A spectacle of artists perform at this year’s festival
By Abby Deering
Hark the herald festival sing! Each year for the past 40 years, Spoleto Festival USA has announced the start of summer in Charleston. This year, the city was once again the backdrop to the 17-day international performing arts festival, featuring 150 performances and events held throughout the city — in historic theaters, churches, outdoor spaces, and state-of-the-art performance venues — a whirlwind of opera, theater, music, dance and the visual arts.
Not only was Charleston the backdrop, it was the star.
“Spoleto and Charleston are one in the same. When it’s time for the festival, the city comes alive. Creatives and lovers of the performing arts flood the city, and every street, bar, restaurant and park is filled with artistic people. It is the time Charleston shines brightest every year,” Cator Sparks, editor-in-chief of TheManual.com, who splits his time between Charleston and New York City.
The festival enjoyed a record-breaking year, grossing the highest ticket sales in its history. As ever, locals and South Carolinians were out in full force, joined by attendees from 49 states and from across the globe.
Marking the 40th season was the festival’s long-awaited return to the newly renovated Gaillard Center.
“The new Gaillard is spectacular — world class — and it’s taken the Charleston arts scene and Spoleto to a different level,” Randall Felkel, proprietor of the RSVP Shoppe on Broad Street and faithful attendee of Spoleto since the festival’s start in 1977.
This return was an occasion feted by the festival programming.
“For Spoleto Festival USA’s 40th year, we wanted to make the program extraordinary,” said Festival General Director Nigel Redden, “Producing our first ‘Porgy and Bess’ — a work based on Charleston-born DuBose Heyward’s novel, set in Charleston, and about Charleston’s people — was a celebratory choice.”
The excitement surrounding “Porgy and Bess” began with its announcement in January and spilled over to all parts of the festival.
“It became a citywide celebration, and so many people wanted to be a part of that. There was this sort of momentum running throughout everything,” said Jennifer Scott, director of marketing and public relations.
Once again, Spoleto was the setting for many debuts and national and world premieres.
The opera program brought the US premieres of Helmut Lachenmann’s “The Little Match Girl” and Antoine Dauvergne’s “La Double Coquette,” equal parts naughty and witty and colorful, as well as the world premiere of the operetta “Afram ou La Belle Swita,” composed by Charleston-born Edmund Thornton Jenkins.
UK theater company 1927 returned to the festival with the US premiere of “Golem,” an utterly weird and wonderful multimedia piece pondering the increased role of technology in our lives.
Chicago’s Manual Cinema made its Spoleto debut with the shadow-puppet piece “Ada/Ava,” a festival favorite.
Acclaimed photographer and video artist Carrie Mae Weems delivered the world premiere, of “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now,” a striking and moving commemoration of the Emmanuel Nine.
This year also saw the welcomed return of several tried-and-true festival favorites, including the Bill T Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company, Grammy-award-winning jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, and Dublin’s Gate Theater with a production of Oscar Wilde’s devilishly funny Victorian romp, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Explaining the festival’s continued success, Scott said, “Spoleto has always followed the same recipe. It’s always been about bringing the best of the world performing arts to America, and specifically Charleston.”
(Pictured in header: The finale of Charleston-based production, “Porgy and Bess.” Photo credit: Julia Lynn.)