SPOLETO FESTIVAL 2012: PART TWO

I wish so much that I had been able to get down for a second round of Spoleto performances, but with sick children and other freelance assignments I couldn't make it happen. Poor, poor me. 

One of the performances that stuck with me the most from opening weekend was the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. They performed two classics (Arden Court and Revelationsand two that were fairly new. If you are a true dance fan, you know the power of the company's most famous performances. Revelations takes the audience through the many emotional states of black history in America, specifically during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. We are taken through desires for deliverance, a lively and hopeful celebration of baptism, and the joy of experiencing true faith.

I'm writing this backwards, I know, but the standing ovation and encore of "Rocka My Soul" were so energizing that I was glad that Mr. M and I were there for the matinee. Before the performance we had stopped at the new condo of some friends for Bloody Marys. Normally lunchtime cocktails before a performance leads to a post-outing nap. Watching the delight of the dancers as the audience pleaded for more gave us the energy needed to zoom back to the hotel on our bikes and sit through lengthy afternoon cocktails with my parents, who were just getting started!

There is so much to write about this performance, but I can't give you every detail of every scene because I want you to go see this group perform at the very next opportunity that presents itself. But there is another scene that must be discussed.

Before going down to Charleston I fumbled my way through a phone interview with Alvin Ailey's Matthew Rushing. I don't usually become starstruck. It was a decision I made as a teenager at my godfather's funeral. He was a prominent journalist with a lot of celebrities for friends. James Brown was one of the pallbearers. When the funeral service was over and the pallbearers were walking up the aisle a woman jumped out of her pew and grabbed James Brown's hand, blubbering and talking and trying to get an autograph. At that moment I decided that I would never, under any circumstances, disrupt someone's day or act like a blubbering fool because of the fame of someone who is, at heart, just human. I tend to have a tiny exception to that rule... I do blubber like a fool over people who are ridiculously smart and have gained a certain amount of prestige for using their intellectual talents. Yes. I'm a big ol' nerd.

I know I'm digressing, but bear with me here. I think that someone who is considered one of the best male dancers of all time is likely to be incredibly smart and frighteningly creative. Therefore when my interview with Matthew Rushing was set up I was a bit nervous! Matthew has been with Alvin Ailey for twenty years and currently serves as guest artist and rehearsal director. He attended the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and has received numerous awards for his work. His career at Alvin Ailey began when he started as a scholarship student at The Ailey School, then went on to perform with Ailey II, the section of the program for emerging artists. It was not long before he went on to the full company, and along the way he has performed for the last four US presidents. So yeah, I stuttered a little bit here and there when we first began our chat!

Matthew is amiable and easy, though, and we had a great time. He told me about (yes, I'm finally coming back around to my point, over 300 words later!) the performance of Home, which had me chomping at the bit to see it. The performance is unusual to the company because it is based in hip hop. This piece was first performed by the company in 2011. Acclaimed choreographer Rennie Harris created it in commemoration of World AIDS Day and in memory of Alvin Ailey himself, who died of the disease in 1989. The work was supported by Bristol Myers-Squibb as part of their "Fight HIV Your Way" initiative, which seeks to bring awareness to the disease through a contest in which people submit essays about living and surviving with HIV. Rennie Harris took those essays and used them for inspiration for Home.

The piece is unique for the dance company in its techniques and movements. Matthew was able to describe what preparation for this piece entailed.

"We didn't even get into the choreography [at first]. We basically just had a hip hop class every day to get us familiar with the vocabulary, and Rennie was very adamant about us learning the history behind it. Basically it was presented to us like a technique... and it is a technique. So many people think that hip hop is just a free-form dance style, but it truly is a technique and it's part of a culture. And I think that was one of my favorite things about the process and learning about the history of hip-hop."

Unfortunately at the last minute Matthew was unable to join the group at Spoleto, which carries fond memories for him due its welcoming audiences each year. But I have to tell you,  Home was so inspiring. Yes, I cried a little. I never thought I would be sitting here telling you that I cried during a hip-hop performance, but I did, and the audience responded to the piece with a grand standing ovation. A standing ovation for the second work in the performance. There is not much else one can say about that.

The festival closes this weekend. If you are thinking about headed down, here is what is on deck:

Friday: Hay Fever- The Globe Theatre returns with another Noël Coward hit about a slightly wacky (okay, very wacky) family's bohemian tendencies and hilarious intrigues. I was going to blog about it, but unfortunately had to leave early for a rescheduled interview. It was hilarious, though, trust me! 7:30pm, Dock Street Theatre

Saturday: Return To The Sea- Before you head to dinner somewhere deliciously charming like La Fourchette or The Peninsula Grill, go over to peruse the intense and tranquil works of Motoi Yamamoto.  The centerpiece is a site-specific installation created from salt during Motoi's three-week residency at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts at College of Charleston. Motoi forged a connection to salt—a symbol of purity in Japanese culture—in an effort to preserve memories of his late sister.

Sunday: Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole-- Festival Finale- Pack up an afternoon picnic and get ready for a relaxing afternoon at on some of the most beautiful grounds in Charleston. A beer garden opens at 3:30, followed by performances starting at 4:15, topped off by this dynamic young creole group at 8:30. Stick around for festival fireworks! Middleton Place