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Unplugged: SMF’s first weekend featured ambitious programming

  • BalletCollective presents "What Comes Next" during the 2017 Savannah Music Festival. (Photo courtesy SMF/Sarah Escarraz)
 

Unplugged: SMF’s first weekend featured ambitious programming

30 Mar 2017

We’ve gotten a little spoiled by the Savannah Music Festival.

For 17 days each year, Savannah hosts world-class performances in a variety of genres. In beautiful venues. With stellar production values.

After years of covering the SMF, it’s gotten easy to take such routine excellence for granted.

The opening weekend of the 2017 festival was notable, however, even by the SMF’s already high standards.

For years, I’ve tried to support efforts to bring top-notch professional dance to Savannah, so I was thrilled that the SMF took a chance on BalletCollective’s “What Comes Next,” which included wonderful live accompaniment from the skilled players in the ensemble Hotel Elefant.

The three pieces by young choreographer Troy Schumacher, who is originally from Atlanta, featured seven of Schumacher’s fellow dancers from the New York City Ballet — a great company by any measure.

Professional contemporary dance can be a hard sell in Savannah, but the SMF’s programming of BalletCollective was successful in every possible way. There was a tremendous response from the large crowd at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, and the production — especially the moving final piece “Invisible Divide” — was stellar.

This certainly wasn’t the first time the festival has programmed dance, but this year’s success might embolden SMF director Rob Gibson and his team to take more risks with the art form in the future.

The SMF’s first weekend also included a mesmerizing, eerie and strangely moving performance at the Lucas Theatre by the Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha. The quartet performed a live score to Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s “Earth,” a provocative 1930 silent film that still resonates today.

DakhaBrakha played to much acclaim at the 2015 SMF — a tremendous show that I was lucky to attend – but nothing fully prepared me for this year’s ambitious performance.

The SMF also stepped outside of the box on the opening weekend with a late-night Cajun-themed party at B. Matthew’s Eatery led by musician Joel Savoy.

The Savannah Music Festival now heads into its second weekend, which is dotted with major names: rocker Jason Isbell, jazz great Marcus Printup and classical stars like Daniel Hope, David Finckel, Wu Han and the Dover Quartet.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the lineup, which also includes a special double bill of Richard Thompson and Sarah Jarosz — one of the performances that I’m most excited about.

As I noted above, the SMF has made such excellent programming seem routine. Every so often, it’s worth looking afresh at the festival’s sheer ambition and considering all the ways it can continue to grow.

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com) and hissing lawns (www.hissinglawns.com). Email billdawers@comcast.net.

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