Thursday, February 18, 2010

Weekend arts: not as crazy as the last one, but still some goodies

Theater piece uses old stories to tap into today's truths
Most of us know at least some stories from “One Thousand and One Nights” – "Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp", "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor." Those stories had been kicking around from India to Egypt for thousands of years when they were first collected and published in Persia (centered in today’s Iraq and Iran) around 1300. They came west mainly through 19th and 20th century English translations.
Playwright, theater and opera director, Tony Award winner and MacArthur “genius” grant winner Mary Zimmerman wrote her play version “Arabian Nights” during the 1992 U.S. invasion of Iraq.  The play, which hews closely to original stories, has won accolades nearly everywhere it has been performed. The Chicago Tribune last year called it “Zimmerman’s most theatrically complete and perfect creation.”

The play, being produced by Theatre USC starting Friday, tells some of the lesser-known stories from “One Thousand and One Nights.” It starts with King Shahryar preparing to kill his latest bride Scheherazade, as he does often. She starts telling stories which come to life on stage and keep her alive. The play includes erotic, comic and satiric tales, stories about love and justice and one about a man some forced into exile because of his excessive flatulence. These stories often contain other stories and the play comes apart like a set of nesting dolls.
 The USC production is being directed by Mary Boyce Holtcamp, a visiting artist who has directed several USC Lab Theatre shows and others at the Culture Project and Soho Rep in New York.
Although it is not overtly political, it doesn't complete ignore the recent wars in Iraq. Holtcamp notes that the loss of many Persian literary treasures during the Mongol invasion in 1250 has its modern parallels.
“The story reminded me that in my own lifetime (in 2004, in fact, during the chaos of the U.S. invasion of Iraq), the National Library of Baghdad was also bombed and looted,” Holtcamp said. “Priceless artifacts from the Ottoman Empire were lost and much of the collection was damaged or destroyed.  In the years that followed, Iraqi citizens attempted to reopen the library.  They were met first with threats from the insurgents and two library workers were kidnapped.  One was killed, the other tortured and sent back to the library with the message: ‘Do not reopen this library.’  The library had become a target, but the library workers did not abandon the place.  It is an open, public library today. “
Appropriately the director has set the play in a burned out library.
“The ruined library where real people work to preserve their nation’s culture in the midst of violence seemed the perfect setting for this play,” Holtcamp said. “It presents a world where books, stories and tales are important: important enough to kill for and important enough to die for.”  
Oh and those really popular stories about Ali Baba, the genie and Sinbad: they weren’t part of the original Arabic collection, but were added by European writers.
“Arabian Nights” runs through Feb. 28 at Longstreet Theatre, located at Sumter and Greene streets. Call (803) 777-2551.
From top: Top cast members in the USC production, a 14th century book of the tales from Syria, and a 19th century illustration from the book.

Thursday, Feb. 18
The low end

A concert of solo bass might sound like a kind of low concert – unless you’ve experienced one. Jason Ajemian dances up and down the four strings in a solo performance tonight at 8.  Ajemian’s music has been called "intoxicating, impressive and innovative" and his newest recording, “The Art of Dying,” dubbed “a brilliant document.”
The concert is at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, 701 Whaley St. $5 for non-members and $4 for center members. (803) 238-2351.

Expression and the common object
Like a lot of artists Josh Drews makes his living by teaching, in his case at spring Valley High School which is where he went to school. Drews’ first solo exhibition, composed of about 16 monotype prints, opens tonight at Compass 5 Partners.
Drews often uses common objects as the central iconic figure surrounding them with expressive marks. As the name implies, a monotype print is a one-of-a-kind print. The artist will give a talk about his work and the process during an opening for the show tonight from 6 to 8. Through March 18. 1329 State St., Cayce.  (803) 765-0838.

Off the Wall and off to Chicago
The Columbia City Ballet gives “Off The Wall and Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green,” a send off before taking it to Chicago.
The ballet, based on colorful, narrative and often nostalgic paintings by South Carolina native Green, is usually done in large halls. Tonight and Friday the dancing is in the Drayton Hall Theatre at USC which means not all the giant scrim images of the paintings will be used, but it will not be a bare-bones production either.
The ballet by company director William Starrett was premiered in 2005 and got a lot of attention. My bottom line on it was and is this: the first act is four times better than I thought it would be and the second ten times worse than I could have imagined.
Admission is $20 for the 7:30 shows. (803) 799-7505.

Friday, Feb. 19
Dancing to “Africa”

“Off the Wall” isn’t the only black roots dance this weekend. DANCEWORDZ premieres its theatrical-poetic-ballet “Africa” at 8 tonight and Saturday at the CMFA Art Space, 914 Pulaski St. Tickets, $15,

Two art shows – one place
 “Anna Redwine: Frauenau” and “Laura Spong: Renovations” both open tonight at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios. Both artists live in Columbia.
Redwine’s show of paintings were created during a one-week stay in Frauenau, Germany, in 2004. The pieces blend washes of color, jagged marks and some representational elements. (right)
Spong’s abstract paintings are connected to a recent renovation of her home.
An opening reception takes place from 5 to 9 tonight and can be seen through March 2. The gallery is at 808 Lady St. (803) 238-2351.

Jazz down the hall
If you're going to see the Spong and Redwine shows, stroll down the hall to hear jazz pianist Jangeun Bae at the Blue Martini. The Korean musician is playing in a trio setting tonight and 9 p.m. It’s free.  (803) 256-2442.

Falling to pieces again
Country singer Patsy Cline never died – at least not at Town Theatre.  “Always … Patsy Cline” is back for third time  once again with Shannon Willis Scruggs as Cline and Kathy Hartzog as her friend Louise. The show by South Carolina native Ted Swindley is based on a true story of the friendship.
The show opens tonight and runs through March 6. For tickets, $20, call (803) 799-2510 or go to

Sunday, Feb. 21
The chemistry of dance and color

The new S.C. Contemporary Dance company unveils a new work inspired by the artist Alvin Loving’s “Midtown” series of jazzy painted cutouts that are part of “The Chemistry of Color” at the Columbia Museum of Art. The piece was choreographed by company director Miriam Barbosa, with original music by John Valerio of the USC music school.
The piece will be done at 3 p.m. today and Feb. 28 at the museum. Admission is $10 or $8 for museum members. or (803) 799-2810.

Musical giants turn 200

Retired USC professor John Kenneth Adams will be back on the piano for "Piano Portrait: Ruins and Eagles' Feathers" focusing on the music of Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin. This is the 200th anniversary of the births of the two giants of the piano. "Piano Portrait" is composed of the music  along with commentary and visuals. 3 p.m. at the USC School of Music. (803) 777-4280.

Monday, Feb. 22
Speak up

You had a chance to speak out on the arts last week at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. Hang onto those ideas and share them at the S.C. Art Commission’s “Canvas of the People” taking place at the Columbia Museum of Art from 6:45 to 8. Call (803) 734-8696.

Olympia goes on sale today
Well, not the mill village itself, but artworks based upon it.
These works are part of what has been a terrific show at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art by Gwylène Gallimard and Jean-Marie Mauclet of Charleston. Everything must go starting at 7:30 p.m., but you should go see the exhibition while it is still intact.
701 Whaley St. (803) 238-2351.

Tuesday, Feb. 23
Stick up take down
Everyone is invited to help take down Jonathan Brilliant's coffee stirrer sculpture at the USC art department gallery at 5 p.m. If you can keep it together you can carry a chunk of it off. The department is at Senate and Pickens.

Wednesday, Feb. 24
Columbia native back to read

Columbia native Percival Everett gives a reading and talk at the Richland County Public Library at 6 p.m. A professor at the other USC – the University of Southern California – he is the author of Wounded (2005), Erasure (2001),  American Desert (2004) and I Am Not Sidney Poitier (2009). The event is free and the library is at 1431 Assembly St. (803) 799-9084.

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