opened with a piece for the entire company choreographed to a Bruch violin concerto which introduced the group's signature style: Firmly grounded in the formalism of classical ballet, their movement was coupled with a beautiful earthy, sensual, fleshy heft and athleticism. The show had more than its share of star power as Corella and his sister Carmen took the stage for "Soleá" at the center of the program, a total star turn. The athletically choreographed balletic take on traditional Spanish dance forms choreographed by Flamenco dancer Maria Pagés brought the house down.

Taylor Mac gave a one-man show performing the David Bowie and Tiny Tim songbooks.
  • Ves Pitts
  • Taylor Mac gave a one-man show performing the David Bowie and Tiny Tim songbooks.
In a city of amazing world-class venues, the Gaillard Auditorium, where the Corella Ballet performed, is something of an outlier. (Think the Atlanta Civic Center with considerably less charm). It's welcome news then that a new Gaillard Center is in the works, with ground-breaking planned for fall of 2012 and an opening in spring of 2015. The new 1800 seat hall will be modeled after traditional European opera houses with coffered cieling, box seats and balconies in a horseshoe arrangement around a proscenium stage. Gaillard is Charleston's largest venue and frequently houses Spoleto's biggest and most popular acts. It's fantastic news that the venue will receive the much-needed improvements.

Also on the radar this year were shows by New York performance artist Taylor Mac. His interpretations of David Bowie and Tiny Tim songs in his one-man show fused an intense, over-the-top, operatic sense of drama with more personal, anecdotal intimacy. He could volley between abrasive confrontation and a quiet, embracing, confessional tone, always barbed with a smart political sense.

Interestingly, visual arts are particularly strong this year as well. The Halsey Center for Contemporary Art is showing the work of Paolo Ventura, who is also being featured at the Venice Biennale this year. His large photographs of hand-built miniature set-pieces are meant to represent the memories of an imaginary circus performer in the early 20th century: His work combines naturalism, theater, and nostalgia to make a haunting, tragic, creepy and atmospheric work that's well worth checking out between shows.

Eames Demtrios project Kcymaerxthaere places plaques which trace the imaginary points of intersection with an imaginary universe. Charleston got one for its harbor for Spoleto.
  • Eames Demtrios' project Kcymaerxthaere places plaques which trace the points of intersection with an imaginary universe. Charleston got one for its harbor for Spoleto.
Also on display in Charleston are several new plaques by Eames Demetrios. Often called the largest public art project in the world, Demetrios' Kcymaerxthaere involves placing historic markers in various cities and countries—there are now markers in Antarctica and Amsterdam, Shanghai and Edinburgh—which are meant to commemorate the points of intersection between our world and the imaginary universe Kcymaerxthaere, complete with its own language, places and history. Charleston was honored with five markers including one at the Old City Jail and one sunk into the harbor to mark the intersection of three imaginary rivers (one of them aerial).

Spoleto still has two more weekends ahead that promise to be just as busy as opening weekend. Other shows that are getting lots of buzz include a French production of The Magic Flute at the intimate Sottile Theater and Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan performed by the Druid Theater of Galway, which will be playing throughout the festival. Also still to have their Spoleto premieres are new productions of The Gospel at Colonnus and a performance by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Although tickets go quickly it's not too late to plan a last minute getaway for this weekend or next. Watch this space for more updates from the festival.

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