Thursday, June 28, 2012

Filmmaker hopes to feature 3 NCDT dancers

A Colorado filmmaker is creating a documentary about three members of N.C. Dance Theatre, and she has turned to crowdfunding to help her put on the finishing touches. 

"Strength and Beauty" is the title and the theme of the film -- a group portrait of three ballerinas -- that Chelsea Wayant has gotten to the editing stage. She has posted her project on the funding site Kickstarter in hopes of raising $6,000 to get it to the screen.   

Chelsea Wayant is a onetime ballet student who held onto her love of dance after her career aspirations turned toward film. She has a bachelor's degree in filmmaking from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a master of fine arts from UNC Greensboro. Her first feature film won the prize for best narrative feature at the 2009 Ava Gardner Independent Film Festival in Smithfield. 

Beginning in March 2011, Wayant shot more than 40 hours of film at NCDT.  Wayant focused on three dancers who stood at different stages of their lives: Melissa Anduiza, just getting started as a professional; Alessandra Ball, in mid-career and preparing to star in "Sleeping Beauty"; and Traci Gilchrest, a veteran who was beginning to taper off. 

By introducing audiences to the three ballerinas, Wayant wants to "give voice to an icon that is in danger of disappearing from our society," she says in her Kickstarter appeal. 

The $6,000 she seeks would pay for a sound-editing specialist and help with film-contest fees. Pledges are nearly $1,200, and the Kickstarter deadline is July 9. Check out her proposal and site and see what you think about donating. If she's lucky, maybe she'll come back to Charlotte with a film to show.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kaneko's 'Magic Flute' makes its debut

The curtain has risen on Jun Kaneko's vision of Mozart's "The Magic Flute," and it's as vibrant as the "Madama Butterfly" that lit up the Belk Theater last winter. 

The Japanese artist's "Flute," which Opera Carolina will bring to  Charlotte in January, is having its first run of performances at the San Francisco Opera. The venerable California company is another of the groups that jointly commissioned Kaneko to design sets, costumes and projections for Mozart's fairy tale. (Photo: San Francisco Opera)

 The San Francisco Chronicle's Joshua Kosman credits Kaneko's designs with helping balance the opera's comedy and   philosophizing: "The heart of the undertaking," Kosman writes, "lies in the explosively colorful stage design."

"Kaneko fits out the production with a wealth of design elements that situated the work in a perfectly rendered fairy-tale world. ... Tamino, the prince whose quest for love and virtue carries the piece, is a sort of storybook samurai, and the wizardly potentate Sarastro is a shogun. ... Other strains -- the avian imagery of the bird-catcher Papageno, for instance, or the appearance of the Three Spirits in what looked like floating sundae glasses -- are pure, infectious frippery." 

The San Francisco Opera's promotional video gives a taste. The singers you'll see aren't the point, because Opera Carolina will have a different cast. But you'll get an idea what Kaneko has conjured up. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Spoleto Festival shares the wealth with Charlotte

This year's Spoleto Festival USA racked up more than $2.9 million in ticket sales, and a little piece of that will find its way to Charlotte. 

Most of the time, money flows the other way. Charlotte arts lovers travel to Charleston for the annual rampage of the arts -- buying tickets, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and ransoming their cars out of parking garages. Bank of America sponsors the daily chamber-music concerts. Wells Fargo, continuing a Wachovia tradition, sponsors the jazz series. Thanks to Charlotteans who serve on the festival's board of directors -- including its chair, Wells executive Carlos Evans -- Charleston picks up some human capital, too.  

But this time, Charlotte will share in the success. One of the festival's hits was "Traces," the acrobatic extravaganza that Blumenthal Performing Arts helped produce. The demand was so hot that the show not only sold out its six-performance run, but Spoleto even signed up the troupe to do an extra matinee. 

Blumenthal owns 20 percent of "Traces," says Tom Gabbard, the arts center's president. So, once the show's owners and investors start getting their cuts, Blumenthal will have a new revenue stream. It could last a while, too. The show now has two companies: one with an open-ended run in New York, another that will tour Europe in the fall. A U.S. tour starts in January. 

Admittedly, this won't rival the $55 million of economic impact that Spoleto is thought to bring Charleston each year. But any fresh income is good, especially for the arts. And especially for the arts in Charlotte. 

Photo: Michael Meseke for Spoleto Festival USA

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Charlotte Symphony and the wolf

Deep in a speech about the Charlotte Symphony's state of affairs, the orchestra's executive director sums up the situation: "The wolf remains at the door -- and in fact never left." 

That was the most dramatic comment that Jonathan Martin, who said it, or anyone else made Monday night at the orchestra's annual meeting. The runner-up came earlier in Martin's address, when he surveyed the challenges facing the orchestra business in the United States.  

"We need transformational change," Martin said, "not incremental change."

Even though he was talking about the national perspective, that persistent wolf signals that those words could apply to the Charlotte Symphony, too. 

It has been in financial straits for nearly a decade, starting with the post-9-11 downturn. The situation has worsened since the big recession, which set off a plunge in corporate sponsorships and a $1 million cut in Arts & Science Council funding. The orchestra's "constant and urgent" challenge, Martin said, is the week-to-week one of matching the cash coming in with the checks that need to go out to pay the bills. 

The orchestra has a turnaround plan. As Martin described the progress, though, it sounded a lot like incremental change -- on an upward course, but incremental nonetheless. Ticket sales and donations are gradually improving. The orchestra's music director, Christopher Warren-Green is becoming more prominent in the community -- though he was absent Monday. 

Brainstorming for new tactics wasn't on Monday's agenda, though. The main order of business was to vote on a slate of three new and five returning board members, and all won approval. The new ones are Francisco Alvarado, president of Marand Builders; Laurie Readhead, Bank of America's chief information officer; and Reginald White, president of Toran Enterprises. Do they have some fresh ideas for shooing away the wolf? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Farley finishes ballet school in 'regal' style

As he finishes his studies at the School of American Ballet in New York, Charlotte native Silas Farley is going out in style.  

He's one of four recipients of the school's top honor: the Mae L. Wien Award, given to students that show outstanding promise. In case that isn't enough encouragement, Farley has attracted big-time notice from the school's annual showcase, which attracts press coverage like the pros get. And the New York City Ballet has offered Farley the career next step in his career: a place among the company's apprentices. 

At the school's end-of-year performances, Farley was one of the soloists in  "Cortege Hongroise," a Hungarian-tinged showpiece by George Balanchine. Because the school is affiliated with the New York City Ballet, which long was led by Balanchine, his choreography is one of the faculty's specialties.  

"Mr. Farley already has the regal bearing and sense of joy that make you hope to see him in many more Balanchine ballets," the New York Times' Gia Kourlas wrote. "His unpretentious dancing, unforced elevation and generous partnering added up to much more than a student performance." 

The Associated Press' Jocelyn Noveck did something that may be especially appreciated down here in recognition-hungry Charlotte: She identified Farley's hometown. 

"Silas Farley, a tall and handsome 18-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., commanded the stage ... in Balanchine's 'Cortege Hongroise,'" Noveck wrote. "Farley has elegant lines, a sense of grandeur, a light jump, a pleasing smile, and a way of effortlessly drawing one's attention while not hogging it." 

Farley and seven others from the school will start in the fall as apprentices with New York City Ballet. They'll take part in up to eight ballets plus the annual "Nutcracker" -- and be paid -- yet they'll also retain some links to the school. After a year at most, the company decides whether to take them into its fully professional ranks. Wish Farley and all of them good luck. 

Photo: Paul Kolnik for School of American Ballet 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Difference between theaters is like day and Knight

Charlotte's cultural groups have largely been living under an austerity program ever since the recession hit, but a performance at the Spoleto Festival USA reminded me that we have had one bit of luxury. 

Mere days after its recent visit to Charlotte's Knight Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater arrived in Charleston for Spoleto. It performed in the city's Gaillard Auditorium, a theater that's more than twice the size of the Knight. Out of curiosity about the difference, I went to its last performance, and here's the upshot:  Charlotte audiences, seeing Ailey up close and personal, are getting a treat. 

Gaillard -- pronounced GILL-yerd -- has 2,700 seats, making it larger than Charlotte's Ovens Auditorium. And even that isn't the most cavernous theater on Ailey's agenda: In Atlanta, for instance, Ailey performed last winter in the Fox Theater, which can hold more than 4,000 people. 

In Charleston, I sat well up in Gaillard's balcony. As a guesstimate, I'd say that if you had a seat the same distance from the Knight Theater stage, you'd be in the galleries at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but not my much. 

It's a tribute to the Ailey dancers' projection that much of the open-armed exuberance of Paul Taylor's "Arden Court" carried through the theater's expanses. So did the jubilation of Ailey's "Revelations."  But the nuances and impact of the solos -- such "I Wanna Be Ready" from "Revelations," with the tormented man struggling up from the stage -- just couldn't cover the distance. 

So let's count our blessings. But let's also resist any Charlotte swagger, because Charleston is about to go to work on Gaillard. The theater is about to undergo a radical remodeling that will reduce it to 1,800 seats and replace its blank decor with something much more in keeping with Charleston's atmosphere. (Rendering by David M. Schwarz Architects)

The $142 million project will also upgrade the adjacent exhibition hall and add a city office building. The cost will be split between public money and private donations, and the private fundraising has begun with a challenge grant of $20 million. That's a larger donation that Charlotte has ever had from any source for any arts project. Maybe it's Charleston that should swagger.