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Unplugged: Another year, another perspective on Spoleto vs. Savannah Music Fest

  • Gallim Dance’s “W H A L E” was performed at Spoleto Festival USA. (Photo by Yi Chun Wu)

Unplugged: Another year, another perspective on Spoleto vs. Savannah Music Fest

14 Jun 2017

Like many other Savannahians, I head to Charleston for at least a day each year for Spoleto Festival USA. I generally buy tickets for genres that we don’t get often in Savannah.

This year, a friend and I saw four performances at three different venues during the 17-day event.

On our first trip, we caught Company Wang Ramirez’s full-length dance piece “Monchichi” and Victoria Thierrée Chaplin’s stunning multimedia production “Murmurs,” which starred Aurélia Thierrée. (The “Murmurs” creator and star are, respectively, the daughter and granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and Oona O’Neill Chaplin.)

On Spoleto’s final weekend, we saw Gallim Dance’s “W H A L E” and the physical theater production “Il n’est pas encore minuit,” which featured 20 members of the French circus troupe Compagnie XY performing crazy acrobatics and building human towers. We had seen both Gallim Dance and Compagnie XY productions at previous festivals.

It’s always tempting to compare Spoleto Festival to our own 17-day Savannah Music Festival, but there are obviously many key differences.

In addition to routinely offering genres like dance and opera, Spoleto has been around longer than the SMF, has a markedly larger budget and is held in a much more populous metro area than Savannah.

At the same time, Spoleto also hosts multiple stagings of major shows, so the festival offers far fewer unique performances than the SMF.

But I still can’t resist drawing some comparisons.

For example, the SMF made two forays into dance this year — BalletCollective and Che Malambo at the Lucas Theatre. Both shows had better production values than the two dance productions we saw this year at the historic Sottile Theatre in Charleston.

The most satisfying Spoleto shows I attend are consistently at the Memminger Auditorium and the College of Charleston’s Emmett Robinson Theatre. Sadly, downtown Savannah doesn’t have a performance space that’s comparable in size and quality to either of those venues.

We might see a few new options for the SMF and other arts organizations in the next few years, but we will have to see how things work out.

Despite the many differences between the two events and host cities, the more familiar I become with Spoleto, the more impressed I am by the Savannah Music Festival.

Bill Dawers writes City Talk in Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged ( and hissing lawns ( Email