Since its inception in 1979, the Piccolo Spoleto Festival has been touted as a multi-arts extravaganza focused on artists of the Southeast and presenting events in performing, visual and literary arts. But this year there is a glaring void: Dance is almost entirely missing from the festival lineup, causing some to question whether the art form is being adequately supported.
“Dance is the most vibrant it has been in a very long time,” said Gretchen McLaine, head of the dance department at the College of Charleston. “In the past five years at least six new regional companies have been started. There was a dance festival in the fall where all local dance organizations came together for a weekend-long festival of class and performances.”
So its absence from the Piccolo Spoleto Festival seems unnecessary and does a disservice to local dancers and the arts community in general, she said.
The Office of Cultural Affairs, which produces Piccolo Spoleto, worked for years with Robert Ivey and the Charleston Ballet Theatre to present a variety of dance components, including the Dance at Noon series, Brown Bag and Ballet and the Dance Marathon (an all-day event for studios, schools and local companies). But Ivey died in 2011, and the Charleston Ballet Theatre stopped functioning early this year.
Ashley Stock, who was Ivey’s artistic director for several years, bemoaned the decline of Piccolo’s dance offerings.
“Bob Ivey worked tirelessly to create performance opportunities for dancers of this area and many who travelled to Charleston for the festival,” Stock said. “It is a travesty that two years since his passing, dance has basically disappeared from the Piccolo.”
Ellen Dressler Moryl who had been head of the Office of Cultural Affairs since its beginning, and who retired early this year, was instrumental in creating Piccolo Spoleto, a local and affordable companion festival to the Spoleto Festival USA.
Early on, Moryl assembled 12 local artistic leaders, including Ivey, to spearhead the dance component, and for years dance at the festival thrived.
Moryl, who has produced the festival for the last time this year, said that dance programming has suffered due to Ivey’s absence and limited resources and office staff. She said she hopes that dance events will make a strong return next year.
Scott Watson, the new director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, said that dance is a vital part of the arts community and can make a comeback in the 2014 Piccolo Spoleto Festival with the right kind of support. To do so, he said, Charleston’s dance community needs to be engaged.
A few local educators, performers and studios, such as Dancefx Charleston, have worked with the Office of Cultural Affairs to make some last-minute dance additions to this year’s festival. Dancefx performers participated in the opening weekend event at the U.S. Customhouse, along with dancers from the College of Charleston. Dancefx also provided dancers for Spoleto Festival USA’s production of the Italian opera “Le Villi,” which runs through June 7.
“An evening with Isadora Duncan & Chopin,” presented May 28 by the Sophia Institute in conjunction with the festival, was overwhelmed by enthusiastic patrons, several of whom had to be turned away for lack of space.
Kristin Fieseler, founding artistic director of Annex Dance Company, had hoped to take part in the Dance at Noon series before it was dropped from the schedule. Watson told her that dance could be presented at the Petite Pavilion in Marion Square. Fieseler and others set this into motion.
“Right now we have about 12 different companies, studios, and schools participating,” she said. There will be dance most days from June 1 to June 7. “I am excited that in a short amount of time we were able to come together and present more dance at the festival.”
Dance also will be part of the finale in Hampton Park, 5-10 p.m. June 8.
Vinny Huang, a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University, contributed to this report. Eliza Ingle is a critic and writer who teaches dance at the College of Charleston.