Digging in the Dirt

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Music in Time host John Kennedy presented the second program in his

contemporary music series Saturday at 5 pm, and from the get-go everyone present in the

packed Recital Hall got an eyeful of exactly why

this series endures with such popularity — it’s just downright fun. Kennedy had filled

Program II with solo works for some of the most talented players in the

Spoleto Symphony Orchestra, which he creates from scratch each winter

from some of the nation’s most prestigious music conservatories. In the

first work, cellest Victoria Bass played an atmospheric, delightfully

odd piece which had her accompanying her own cello work with wordless

song — an arrangement of the original violin accompaniment for voice.

Her bow work was sometimes so soft as to be barely audible; sometimes

she’d drag her fingers along the strings for an eerie effect, and

her singing often devolved into whispered sighs or a passionate gasp. It was

chilling and beautiful.

Longtime SFO trombonist Steven Parker next premiered a new work from host

Kennedy for solo trombone. He played in jeans and a black button-up,

untucked, with ankle belts of bells encircling each leg, and he

periodically dipped the horn into a big plastic tub of water resting

beside him. The total effect, as Kennedy noted in his introduction, was

a transition from the sublime to the ridiculous. Parker must have a

hell of a sense of humor: I remember last year he played another solo

work for the series in clown makeup.

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Out at Johns Island, beneath the great moss-covered limbs of Angel Oak,

the dancers of Charleston Ballet Theatre threw themselves around in the

dirt at the base of the sprawling, 1,400-year-old tree with the kind of

abandon you’d fully expect of a pagan sacrificial rite. In point of

fact, about the only thing that distinguished it from an open-air

female mud wrestling match was a symphonic accompaniment, provided by

the CSO in a nearby tent, with amplification running out to speakers

surrounding the dance area. An ogling crowd, full of wine-imbibing,

picnicking Piccolites, seemed to be stuck in permanent raised-eyebrow

mode. CBT’s dancers were in full roadhouse mode, dressed in slinky,

earth-colored unitards and loincloths, with their hair pulled back into

a clutch of braids. The dancers acted out CBT choreographer Jill

Eathorne Bahr’s erotic take on Stravinsky’s famous ballet, with lots of

simulated sex — between a druidic father and daughter, in one instance

— while the dancers got absolutely filthy, smearing dirt over

themselves and their partners, hurling it at each other, rolling around

in it, emptying gobs of it from loincloths, and generally doing all the

sorts of things mothers prevent their children from doing all the time.

After it was done and the dancers had exited to hose down and prepare

for another go at 7:30, one departing lady walked out, fanning herself

and muttering to a friend, “I think I need either a very cold shower or something else entirely.”

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