Spoleto, Piccolo bring extra energy to town

Long-Bin Chen’s “Buddha” from the “Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art” exhibit at the Halsey.

Charleston is busy with a variety of festivals throughout the year, but none really can compare to the magnitude of the international Spoleto Festival USA and the local and regional Piccolo Spoleto Festival.

These giants bring the city to life like nothing else.

For 17 days, the Charleston area turns into a performing arts mecca. And everyone wants to see it all, which is, of course, impossible.

Nevertheless, the energetic, art-loving people that we are, we all definitely put forth a valiant effort to be in as many places as humanly possible. From cocktail receptions to operas and ballets, from the fine artists set up in Marion Square to firework displays, get your outfits ready. It’s always a fun ride.

Since there are hundreds of events taking place, we’re going to have to leave it up to you to comb the special section insert and brochures to fill your calendars, but we did get a chance to chat with some of the folks involved with the festivals about what they’re most excited to check out.

Spoleto Festival USA features works that are known on an international level. That being said, you should expect to see some top-notch performing arts.

Spoleto General Director Nigel Redden is particularly excited about the American premiere of award-winning director Tom Morris’ puppetry twist on the Shakespearean classic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Morris is directing in association with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.

The production will include more than 20 handcrafted puppets in a performance that has been described as “future primitive”; think of a magical place that is futuristic but at the same time forgotten.

Redden said the performance exceeded his expectations when he first saw it.

“Puppets and actors work seamlessly together to bring life to the puppets and expand the emotion and physical possibilities of the actors. Puck, for example, is a collection of what seems like odds and ends that are manipulated by three actors so that his shape shifts constantly,” Redden said.

With 19 performances throughout the course of the festival, this is supposed to be one of this year’s hits. There also will be a talk with Morris at noon Saturday at the Charleston Library Society, 164 King St.

Another “not to miss” American premiere is Nottingham Theatre Company’s “Oedipus.”

Sophocles’ classic Greek tragedy has been adapted for contemporary audiences by actor-director Steven Berkoff. You may recognize him from “Octopussy,” “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

The physical theater genre is always an impressive one, and Le Grand C looks like it’s going to wow people. The title refers to le grand chapiteau, or the big top, but this is definitely not your typical circus. This is more about powerful physicality and expressive movement. They will have you on the edge of your seat with your heart pounding, hoping no one gets hurt.

For more information, go to www.spoletousa.org.

People often confuse Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto, but Piccolo is all about local people. Piccolo also is about making sure there are plenty of events that are affordable or, even better, free.

The artists in Marion Square and nearby Wragg Square are always crowd-pleasers.

With more than 90 artists in Marion Square alone, this is a massive display of fine art and a great way to get to meet the artists first-hand. They’ll be out there every day, and they love meeting new people and talking about their work.

Another gem in the same vicinity is the collaborative “Artist on Fire” show at Citadel Square Baptist Church.

Each year, creators Alex and Sara Radin pick a different theme, and this year’s is “Sweet!”

“ ‘Sweet!’ applauds childhood memories, true love, the mystery of youth, special moments, and pays homage to the splendor of creation, the night sky and heavenly spaces,” said Alex Radin.

This year will be Scott Watson’s first year experiencing Piccolo Spoleto as the director of the city of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, which organizes the event.

“As much as I look forward to the work I’ll be seeing on stage, in galleries and in public spaces throughout the city, I’m particularly excited that I’ll be able to spend time with fellow festival-goers, enjoy the festival energy and be a part of the conversation as our collective audience of locals and visitors shares their reaction and response to the art being presented,” he said.

“With that in mind, I’m particularly excited to attend my first Sunset Serenade, presented as a free public concert at the U.S. Customhouse on Sunday evening, May 26. Yuriy Bekker will lead the CSO joined by guest soloists Melissa Batalles (soprano), Jennifer Luiken (mezzo-soprano) and Eric Margiore (tenor) in a wonderful program featuring highlights from ‘West Side Story.’ Sunset Serenade is a signature of Piccolo Spoleto, and I am delighted I will be in attendance as we raise the curtain for the 2013 festival.”

Watson went on to say: “At the heart of Piccolo Spoleto is the cultural vitality Charleston embraces year-round, and the festival brings the creativity of our local arts community center stage. The festival program also includes a number of visiting artists and ensembles, and one that I’m especially pleased to see on our calendar of events is a visiting production from Italy that presents the story of ‘Pinocchio’ as a dramatic monologue directed and performed by the remarkable Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, accentuated by music and dance on stage. Performed in Italian with English supertitles, the performance offers a humanistic and resonant reading of the classic children’s story that begs the question, ‘Was the original author’s intended audience children, or perhaps the adults reading the story to them?’ ”

There will only be two performances of this show on June 2 at the Footlight Theatre, 20 Queen St.

Go to www.piccolospoleto.org for more.

We are seeing and holding and reading books less and less. They are quickly being replaced with computers, smartphones and tablets.

The current exhibit at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art speaks to this fascinating and sad evolution. “Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art” also was chosen as the official visual arts selection of Spoleto Festival USA.

Curated by Halsey Assistant Director Karen Ann Myers, the collaborative exhibit consists of works by “five mixed-media artists from around the world who, using books as a point of departure, sculpt, scrape, bend and carve to create astonishing compositions. Doug Beube, Long-Bin Chen, Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramee and Francesca Pastine transform various types of literature and/or printed books through sculptural intervention,” Myers said.

We’ve all grown up with books as part of our lives. It’s a huge, strange thought to think of them no longer existing.

“Because of the confusion and sense of loss that emerge from this state, the artists in this exhibition have created their own responses,” Myers went on to say. “Some, like Laramee and Chen, directly address the parallels between the disappearance of natural spaces and books as an outdated mode of expression; as a result, they carve landscapes from the pages and bindings. Deep crevasses, hidden caves and awe-inspiring phenomena and landscapes emerge from chiseled pages. Alternately, some artists, like Beube, Pastine and Dettmer, seek to find a place for books in the future, by digitizing or technologizing them.

“Here, images are created that are reminiscent of topographical maps, weather maps, readings from seismographs, or cross sections of the ‘bodies’ of the books. These works are treated as surgeries or dissections; scalpels and needles are used to carve away the books’ exteriors.”

There will be a special gallery walk-through with the artists 5-6 p.m. Thursday, followed immediately by an opening reception 6-8 p.m. at the Halsey, 161 Calhoun St.

Call 953-HICA (4422) or go to www.halsey.cofc.edu.

Contemporary American artist Andrea Stanislav uses taxidermied animals, glitter and mirrors in sculpture, video and public art instillations. For her current exhibit, “Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted,” at Redux Contemporary Art Center, she is concerned with messages of good vs. evil and morality.

“Reflection is a key word in Stanislav’s lexicon, as it serves to indicate both the means and the ends of her artistic endeavor,” said Stacy Huggins, executive director of Redux. “In her work, the viewer is not simply invited, but compelled by use of reflective surfaces to interrogate their own position in relation to the artwork and, by extension, to history and culture.

“She is known for monumental work and unexpected visual manifestations that speak to sublime beauty and American exceptionalism. From an explosion of mirrored obelisks on the Bonneville Salt Flats to a public video installation of a white horse running down the Mississippi River at night, her work takes on a scale appropriate to its subjects — revealing the truest of artistic dimensions: beauty,” Huggins added.

There will be an opening reception 6-8:30 p.m. Friday and an artist’s talk at 2 p.m. Saturday at Redux, 136 St. Philip St.

Call 722-0697 or go to www.reduxstudios.org.

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