There are a lot of familiar faces at this year’s Spoleto Festival. Composer Philip Glass, who was quite the poster boy for Spoleto back in 2007, offers his new opera Kepler, and he’ll chat with Resident Conductor John Kennedy about his long history with the festival. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Gate Theatre are returning for their fourth and eighth appearances, respectively, while Charleston native Jack Hitt, a This American Life regular, will take the stage to talk about everything from brain science to what it was like growing up down the street from a famed Holy City transvestite. The choral and chamber music offerings remain steady as ever with performances from the Westminster Choir, the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, and the twice-daily Chamber Music Series.
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, 1927, and Jake Shimabukuro are also returning acts, and then there are the new faces that seem a little familiar, like the Rebirth Brass Band, which reminds us of 2011’s Trombone Shorty. Traces promises to be this year’s Circa, and Joy Kills Sorrow is another young roots band in the vein of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Punch Brothers.
But Spoleto isn’t stagnating. In fact, as it nears its 40th anniversary, it just seems to be growing more youthful. Orchestra Uncaged includes works from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, while LEO and A Crack in Everything use innovative video projections to create topsy-turvy worlds on stage. The Chinese opera Feng Yi Ting is being directed by Hollywood hotshot Atom Egoyan, and Mike Daisey adds some delicious controversy to the lineup. Even the Finale should appeal to a younger crowd thanks to the addition of popular local bands and a beer garden.
The festival is nowhere close to abandoning its classical roots, but organizers are obviously listening to their audiences and delivering what they want, whether it be more of the same or something new, young, and hip. We’re already looking forward to how the festival will evolve over the next few years, especially as the massive Gaillard Auditorium closes for renovations. But for now, let’s just focus on 2012 and all the familiar and unfamiliar shows that Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto are offering. It should be a solid year.