Before the tents took over Marion Square for the festivals, the green grass was something I appreciated since my arrival. On my second visit to the park, I ran into Spoleto's Australian acrobatic group performing this year, Gravity and Other Myths. Of course there was no way to miss their superhuman skills as they began walking on each other's heads and throwing each other around while mere mortals played Frisbee or sunbathed. They were training on a beautiful day - headstands, handstands, aerial splits. I saw their second-to-last show, "A Simple Space," and soon became a beaming fan.
As a saxophone player myself, I knew that Hakon Kornstad's show would be the highlight of my Spoleto experience. Sure enough, the innovative Norwegian's act changed the way I view jazz. Somehow he manages to create music on the fly that sounds composed, and witnessing the process was a transcendent experience. Everything I hoped to gain from the festival, I gained from that one evening. I will never forget Kornstad's performance.
"A Brimful of Asha" was my favorite part of Spoleto. Serving a slice of an important subject of Indian culture - arranged marriage - the show humorously portrays the evolving generation gap perfectly. Seeing mother-son duo Asha and Ravi Jain argue over why he should be able to choose his wife, even though you don't usually choose any other member of your family took me back to my roots. Emotionally intense discussions like these usually go very differently, but Ravi and Asha Jain managed to keep it funny and heartfelt. Simple details like Ravi's thick Indian accent while imitating his father, or Asha's explanation of why she needs Ravi to get married are what made the show such an honest experience.
By the time I arrived, the Festival Orchestra rehearsal was in full swing. I observed the musicians at work. They paid rapt attention to conductor Joseph Young, their sound growing more cohesive. Soon, John Adams' "Doctor Atomic Symphony" emerged with all its intricacies. When the break was called, 90 young faces filtered out of the room to stretch their legs or lounge on the College of Charleston couches with new friends, still chatting about music. I ducked back into the rehearsal room to chat with Young, who told me that he believes these young musicians are "the future of American orchestras." The enthusiasm at Spoleto was infectious, reminding me just how spectacularly rich and alive the new classical music world can be.
Because of my experience as an intern at Alvin Ailey, the performance that intrigued me most was Keigwin + Company. This company was brand new to me, and I was mesmerized by its unusual style of contemporary dance. Throughout the second half of the performance, I watched a little girl spin in the aisle, dancing as though she too was on stage. Seeing this little girl was my favorite moment at Spoleto because I felt as happy as she to be there, and I realized just how meaningful the festival is to people of all ages.
The best opera at Spoleto was "Kat'a Kabanova," Leos Janacek's tale of forbidden love and shame. Under the expressive direction of Garry Hynes, the show was always exuberant, whether presenting its eponymous heroine at a table, dominated by her mother-in-law, or partitioning its gorgeous backdrop to separate her from her lover. Singing with extraordinary depth of feeling, Betsy Horne was perfect as the fragile Kat'a, and the ensemble matched her work. Her final moments on stage were among the most emotional of the festival in a production that never hit a false note, musical or dramatic.
The "Legends" concert by Westminster Choir was an amazing experience. At the beginning, they were singing from the back of the church, softly at first and then fading in. The choir seemed to be taking a long journey from afar. They just happened to pass by Charleston and walked into the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, singing their stories. The harmonies were beautiful, leading me into a dreamland.
Beyond any doubt, my favorite Spoleto Festival moment was Rene Marie's concert. Under the intense and cool lights of the TD Arena, Marie performed a bevy of classic and original jazz arrangements and tracks. The night was everything a jazz concert should be: sensual, tight, and, above all else, fun. Truly a jazz-fueled force of nature, Marie and her sensational band including Quentin Baxter (drums), Kevin Bales (piano), Elias Bailey (bass), Adrian Cunningham (reed instruments), Etienne Charles (trumpet and percussion) and Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) blew everyone else at the festival away, no if's, and's or but's.
Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn performed a banjo-only concert that was stunning for its complex rhythms and Washburn's beautiful singing. Unlike many other Americana musicians, the duo drew inspiration from, and even sang, traditional Chinese songs. The blend of cultures created an unforgettable experience that was amplified by the candor between the married couple. The show guaranteed I am going to be a fan for many years to come. Spoleto had a lot of great shows this year, but it's hard to compare to the experience of hearing Fleck and Washburn perform together.
These 17 days in Charleston have been splendid. For the first time, I got to see so many wonderful performances and personalities onstage. It was also interesting to discover that, although I'm not a country music fan, the two performances that touched me the most were by Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn and Lucinda Williams. I loved the feeling when I sat at TD Arena, totally relaxing myself, letting the rhythm encircle me and enjoying melodies that resonated with my own life experience.
By far "A Simple Space" was my favorite show. Experiencing the exhilarating physical theater performance left me in complete awe of the Australian acrobatic ensemble, Gravity & Other Myths. The close connection between the members was beyond imagination and was the main reason they pulled off such a thrilling show. Time flew by with the spiraling tumbles, and 60 minutes felt like 10. Spoleto made a good call in programming this production, and I hope to see the ensemble perform again soon.
For the past year, I've been more excited than ever when I read, watch or listen to something that relates to India. At the Spoleto Festival, I was thrilled to watch "A Brimful of Asha," a Canadian-Indian autobiographical play about arranged marriage, with writer-director-actor Ravi Jain and his real-life mother, Asha. Nothing felt exaggerated and the play was a good glimpse into Indian cultural norms. Nostalgic, that would be the operative word for me; it was all too familiar..