Critic's Notebook: Spoleto 2014 brings on the Southern charm

Fairey, Nyman help kick off two weeks of art and performances


  • © 2013 Shepard Fairey
  • GREAT MILEAGE: The work of Shephard Fairey will be paired with the work of fellow artist (and former South Carolinian) Jasper Johns, one of many events and exhibitions planned during Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA.

As everyone knows now, Charleston has plenty of Southern charm, but the city is actually never more charming than during Spoleto, the massive summer arts festival that's been in town for more than 35 years, attended by the likes of Tennessee Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Arthur Miller, Philip Glass, Lou Reed and too many others to mention. Spoleto 2014 kicks off this Friday and runs for two weeks, featuring 148 performances by 63 artists and ensembles.

Though the focus of the festival is firmly on performing arts, one of the most curious events during the fest is an exhibition at Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art that pairs the work of young street artist Shephard Fairey with the work of Jasper Johns. What may not be well-known about either world-famous artist is the fact that they are both sons of South Carolina: Johns was born in Augusta and then raised in Allendale and Columbia and other places around the state, while Fairey hails from Charleston. Fairey will be in Charleston during the festival to attend the exhibition's opening to give an artist's talk and to paint several commissioned murals around the city.

Also on hand during the festival will be composer Michael Nyman, who famously composed the scores for many of Peter Greenaway's films and Jane Campion's The Piano. He'll perform a piano recital with other chamber musicians, and he'll also guide the American premiere of a recomposed version of his 2000 opera Facing Goya. Opera takes center stage at the festival with two other intriguing offerings: a new production of John Adams' nativity-themed El Niño and performances of Leoš Janáček's Káťa Kabanová directed by Tony Award-winning theater-artist Garry Hynes.

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But Spoleto extends far beyond opera to include theater, jazz, dance, performance art, and more. René Marie pays tribute to fiery jazz diva Eartha Kitt, and Ireland's Gate Theatre returns to Spoleto to perform a stage version of the Daphne du Maurier classic thriller My Cousin Rachel. Dance from Chicago's Hubbard Street, Keigwin + Company, tap dancer Michelle Dorrance and South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma should all be great, as should the popular chamber music series which runs on afternoons throughout the festival.


  • Courtesy Brimful of Asha
  • STAGE MOM: Actor Ravi Jain performs his show "Brimful of Asha" with his mother on stage.

I'm especially curious about Ravi Jain's 'one-man' show Brimful of Asha about his mother's nagging him to enter into an arranged marriage, a show the actor performs ... with his mother on stage (I heard she slays it). New to the festival last year, and coming back again this year in a bigger way for two Saturdays instead of just one, "Behind the Garden Gate," allows festival-goers the rare opportunity to tour some of Charleston's lushest and most beautiful private gardens.

If you can't find enough to keep you busy at Spoleto, there's also Piccolo Spoleto, the family-friendly, fringe-style festival of local and regional artists sponsored by the city. Their list of offerings is pretty broad and extensive, too. Among the highlights are jazz and blues cruises around Charleston Harbor in the evenings and the daily early music series at the Huguenot Church. The busy 17 days of activity will be brought to a close by Charleston's own Shovels and Rope performing an outdoor concert as the festival finale at Middleton Place. Stay tuned to this space for updates from Charleston and Spoleto next week.

  • Courtesy Spoleto Festival USA
  • GRAND FINALE: Spoleto 2014 will end with fireworks and a performance from Shovels and Rope.