Friday, June 3, 2011

Spoleto Update: Festival gears up for second weekend with Shen Wei and Warhol

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 1:40 PM

The performance of Shen Wei Dance Arts will be among the highlights of the second weekend of Charlestons Spoleto Festival.
  • Alex Pines
  • The performance of Shen Wei Dance Arts will be among the highlights of the second weekend of Charleston's Spoleto Festival.
Charleston's Spoleto Festival is getting set for the second weekend of its 17-day run. The annual festival of the performing arts runs through June 12, and although weekdays still remain busy, the weekends offer the fullest schedules as new acts come in and visitors throng to the city for performances that run from mid-morning to late at night.

Spoleto will be welcoming the New York-based company Shen Wei Dance Arts for two performances at the Gaillard Auditorium this weekend. We were lucky enough to run into the dancers of Shen Wei at the bar of their hotel (There's a bar in Charleston that serves free drinks to guests at happy hour. Who knew? Charlestonians keep the hour very happy indeed). The performance of Re- sounds fascinating. The program is divided into three parts, each part examining some aspect of the concepts of return or renewal. Chinese-American choreographer Shen Wei based the dances on a series of journeys to Tibet, Cambodia and China from 2005 to 2008. The final piece in the program Re- (Part III) incorporates Wei's experience as the choreographer of the memorable Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, contrasting Asian concepts of social unity and cohesion with the Western drive for individuality and independence. The two performances are Friday and Saturday nights.

Also on the boards this weekend are performances by twee indie darlings Dean & Britta. The guitar pop duo was recently commissioned by the Warhol Museum of Pittsburgh to put music to some of Andy Warhol's screen tests. During the '60s, Warhol made over 500 silent black-and-white 16mm portraits of his superstars, various celebrities and Factory hangers-on. Musicians Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips chose 13 of them—including screen tests by Nico, Lou Reed, Dennis Hopper and Edie Sedgwick—for their show 13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, which runs through the weekend. For those who need even more of a Warhol fix, the White Gallery on nearby Sullivan's Island is showing works by Warhol, his contemporaries and followers in a show titled Contemporary Masters featuring works by Warhol, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. (Watch Dean and Britta's cover of "I'll Keep it With Mine" set to Nico's Andy Warhol screen test below).

During the week, we were lucky enough to see a couple of the Spoleto shows that will be running for the entire festival. French directors Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's production of The Magic Flute at the intimate Sottile Theater places the emphasis on comedy and stagecraft: it's a surprisingly fitting and charming shift. Though The Magic Flute is produced pretty often in the world repertoire, many productions play it as grand opera (it isn't), or else directors seem too frightened of Mozart's godlike status to explore the earthy, lusty comedy of the Singspiel. The production is lively, intimate and genuinely funny: The Magic Flute as it was meant to be seen.

Also throughout the festival is The Druid Theatre of Galway's production of The Cripple of Inishmaan. The Druid Theatre's take on Martin McDonagh's play is as good a production as you'd ever want to see of this particular play— probably among the best. McDonagh's depictions of the people that inhabit an isolated Irish fishing village challenge and complicate familiar character types, but they never become fully fleshed-out human beings. Nonetheless, it's a strong production, and the actors seem right at home with McDonagh's bleak humor and vision of Irish life.

The off-shoot festival Piccolo Spoleto—which originally sprouted up as a showcase for local talent and family shows—has offerings this year that seem to include more than the usual amount of names with national recognition. Charles Ross, who toured for several years with his geek love show One Man Star Wars, returns with a One Man Lord of the Rings, in which he portrays 40 characters, special effects and epic battles, recounting the entire three-movie epic in one hour. SNL cast-member Paul Brittain brings a sketch show to late nights this weekend with fellow Chicago comedian Jet Eveleth in Ted and Melanie at Theatre 99. Other shows still ahead include performances by Upright Citizens Brigade, an on-going late night Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a Cirque-style acrobatic performance from the Australian troupe Circa, a performance by New Orleans jazz trombonist Trombone Shorty and a reading from one of the South Carolina Low Country's most famous sons, novelist Pat Conroy.

For a complete schedule of up-coming events, check the Spoleto and the Piccolo Spoleto websites. We also thought we'd give a shout-out to the great coverage of Charleston's alt-weekly, Charleston City Paper. We're familiar enough with alt-weekly newsrooms to know that behind their thorough previews, reviews, schedules, and daily blogging are probably some crazy late-night sessions, hair-pulling and tears, but we're in serious admiration of their smart and massive coverage nonetheless.

It's not too late to update your plans this weekend or next and head to Charleston. The festival runs through June 12, and if, in the end, you didn't make it to this year's shows, kick yourself for a while and then be sure to make plans to visit next year's.

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