Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Curtains Up in Charleston for the 34th Annual Spoleto Festival

Posted 5/27/2010 5:33:00 AM
For 17 days every spring, the Spoleto Festival gives the already vibrant city of Charleston an added pulse as spectators flood to partake in more than 40 offerings of theater, opera, music, visual art and dance. The streets overflow with scenes: People clutch playbills as they hurry to the theater. Dimly lit bars buzz with diners humming the jazz riffs they’ve just heard. City parks showcase little girls trying out the latest ballet steps they've seen on stage.

Watch a video of SC Arts and Culture Insider Amy Holtcamp at Spoleto
Festival USA!

It's a production Cathy Brookshire of Columbia never misses.

“Charleston itself is a wondrous place to wander during Spoleto. Visual and performing artists are everywhere, and you have the most amazing impromptu conversations with people about anything and everything," Brookshire says. "And the price! When I think how much a single ticket to one of these shows would cost in NY, I blanch. In Charleston you can see world-class theatre and enjoy an amazing dinner and still come out ahead.”

The festival started back in the 1970s, when Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti was searching for an American city to host a sister event to The Festival of Two Worlds that he’d started in Spoleto, Italy. Looking for an American city full of charm and history that was packed with enough theaters, churches and other venues to host a major, international festival, he found Charleston to be the perfect choice.

This year marks The Spoleto Festival’s 34th year, and the season continues its tradition of showcasing internationally renowned talent and encouraging up-and-coming (and sometimes experimental) artists.

Spoleto is celebrated for its opera productions, and this year the Dock Street Theatre will present the ballad opera, Flora. Debuted in Charleston in 1735, Flora was the first opera produced in the American colonies. It was such a smash that it was produced again the next year at none other than the original Dock Street Theatre (the current building, just reopened after a three year remodel, was built in 1809). In this new adaptation, conductor Neely Bruce has leaned into Flora’s broad, almost slapstick humor and has attempted to give the characters more depth in order to appeal to a modern audience.

One of the great things about the Spoleto festival is how comfortably the traditional and the irreverent exist side by side. This is wonderfully evidenced in this year’s ballet offerings.

First, the National Ballet of Georgia will perform Giselle, with famed prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili in the title role. Giselle is the quintessence of the romantic ballet. Scores of elegant dancers, wrapped in tulle, fill the stage as the peasant girl, Giselle, attempts to save her lover from death at the hands of "The Wilis," a group of evil, supernatural beings.

The dancers of the National Ballet of Georgia are as passionate about their art as they are exquisitely skilled. In 2004, when the Georgian government set out to revive the company after 10 years of neglect, it could not pay the dancers for months. Not one of the already hungry dancers walked away.

For a completely different ballet experience, check out Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, or the “Trocks” as they are known to their fans, in their signature piece, Go for Barocco. The title might give you some idea of the comic spirit of the Trocks’ dancing, but it doesn’t tell you everything. Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo is an all-male troupe who, like all great ballerinas, perform a full classical and modern repertory, dance on point, play swans, water sprites and princesses, but make no apology for the chest hair spilling out of the top of their tutus. The Trocks are irreverent, but what really makes their comedy sing is that it is built on a foundation of love and respect for dance and the staggering physical and artistic ability of the dancers.

The renowned Gate Theatre of Ireland also will be in town with Noel Coward’s witty farce, Present Laughter, which the playwright described as “a series of semi-autobiographical pyrotechnics.” The play follows the trials of a narcissistic actor as he prepares for a foreign tour and for his looming 40th birthday (and inevitable midlife crisis).

Other theater offerings include the latest one-man show from Canadian actor and playwright Daniel MacIvor, titled This is What Happens Next. Reviews have called the show “addictive,” which is an apt description because the play itself delves into all sorts of addictions: drug addiction, alcohol addiction and even an addiction to the music of John Denver.

Music is a big part of the Spoleto experience and this is an instance where there really is something for everyone. There are daily chamber music recitals in the Dock Street Theatre, choral concerts, a jazz series, and even a punk rock show by the outrageous and funny brother-sister team Otto and Astrid Rot -- Die Roten Punkte. The self-described “best band in the world” has topped the rock charts in Europe and the show is more than just a concert – it’s also a hilarious parody of rock and rollers.

Finally, The Carolina Chocolate Drops will close out the season with an outdoor concert at Middleton Place. When I mention the band at dinner with my friend, Trey Hobbs, his eyes widen. “They are…” He looks for just the right word and then says with gravity, “…great.” Others agree. Rolling Stone Magazine called their style of old time strings mixed with a modern sensibility “dirt-floor-dance electricity.”

The Spoleto Festival runs May 28-June 13 at venues throughout the city. For a complete program listing, schedules and to buy tickets, visit

Watch a video of SC Arts and Culture Inside Amy Holtcamp at Spoleto!