A sci-fi and conspiracy theory opera, a Finnish aerialist, and a South African family’s history told through dance are a few of the offerings coming up during the 2014 Spoleto Festival USA, which  announces its season on the Spoleto website on Dec. 3.

After a coming off a solid 2013 season which not only left them in the black, but allowed them to add to their endowment, the festival is opening up ticket sales even earlier than usual. For the 2014 festival, which runs May 23-June 8, patrons can begin purchasing tickets to their must-see events starting Dec. 9. And for the first time ever, the festival is hosting a donor pre-sale, which will allow donors of $100 or more to purchase tickets starting Dec. 3. It doesn’t apply only to those who’ve already donated either — those who visit the site any time between now and Dec. 7 can make a donation and have access to the pre-sale after a 24-hour delay for processing, says Jessie Bagley, Spoleto’s marketing and public relations manager.

This year’s standouts include a concert by Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn; the return of Ireland’s Gate Theater, whose period dramas are always incredibly popular; and a new staging of John Adams’ opera El Niño, a retelling of the nativity story. But, says Spoleto’s General Director Nigel Redden, “I think there are some unexpected ones, too.”

One of those is Dorrance Dance, a New York-based tap company founded by N.C. native Michelle Dorrance. She’s been performing and studying tap for 30 years, and founded the company, which is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of tap dancing, in 2011. “She’s doing some very new things with an art form that has very strong American roots,” Redden says.

Redden is also pleased to welcome back Laurie Anderson, the performance artist and wife of the late Lou Reed, who will perform The Language of the Future, a multimedia work that explores technology, communication, travel, and science. “She has these wonderful, small epiphanies. She makes these small details come alive,” he says.

After welcoming South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, which was part of the Bristol Old Vic’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, last year, festival producers returned to South Africa to bring in Gregory Maqoma, a dancer who’s created a solo work about his family’s identity during the 19th century.

For those who appreciate experimental or contemporary opera, there’s Facing Goya, the aforementioned sci-fi and conspiracy theory-based performance (there’s some elements of art history in there, too). The show will be directed by Ong Keng Sen of Singapore and directed by Spoleto’s own John Kennedy. The opera will be presented acoustically, rather than amplified, for the first time.
The physical theater selections are fewer this year than in years past, featuring just two: the aerialist Ilona Jäntti and the Australian acrobatic troupe Gravity and Other Myths. In traditional (so to speak) theater, the festival will present the Gate Theatre’s performance of My Cousin Rachel, an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel. The Gate’s Dubliners have performed in Charleston plenty of times, most often with comic Noël Coward plays like Hay Fever and Present Laughter. My Cousin Rachel will give Spoletians a chance to see a darker — but no less enthralling — side of the company.

Then there’s Ravi Jain’s A Brimful of Asha, which gives the term “theater of the real” new meaning. For this autobiographical play, which touches on Indian cultural traditions, Jain brings his real-life mother on stage with him for a mother-son conversation.

There will be the usual strong showing of classical music, from canonical works like Adagio for Strings to the premiere of Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony by Michael Gordon. And despite some complaints about acoustics last year, the festival will again use the TD Arena for some of the larger shows, like singer Lucinda Williams and Fleck and Washburn. It’s the finale, though, that might draw the biggest crowd, at least as far as locals go — Shovels and Rope will take the stage at Middleton Plantation this year to close out the season.

All in all, Spoleto 2014 will feature 152 performances, slightly less than last year’s 160, which to us means that there will be more time to see everything we want. You can see the full schedule at spoletousa.org.

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