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Long ago and far away: Siblings Carmen and Angel Corella. Photo
courtesy Corella Ballet.

Copyright 2011 Chris Dohse

The Belles of Charleston

CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- The first thing you notice here is that everyone in South Carolina is very moist.

I brought a sinus/chest congestion and fever with me from the North that has been keeping me glued to an alternately sweat-soaked and freezing mattress in my friend Neil's "Crisp Lettuce"-colored spare bedroom when not being driven to and from chilled theaters in his car through what feels like a wall of wet socks. My newly amphibian body reacts to changes in temperature and humidity now like a barometer made of meat.

From these first febrile days and nights (nine performances in four days), the somewhat eccentric female characters have made the strongest impressions, as you might expect from any trip to the deep South, the landscape of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. Here are five of them.

1. As I wait to collect my bag at the luggage carousel in the Charleston airport, a small girl "dances" for her father, who snaps photos with his phone. Her act looks like an over-rehearsed, hypersexualized travesty of "hot moves" picked up from music videos and reality television competitions. Excruciating. When her father gets bored, she just keeps on going, with all the wrath canned soda can possess, begging everyone to watch her percussive contortions with eyes well-trained in flirting. Finally an elderly woman asks her age. She clams up but holds up four fingers. Then the kindly lady asks, "Do you take ballet?" An instructive moment in the divide between high and low culture.

2. In Program I of the Music in Time series (Saturday May 28), pianist Lydia Brown pours her whole body into her instrument to create sounds that might be echoes in a spelunking chamber or caps of waves bitten by wind, spittle bubbling on a scowling shoreline

Composer John Kennedy explains beforehand that the solo, Naturali Periclitati, explores time, memory, endangered or dwindling natural or cultural resources. This resonates perfectly with my first few hours in town, an opportunity to reflect on the finite and impermanent pool of resources of myself.

But I ask myself, how is a pretty lady in a lace dress at a grand piano in a recital hall offering any solution to our ecologic crisis, other than to add another voice to our common grief? If grief is about the griever, rather than the grieved, is this evocation of loss, however moving, ineffectual?

3. Jane Wilford, the hostess of a wine and cheese reception for the press, opens her home on Legare Street in one of my long-favorite parts of the old city. She generously discusses some of the beautiful old family pieces she and her husband have placed with humor and vitality in the antebellum house with Neil, who is a curator at the Charleston Museum. For instance a pair of brass spittoons on the fireplace mantle in the parlor. Ms. Wilford, I lift my champagne flute to you (the floating blackberry is a nice touch). You are everything one could hope for in a truly refined southern hostess, gracious and loquacious, making each guest welcome, no matter how ragtag. Next time I visit, can I skinny-dip in your pool?

4. Sam Sathya, master teacher of Cambodian court dance, is unafraid to state her age (42) in "Khmeropedies I & II" (Sunday May 29). She embodies the strength and fluidity that saved her traditional form from the Killing Fields. Time stands still in the hyperextended line of her arms, hands, and feet, her specificity of gesture, her innate elegance and sense of humor like an extended, syncretic reverence.

5. In the Sunday May 29 performance of Corella Ballet, Carmen Corella dominates the stage in "Solea," a duet created for her and her brother Angel by Maria Pages. The duet captures each sibling's natural movement energies. My decongestants are hitting pretty hard and making my head spin, but Carmen looks enormous, filling the stage with a haughty and languid presence like a Flamenco caryatid, while Angel hurtles through her wake, a mad dragonfly.

Still to come: Taylor Mac, Emilie du Chatelet, Kneehigh Theatre, the racism and sexism of The Magic Flute, and more.

All grown up now: Carmen and Angel Corella face off in Maria Pages's "Solea" with Corella Ballet. Photo courtesy Corella Ballet.

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