In recent years, Charleston Ballet Theatre has made a Piccolo tradition of sorts out of performing under the massive Angel Oak, an ancient live oak tree on Johns Island estimated to be over 1,400 years old. The ballet first performed under the stunning and expansive canopy in 1998, accompanied by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. They returned to the Angel Oak in 2002 without the CSO and danced to canned music. This year they return again with the CSO to perform their interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Stravinsky wrote the risqué ballet in 1912 for the Ballet Russes. The Russian title literally means, "Spring the Sacred." Inspired by pagan ritualistic dance, and informed by the expertise of archaeologist and folklorist Nikolai Roerich, Rite of Spring is Stravinsky's magnum opus.
When the ballet first premiered in Paris on May 29, 1913, audiences were shocked by the rhythmic score, primitive setting, and radical choreography. The performance began to whistles and catcalls from the audience and eventually degenerated into a full-fledged riot. Disgraced, Stravinsky fled the theatre.
Don't expect riots at the Charleston Ballet Angel Oak performance. Nearly 100 years after the original premiere, the ballet does not seem nearly as "sexual and barbaric" today. In fact, Walt Disney felt the ballet was innocuous enough to use it in Fantasia — well, the music, anyway. The animated film accompanies the music with illustrations of the evolution of single-celled life forms to dinosaurs. This interpretation of the score might create more controversy today than the original ballet.
Ballet purists and creationists alike need not worry; the Charleston Ballet Theatre's Jill Eathorne-Bahr has choreographed a performance that transports viewers back to the beginning of time, and there is Adam, and there is Eve. In this scenario, the fledgling Earth is a matriarchy that is turned upside down. Eathorne-Bahr's work has been heralded as "sleek and explosive." Her range of choreographic styles incorporates both the modern movement and pure classicism. Dancers will take advantage of the setting, using the natural dirt floor and the irresistibly climbable Angel Oak.
This is the 19th season of the professional ballet company. Patricia Cantwell, artistic director of the Ballet Company, says the CBT has always been a big part of the city's creative tapestry. "Every day its talented dancers, who come to live in Charleston from all over the world, are bringing these magnificent works to life. And every day Charleston Ballet Theatre is carving out its unique spot on the national artistic map."
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra, as conducted by Scott Terrell, will provide the sounds. Despite the bugs and dirt, tickets go quickly to this family-friendly event. The magic created by the Angel Oak's bucolic setting combined with beautiful choreography and rhythmic musical performance makes up for the hazards of the outdoors.
UNDER THE ANGEL OAK • Piccolo Spoleto's Special Events • $25 • June 3 at 6 and 7:30 p.m. • Angel Oak Park, 3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island • 554-6060