THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Culture: Ballet transforms images from canvas to stage
By Jason Lesley
Gullah culture will be celebrated across Georgetown County next weekend in a variety of contexts during the Lowcountry Rice Forum, organized by the county’s public library.
An original film, panel discussions, an art show and performances are being planned Sept. 17-19 on the Waccamaw Neck and in Georgetown as means of exploring the Gullah influence on the arts. Centerpiece of the three-day program will be the Columbia City Ballet’s performance “Off the Wall and onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green” Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. at Winyah Auditorium.
“It’s taking visual art and making it performing art,” said Steele Bremner, program director at the Waccamaw Library. Dancers in the same costuming as subjects from Green’s paintings extend the symbolism across the stage. Bremner said she secured nine sponsors to finance the major portion of the ballet’s cost and keep ticket prices at $20 each. “These people said they believed in something of this magnitude at the Winyah Auditorium as part of the Rice Forum,” she said.
Green is the inspiration for the biennial rice forum. It began two years ago in Charleston with future dates in Beaufort, Columbia and Savannah. County librarian Dwight McInvaill attended the first forum in Charleston and secured an agreement for Georgetown County to host the second event.
McInvaill said advertising in out-of-county markets has sparked early ticket sales to visitors. A Saturday morning brunch with Green, he said, is 90 percent sold out, and tickets to the ballet are more than half sold or reserved for donors. “People should not assume that they can glide in to these events because we are having a good response,” McInvaill said. “At the same time, right now, there’s an easy way for them to get a spot and that’s to contact us at the library website. We are very upbeat, very excited.”
Green’s art has brought Gullah imagery to a national audience. The ballet brings it to life. In “Off The Wall and Onto The Stage,” dancers depict characters in 28 of Green’s paintings as they are projected behind the dance stage. In “Sea Swing,” for example, a girl in a brilliant yellow dress and hat comes swingingly to life; boys and another swinger enter, and the painting becomes the occasion for all-purpose flirtatious horseplay.
William Starrett, artistic director of the Columbia City Ballet, has been presenting the show for a decade nationally. “Descendants of the Gullah culture were such an important part of rice history here in South Carolina,” he said. “It just makes sense that we are a part of it.”
Starrett said the ballet will begin with three work songs: “Down By the River,” “Highway to Heaven” and “Juba” that are a “big part of the Gullah culture.” Dancers will leap from paintings depicting work in the fields. Next will be “Fan Dance,” a celebration of the colors of the Lowcountry. Green’s most famous painting, “Daughters of the South,” depicts the challenges during plantation times, Starrett said. “Inlet Bounty” and “Love of Harvest” sung by Marlena Smalls brings the company together, he said. The ballet concludes with a Saturday night at the Silver Slipper Dance Hall and some Motown music.
Principal ballerina will be Regina Willoughby and principal dancer will be Christopher Mera. Soloist will be Autumn Hill.
“What’s great about the ballet,” Starrett said, “is celebrating a melding of cultures.”
A celebration of Gullah culture
The Lowcountry Rice Forum includes three days of events next week designed to explore the significance of rice cultivation in the South and its legacies by focusing on the effect of South Carolina’s former rice industry on arts and culture.
Sept. 17, 2-5 p.m. — Bus tour of Hobcaw Barony that includes former rice plantations and slave villages as well as a stop at Hobcaw House, home of owner Bernard Baruch. Maximum capacity is 28 participants. Call 843-546-4623 for reservations. $20.
• 7 p.m. — Documentary film at the Waccamaw Neck Branch Library featuring interviews with Georgetown County Gullah artists and cultural leaders with an introduction by interviewer Dr. Valinda Littlefield of the University of South Carolina. Free.
Sept. 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Panel discussions at the Waccamaw Neck Branch Library exploring how South Carolina’s rice-growing past influences the present through the artwork and outlook of residents. $20.
• 8 p.m. — “Off the Wall and Onto the Stage” performance by Columbia City Ballet based on the art of Jonathan Green, Winyah Auditorium, followed by a casual soirée to meet the performers. $20.
Sept. 19, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — Jonathan Green exhibit and brunch, Georgetown County Museum, Broad Street, and Old Fish House, Front Street. Participants limited to 60. Call 843-545-7020 for reservations. $20.
• 4 p.m. — Gullah concert featuring Freedom Readers Children’s Choir, Kaminski House lawn in Georgetown, sponsored by Athenaeum Press at Coastal Carolina University. Free.
• 7:30 p.m. — “God’s Trombones” at Winyah Auditorium featuring Ron and Natalie Daise presenting dramatic readings from “Seven Negro Poems in Verse” by James Weldon Johnson. $20.
For more information visit georgetowncountylibrary.sc.gov. Passes to all events are $55. For tickets and reservations, call 843-545-3316.