REVIEW: Columbia City Ballet's Body & Movement - by Susan Lenz

To Each Their Own: Body & Movement Explored

Yesterday morning I sat at my laptop and composed a glowing review of Columbia Classical Ballet’s one-night-only production of Don Quixote. I knew that just twenty-four hours later, I would be putting words together in another dance review, one for Columbia City Ballet’s Body & Movement Explored. I attended Saturday’s show, the second in a two-night engagement at Columbia Music Festival Association’s black box theater on Pulaski Street. I went hoping the dancing would be as wonderful as the evening before. After all, it is far easier to write compliments than it is to write critical comments.

For the most part, I was not disappointed. More importantly, I learned a lot. Some of what I learned was about the creative ideas at work in a choreographer’s mind. There was a casual but informative talk-back session after the dancing. I also learned that my opinions might be 180 degrees apart from other knowledgeable dance fans, but that doesn’t mean any of us are more wrong (or right!) than the other.

What do I mean by that? Well, I ran into a friend who had also seen Don Quixote the night before. Unlike me, though, my friend found the entire performance boring and lackluster, not at all of the quality they expected from a professional company. We exchanged our impressions. Both of us acknowledged valid points from one another. Neither mind was changed, but it was certainly an engaging and worthwhile conversation.

Body & Movement Explored was an evening that easily showcased works one might totally love or absolutely hate. The person sitting next to you could easily hate the one you loved and loved the one you hated. As for me, I really disliked Philip Ingrassia’s Together Apart. In the talkback session, Philip announced that not only was this the third reiteration of the piece, but that he was greatly satisfied with where it was at and how intended to expand the piece into a full, fifteen-minute number. I was also not a fan of Stephanie Wilkins’ Ache. The three couples often looked awkward in movements that otherwise suggested the intention should have been flowing ease. To me, more rehearsal time was needed.

I found Martin Skocelas-Hunter’s In Good Company boring enough that my mind wandered. His concept was obvious. A group of four women danced side by side, doing the same steps as if an amateur recital. This was followed by four men doing exactly the same thing. The audience was to consider the difference in interpretation between men and women given the same choreography. As my mind wandered, I could almost see how this concept could be translated into a first-rate contemporary art film. What at first I found unexciting became ripe with possibilities. This is why evenings exploring body and movement are so important; Without a stage on which to experiment, choreographers work in the dark.

Though I’ve mentioned works I didn’t particularly enjoy, more than half the fourteen works presented were quite entertaining. This includes Good Eats, a tap-dancing duet choreographed and performed by Jordan Hawkins and Claire Richards to the live music by composer/trumpeter Mark Rapp and drummer Brendan Bull. The music was the title track to Rapp’s 2011 release paying homage to legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson and the performance let the room know why Rapp was recently designated the Jazz Ambassador of Columbia and the State of South Carolina by the SC House of Representatives.

Both of Rachel Leonard’s works were wonderful to watch and showed a wide range of expressiveness. If I had known beforehand, I would have been predisposed to this opinion. Why? Well, Rachel Leonard is one of two founders of Surfscape Dance Troupe, a professional contemporary company in Volusia County, Florida. I saw them perform at the Joan James Harris Theater at the Atlantic Center for the Arts before their 2014 tour to Sadler’s Wells in England.  It wasn’t until the talkback session that my memories seemed to coincide with William Starrett’s story of meeting Rachel Leonard, as well as her story of going to Paris after her company’s performance in England. The first half of the program ended with Café de Courtieser L’Ecart, Leonard’s playful recollection of her trip. It was grand!

Yet the most intriguing number of the night for me was Amanda Summey’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, “Gun Emoji” set to Mendelssohn’s Movement in G Minor for Nicole Carrion, Jordan Hawkins, and Colin Jacobs. This was a work that ought to be further explored, expanded, and performed. The piece powerfully illustrated how differences of opinion can lead to intractable, unresolved tensions, not unlike the varying impressions left on audience members after any dance occasion

Miranda Bailey’s duet for Bonnie-Boiter Jolley and Maurice Johnson was ethereal. Unfortunately, Bailey finale, Origin of Love, would have benefited from a larger space. Still, it was so exciting to see dancers smiling, full of energy, and showing off spins and leaps as if cast in a Broadway musical about a high school performing arts school. Perhaps nothing from the evening will go on to fame, but being in the audience was fun and the ensuing conversations were stimulating. I hope my impressions initiate an interest in local dance, whether one agrees with me or not! We are all entitled to our own opinions and the community will grow if we share, explore, and learn from one another.

Full Disclosure: Jasper Magazine's former Dance Editor, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, is a soloist with the Columbia City Ballet. 

REVIEW: Columbia Classical Ballet's Don Q - by Susan Lenz


Audience Needed


I’d been looking forward to Friday’s one-night-only performance of Don Quixote by Columbia Classical Ballet all season, especially after seeing portions of it during last month’s Studio Series preview. Why? Well, I’ve only seen the full ballet once. 


It was a long time ago, 2005, but a very memorable experience. The Bolshoi, accompanied by its own orchestra, came to Wolf Trap theater outside Washington, DC. At the time, world renown Alexei Ratmansky was the artistic director. Many consider him the best choreographer working in the world today. He’s a MacArthur fellow and current artist-in-residence with American Ballet Theater in NYC. Ratmansky was trained at the Bolshoi, the company for which Don Quixote was originally choreographed back in 1869 by ballet's greatest classicist Marius Petipa. Most performances today are based on Alexander Gorsky’s derivative 1900 choreography, but that was for the Bolshoi too. So, Don Quixote by the Bolshoi, I can pretty much say that I once saw “the best of the best”.


Don Quixote is performed in either three or four acts with at least eight scenes of bravura, emotionally charged character dancing, flashy use of fans and capes, a hot Mediterranean aura, and a pumped-up score by Leon Minkus. The story comes from episodes found in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de a Mancha, a tale of unattainable humanity, chivalric romance, and the impossible dream of justice. In the ballet, The Man of LaMancha is really part of the background. The innkeepers’ flirtatious daughter Kitri and her love, Basilio, are are center stage. The ballet is full of humor and lots of variations for the casts’ female dancers plus one of the most frequently performance full pas de deux. That’s why I know the ballet so well.


Over the years, I’ve seen parts of this ballet literally hundreds of times. There are at least six female variations performed in international competitions and the wedding scene is generally on every gala program. Odds are, if you’ve been to Columbia Classical Ballet’s annual LifeChance gala, you’ve seen part of the production as well. Thus, when I say Friday night’s performance was wonderful, trust me!  You should have been there! It was undoubtedly the best ballet performance in Columbia this season.


Radenko Pavlovich, Columbia Classical Ballet’s artistic director, should be rightfully proud of his talented company. They were so good that even the few flaws were wonderful. A fan was dropped but the dancer showed no sign of concern. She waited for the perfect moment to pick it up, as if the accident was part of the choreography. Dancing to canned music sometimes causes problems too. There are variations in which the movement begins before the music. With an orchestra, the conductor is to watch the dancer and know precisely when to bring down the baton. With canned music, timing is tricky, not always perfect. A missed cue happened, but I doubt most in the audience knew. The dancer in question was so well rehearsed that he was flawlessly back with the music within seconds. 


The highlight of the evening was watching Nao Omoya as Kitri. Not only is she a technically brilliant dancer who makes every move look effortless but she’s a lovely actress. Her energy seemed to increase with the physical demands of the ballet. Her double fouettés in the final coda were world-class. Koyo Yanagishima partnered her beautifully and his boyish charm was evident throughout.


Now, I know there were lots of other cultural events going on last night, including another opportunity to see dance. But, it is a shame that every seat in the Koger Center wasn’t filled. This was a performance that deserved a full house and a standing ovation. I left the theater wondering about Don Quixote’s unattainable quest for chivalry and a better, more just world. In Columbia, dance companies have their own unattainable quest:  finding an audience to fill the seats. I was happy to occupy one, and I hope my previews and review for Jasper Project might assist in awareness for local dance and filling seats in the future because occasionally, like last night, Columbia’s audience has a chance to see “the best of the best” right here in the Midlands.

Trustus Theatre to Open Tony Award Winning Musical - FUN HOME - featuring Robin Gottlieb

“What would happen if we spoke the truth?” 
- Alison Bechdel

fun home.jpg

Trustus Theatre continues its dedication to bringing important theatre to Columbia with their production of Fun Home, an acclaimed and award-winning Broadway musical to their Thigpen Main Stage this spring. The musical is a masterful expansion of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name about being able to live in your truth, whatever it may be. 

When her father dies unexpectedly, graphic novelist Alison dives deep into her past to tell the story of the volatile, brilliant, one-of-a-kind man whose temperament and secrets defined her family and her life. Moving between past and present, Alison relives her unique childhood playing at the family’s Bechdel Funeral Home, her growing understanding of her own sexual orientation, and the looming, unanswerable questions about her father’s hidden secrets. Fun Home is a refreshingly honest, wholly original musical about seeing your parents through grown-up eyes.

Fun Home’s book and lyrics were written by Lisa Kron with music by Jeanine Tesori. Based on Bechdel's graphic memoir (2006), Fun Home was the winner of several awards at the 2015 Tony Awards including Best Music, Best Score (Jeanine Tesori & Lisa Kron), and Best Book of a Musical (Lisa Kron). Fun Home also won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Obie Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Musical.

Trustus Theatre Artistic Director Chad Henderson is excited to help bring this musical to life on Trustus Theatre’s stage as the play's director.  “I directed the production at Pure Theatre in Charleston, SC earlier this year. It sold out and is coming back to Pure for Piccolo Spoleto. So right on the heels of directing that production, I’m returning to my home theatre and working with a great team of Columbia actors and designers. I can already tell that this will be a very different production because all of the artists involved in the project are bringing their own unique reactions to the piece to the table.

“At the heart of Fun Home is a story in which we can all see ourselves," Henderson says. "Examining the truth of our past, looking past the myths we create about our parents when we’re younger, dealing with the societal challenges of being our most authentic selves—these are themes that many of us can relate to. These ideas are explored through the eyes of a lesbian cartoonist who, 20 years after her father’s suicide, is finally ready to look deeper into her relationship with her family and dissect the things she never understood. On the surface, Fun Home could seem like a tragic evening in the theatre. However, the beauty of this piece is that it’s incredibly uplifting and provides us with a feeling of hope by the end.”

Paul Kaufmann, of Season 33’s A Bright Room Called Day, will be playing the role of Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father. “Playing Bruce is a great challenge,” says Kaufmann. “He’s a character who’s put himself in such a scary and difficult position, and his actions cause great upheaval in his family. Despite that, he somehow has to try and justify his actions to himself. He is deeply in denial about the costs of creating those justifications. He’s trapped himself and ultimately is not successful in finding ‘a way through’ as he sings in one lyric," Kaufmann says. 

"Fun Home is such a ‘Trustus show’—with a small cast and a thoughtful, deep, and beautiful play that cries out for sensitivity and compassion—it’s an honor to perform it. My fellow cast mates, several of whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with for years, are phenomenal actors and singers. Our young cast mates are top notch—they’re really dedicated and are doing an amazing job. Randy Moore is teaching us the complicated but beautifully layered score and Chad is guiding us through this intricate piece with a strong vision. The process of putting it together so far has been truly rewarding.”

 Paul Kaufmann

Paul Kaufmann

Cassidy Spencer is bringing the role of one of the three Alisons, Medium Alison, to life. “I think my favorite part about playing Medium Alison is how clumsy and awkward this character is in an endearing way that we can all relate to,” says Spencer. “She often seems to unabashedly say things that many of us think or otherwise, she illustrates feelings that we’ve all experienced, like powerful crushes on our peers or intense nerves. This character is so honest and so charming, and I’m thrilled to bring her to the stage. ...this show is vastly beautiful—not only in its music and story—but in its characters, its message, and its subject area. It drew immense attention when it came to Broadway and I think it’s fantastic that Trustus is bringing the musical to Columbia.”


fun home robin.jpg

Stay after the shows on Friday, March 30 and on Friday, April 6 to enjoy an improv comedy show from the very same group that brought you the holiday comedy A Christmas Miracle at the Richland Fashion Mall: The Mothers. Tickets for the comedy show will be sold at the door for $10 ($5 for students) and are all general admission.

Film & Book Reviewers Wanted


“The Phantom Thread was a sanctimonious exercise in smuggery!”

“The Shape of Water was a retelling of Splash with fewer fins!”

“Get Out is the best movie ever made and changes the playing field for films forever!”


Ever feel this way about a film (or book) and want SOMEone SOMEwhere to hear you out?  You’ve come to the right place!

The Jasper Project is looking for book and film reviewers for the What Jasper Said blog. Both new and classic subject matter is open for consideration. Reviews should be 600 words or less and sent to Jasper Magazine editor at Feel free to query first at the same address.


REVIEW: Proof by the Newberry Community Players Makes the Drive Worthwhile

“If I go back to the beginning, I could start it over again. I could go line by line; try and find a shorter way. I could try to make it... better.” - David Auburn, Proof


There are times when really fine art happens in an elegant theatre with velvet curtains, lush seats, champagne in the lobby, and thousands of people sharing the experience with you. And there are other times when the mustiness of an old theatre is almost overwhelming, your seat is tentative at best, you’re drinking a fuzzy navel wine cooler, and few more than two dozen people share the space. And I’m here to tell you that setting in no way lessens the art if the art is good. And the art was good last night at the Ritz Theatre in downtown Newberry where the Newberry Community Players presented Proof, a play by David Auburn.

Really good.

Directed by Courtney Cooper, a recent Pennsylvania transplant to Chapin, Proof is an older play – it premiered in 2000, winning the Pulitzer and multiple Tony Awards in 2001 – that still holds up well due to the tightness of the dialogue and the timelessness of issues it both touches on and full out embraces, including family dynamics, mental health, gender inequality, and more. In the less than two decades since the play came out our cultural acceptance of (and curiosity about) the vast spectrum of mental health, idiosyncrasies, and function has changed exponentially as we recognize a much broader spectrum of mental capabilities and nuance than ever before. The story of a family both dealing with the end game of mental health issues for Robert, the family’s patriarch, and possibly (fearfully) also looking at the beginning of the same issues for Catherine, the youngest daughter, Proof  is offered in two acts with the single simple set of a back porch and small yard. Additional characters are Claire, an older daughter/sister, and Hal, Robert’s graduate student. With the exception of Claire, all the characters are high level mathematicians and the primary conflict is the discovery (proof) of who wrote a ground breaking proof about prime numbers.

Having seen this story twice before – once on Broadway when the lead role of Catherine was played by Anne Heche and that of Hal was played by Neil Patrick Harris, aka Doogie Howser, and again on film when the respective roles were played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal – it was impossible not to compare the treatment of the characters by both the director and players. For my money, I’d readily toss both the brooding Paltrow and the manipulative Heche off the stage in exchange for the honesty and vulnerability Amy Brower brings to the part. Where both stars created a sense of annoyance in the viewers, probably due to the difficult personalities they created in the character of Catherine, Brower portrays a character with which one can identify and empathize. I felt the anxiety of her fear that she, too, may carry the same imperfections as her father. (With Heche and Paltrow, I almost wanted them to!) Her body language and costuming also helped move the story 18 years into the future.

Playing the role of Robert, Catherine and Claire’s mathematical genius of a father, Lee O. Smith took great pain, too, in making the character his own, offering theatrical skills one would never expect to find in a musty old theatre in Newberry. The scene in which Catherine ultimately reads from his notebook and the response Smith gives was nothing short of mesmerizing. In many ways Smith channels Kevin Pollock if Pollock were a better actor.

Tabitha Davis plays the role of Claire, the older sister you love to hate, with admirable smugness and condescension and Brava to her for that, while Sam Hetler in the part of Hal, is the man-boy you want to do the right thing by Catherine. We’ve seen Hetler’s work behind the scenes at several theatres in town and it was good to see him front and center where he belongs.

Proof runs through February 24th at the Ritz Theatre at 1511 Main Street in Newberry and tickets are only $12. For more information go to or call 803-597-1636.


-Cindi Boiter

5 Questions for Thomas Crouch

He's Back...

Thomas Crouch octo.jpg

Artist Thomas Crouch is a native of Columbia, SC artist who has paintings in private collections on five continents. Having studied figurative oil painting, figurative drawing, and art theory at the Lorenzo De Medici School of Art in Florence, Italy, Thomas obtained a BA in Art Studio from the University of South Carolina in 1997. Jasper has had the honor of featuring Crouch’s work both on the cover of the magazine as well as in a number of articles. After having been MIA from the Columbia art scene for a bit, Crouch is back in town and we caught up with our friend to get the scoop on where’s he’s been and where he’s going. 


Here are 5 questions for Thomas Crouch.


Jasper: So, you've been painting out west and up north for the past little bit -- tell us where you've been and what you were up to.

Crouch: Yes I had been looking in to residencies and other opportunities to further my painting for a couple years. In 2016 I was invited to participate in the first Sedona Summer Colony in Sedona Arizona, by Sedona Arts Council Director Eric Holowacz.  Eric was an old friend from High school days and invited lots of artists from around the world that he knew and I’d worked with over the years. So we were kind of the first test to see how it could work.

They are in their third year now. Many artists like Max Earnst, Georgia Okeefe, etc worked in the area and I believe had stayed at the same campus we used. So it was nice to be in such a beautiful historic and art centered place.

After a month I moved to the Hudson Valley area to Millerton NY to attend another residency. That residency moved to Hudson NY and was a bit far for me so I just got a job on a farm and rented a small house from my sister who lives in Brooklyn. My brother in law is a sculptor so we share a studio space there. I showed in some galleries in Massachusetts and NYC which are close to Millerton. I spent the first winter there and got a job at a nice restaurant that was co-owned by Jasper Johns when the farm closed. This past winter I was accepted to Con Artist Winter Residency in Lower East Side NYC so I’ve been living and working there since November.

Thomas Crouch bear.jpg

Jasper:  Can you talk about some of the ways you've grown or changed as an artist during this time

Crouch:  In Millerton there’s not much to do but it’s very beautiful so I don’t mind it all. I wanted to concentrate on my painting so it’s the perfect spot. Working at Con Artist in the city was great in a polar opposite way. Working with other artists forced me to explain my work more and having access to galleries and museums was very rewarding. The fast pace loosened my work up a bit I think. My work is becoming more mixed media based and drawing plays more of a role in making the image.

Meeting new artists has open up doors too. I’m still a member at Con Artist and can still show at their exhibits and use the space. Showing at Art Basel Miami at the Con Artist Booth is a good example of opportunities available. Also I did some pieces for Insta Fame Phantom Art which is sort of a guerrilla street art project in the subway trains. So I’ve definitely been exposed to new methods of showing art. 

Jasper:  What about some of the ways you've stayed the same?

Crouch:  Hmmm, I still like southern food. It’s nice being from SC and explaining it to people. Charleston cuisine is a big topic and is very popular now. I made a lot of barbeque at the restaurant I worked at. And explaining boiled peanuts is always fun. 

Jasper: What is the main lesson you've learned?

Crouch: If you go for it 100% success is easier to find. And to constantly look at other artist’s work and talk to them about it. 


Jasper: Now, what are you bringing back to Columbia?

Crouch: The work at Frame of Mind is all of the remaining work I did at Con Artist in Manhattan. Three pieces sold so the remaining 14 are on display plus three that I did in Millerton.  The opening is 6-9  at 140 State St. in West Columbia on Friday 2/16. (That’s tonight!) 

Caustic Bucolic –

These pieces are from my work at Con Artist Collective in Lower East Side Manhattan, NY from November 2017-January 2018. Working in a shared studio space, I expanded my use of blueprints, animals, and current events by working alongside other artists. This allowed my work to more succinctly articulate a metaphorical investigation of human nature.


People relate to animals in a variety of ways. With figures of speech, they use animals to explain mundane occurrences of everyday life. In instances of self-identification, people use animals as a source of spiritual power. The first civilizations depended on animals for agriculture, sustenance, and protection. In ancient mythologies animals are used to represent deities. In religious texts a God may take the form of an animal.


This work encapsulates this progression of thought. Caustic Bucolic invites the viewer to consider their natural world. 


A show at Loft At 115 (115 S. Palmer Street, Rideway, SC) is up through February and showcases work I did in Sedona as well as more ravens. Two pieces have sold and I’m excited to show that work as it has never been exhibited outside of Arizona. 


I’m also working on a window at Tapps. My idea is to transform the window into an aquarium. I got the idea from the pieces I did for Insta Fame Phantom Art in NYC where I painted Octopus on the add inserts on the subway cars. 


Tickets Go On Sale for Deckle Edge Keynote Address and Nikky Finney Southern Truth Award Celebration

 Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes

 Nikky Finney photo by Forrest Clonts

Nikky Finney photo by Forrest Clonts



In the third year of celebrating South Carolina’s rich literary tradition Deckle Edge Literary Festival 2018 will welcome keynote speaker Terrance Hayes and renowned Southern literary artist Nikky Finney March 3, 2018 for the Deckle Edge 2018 Keynote Address and Southern Truth Award Celebration. Following the 2018 Deckle Edge Literary Festival daytime sessions from 9:30 am until 5 pm at Richland Library on Assembly Street, the Keynote Address and Southern Truth Award Celebration will take place at 7 pm at 701 Whaley Street Market Space. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 day of, and $10 for students. Heavy hors d’oeuvres from Chef Joe Turkaly will be served with music from Cola Jazz’s Amos Hoffman and Sam Edwards, and there will be a cash bar. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets at


Prior to the Keynote Address and Southern Truth Award Celebration a VAP* Champagne Reception will be held from 5:30 until 7 pm, also at 701 Whaley Market Space. (*Very Appreciated Person). The VAP Celebration allows attendees to meet and mingle, as well as raise a champagne toast to, Terrance Hayes, Nikky Finney and other honored participants in this year’s Deckle Edge Literary Festival. The reception will feature free champagne, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and reserved seats for the keynote address and award ceremony to follow, as well as recognition at the event. The reception will also serve as a fund raising opportunity for Deckle Edge Literary Festival. The purchase of VAP tickets will not only help offset festival costs but will serve as a scholarship fund for additional students to attend the evening’s Keynote address.


Winner of MacArthur, Guggenheim, US Artists Zell, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, Hayes is the author of Lighthead, which was the winner of the 2010 National Book Award, Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music. How to Be Drawn, his most recent collection of poems, was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, and received the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Poetry. He is the current poetry editor at New York Times Magazine and has two manuscripts forthcoming in 2018.


A South Carolina native, Nikky Finney is the author of Head Off & Split, which won the 2011 National Book Award for poetry, The World Is Round, Rice, Heartwood, and On Wings Made of Gauze. She is the John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina.


Over two dozen sessions will make up the Deckle Edge Literary Festival this year with panels and presentations that cover poetry, prose, songwriting, screenwriting, new works from local authors, a live interview for the Pat Conroy Literary Center filmed on-site, writing graphic novels, writing for social justice, a poetry workshop for teens, USC’s Moving Images Resource Center, literary history, and interactive art-making with Columbia-based fiber and installation artist Susan Lenz. Among the authors attending are Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene, Julia Elliott, Scott Gould, Mark Powell, Tim Conroy, Claudia Smith Brinson, Anthony Grooms, Alvin McEwan, Monifa Lemons, Ray McManus, Cassie Premo Steele, Marjorie Spruill, all of SC’s poets laureates – Marjory Wentworth, Marcus Amaker, and Ed Madden, Brock Adams, Isabella Gomez and many more.

The daytime event is free and open to the public and tickets to the keynote celebration are available at

Watch the website at for further details as they are released.

REVIEW: Columbia City Ballet's Off the Wall and Onto the Stage by Susan Lenz

Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green

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For me, writing a review of a one-night-only performance is difficult, especially since my viewpoint is as an expert audience member. No matter what I say, there’s no chance for others to attend the show to agree with me or not. So, I’m approaching this review from another angle. I’m comparing last Friday, February 9th performance of Off the Wall and Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green to earlier productions of the same show. I’m hoping that this article will explain why the public should see any ballet more than once. Ballets, even the classical ones, change over the years, from season to season, from cast to cast, through new costuming and staging and even through new choreography.


Columbia City Ballet’s Off the Wall has undergone plenty of changes since it’s 2005 premier. I attended that lavish February 4th opening at the Koger Center and largely agreed with the New York Times review which stated, “The evening seems short on specifics of Gullah life, let alone the evocation of actual characters” and went on to note a lack of coherence in the choreography and a disconnect between the two acts. That was thirteen years ago. 


Since that time, Artistic Director William Starrett has been polishing the show. In fact, this signature production is occasionally presented in a scale-down version as it was during the summer of 2014 for the 39th annual national assembly of The Links Foundation, an international nonprofit. That forty-two minute performance outside Washington, DC for an audience of 4,000 earned the company $50,000.  The first act vignette, “Love of the Harvest” to Marlena Smalls’ “Carry Me Home,” is frequently performed alone. I saw Amanda Summey and prima ballerina Regina Willoughby dance this remarkably touching piece last month in remembrance of Coralee Harris, a long-time arts supporter and former chairman of the board for the ballet company.  Basically, Off the Wall has been an active part of Columbia City Ballet’s repertoire since it debuted and is constantly being refined. 


The second time I saw the production was in 2011. Changes, especially in the second act, improved the experience. Individual personalities better emerged in the Silver Slipper Dance Hall and an interior church scene was added as a final number. Jonathan Green’s paintings, dance, and choral music brought the audience to a standing ovation then and again last Friday night. 


I generally complain about Columbia’s audience rising to their feet when the curtain falls as if a requirement, but it was impossible to stay seated in the crescendo of energy brought about by dancers popping up and down in their pews to high-spirited vocals by Elliott Hannah and singers from the Claflin University Gospel Choir, the University of South Carolina, ATOF, and Benedict College.  The show ends very, very well, especially in a space as open as the Township Auditorium. Audience and performers melded into a singular celebration.  It was terrific.


Other highlights include billowing fabric from which Regina Willoughby magically appears, Maurice Johnson striking a pose so perfectly that it suggests he modeled for Jonathan Green’s Fishing Break, and Amanda Summey’s feisty character in “He Treats Your Daughter Mean”. It was also a pleasure to see guest principal dancer Paunika Jones return to Columbia.


Most important to the success of this ballet is the way large-scale scrims of Jonathan Green’s painting really do come to life. Even from the 2005 debut, this difficult task worked. Translucent backdrops give way to specific places and characters. Yet, the spacious Township Auditorium seems to dwarf these backdrops when compared to their impact at the Koger Center. Fortunately, a multi-media projection off-set this spatial concern and actually showed even more of Jonathan Green’s low country images. Overall, the change in venue made the performance new and fresh.


The next time I see Off the Wall and Onto the Stage, there will be other changes.  How do I know this?  Well, in 2005 I had the pleasure of watching former prima ballerina Mariclare Miranda.  The New York Times liked her too, describing her as “an elegant classical dancer (who) proves that some exalted titles are not merely honorific.”  Later this season Regina Willoughby will retire, too.  Therefore, the future will bring another dancer to sizzle in Little Esther Phillips 1962 R&B hit “Please Release Me”.  I will look forward to that show.

REVIEW: USC's The Crucible by Frank Thompson

”If you choose to open the door, turn to page 83.

If you choose to go down the stairs, turn to page 61.

If you choose to go up the stairs, turn to page 40.”


   Those of us of the age of “that or thereabout” will certainly remember the captivating grade-school series of Choose Your Own Adventure books. For those who don’t, these gems were as close as possible to “print-interactive.” Instead of being read in linear fashion, they asked the reader to make a decision from two or three options, (following a starter page, in which a specific situation was established), and then gave directions to a page elsewhere in the book, based upon that decision.

   It likely isn’t often that a production of The Crucible evokes memories of childhood reading-list favorites, but the many layers and perspectives of director Robert Richmond’s production, currently running at USC’s Longstreet Theatre, kept bringing me back to the concept of choosing my own adventure. In brief, there’s a hell of a lot going on, a reasonable amount of character ambiguity, and a wonderful opportunity for the theatre-goer to take an active role in the processing and interpretation of the director’s and actors’ art. With this in mind, and with hopes that you’ll read all three, regardless of your choice, here are your three options:

. If you think The Crucible is an indictment of the corrosive potential of religious group-think, go to paragraph 1.

. If you think The Crucible is a statement on current events, go to paragraph 2.

. If you think The Crucible is a clear-eyed observation of humanity’s inherent nature, go to paragraph 3.

1. Written as Arthur Miller’s great middle finger to McCarthyism, The Crucible may have used religious mania as a metaphor for the “Red Scare”, but its themes and imagery are now practically literal, and unsettlingly close to the times we currently face. If 81% of Evangelicals support causes and individuals who undermine the bedrock of their self-proclaimed Christianity, a once-mainstream religion has lost its way through suspicion and hate. In his role as Reverend Hale, Kaleb Edward Edley does a commendable job representing the voice of religious tolerance and reason, only to be ignored by most as too dismissive of the influence of evil and the supernatural. While Judge Danforth (well-played by Richard Edward III), has the occasional moment of civility, and even (albeit ersatz) kindness, his, like those around him, is a cherry-picked religion, laser-focused on sin and punishment. The New Testament seems tangential, at best, in the reality inhabited by these characters, with grace and forgiveness mentioned infrequently, and usually wrapped within several layers of condemnation. One need only watch a few minutes of conservative religious television or read the philosophies of most mainstream Evangelical groups to see that a subculture of judgementalism and harsh theology comparable to that of the 1620s thrives in today’s interpretation of scripture. Though not every conservative religious congregation espouses hate, suspicion, and intolerance, that element is becoming more mainstream. (I won’t go off on a tangent, but will simply say that there are plenty of examples of “traditional” churches teaching hate from the pulpit, and they’re merely a YouTube search away.) The “witches” of Salem may now appear as the homeless, the poor, the LGBTQ community, or any other oppressed group under the thumb of archaic and backward religious beliefs. While we see several members of the community start out as decent, protective, neighbours, they soon descend to back-biting and accusations against one another, each claiming moral purity. As the play proceeds, especially in the second act, the social fabric of Salem dissolves as the audience watches, and a faux-Christian mob mentality takes over. Particularly effective in demonstrating this dissolution is Hunter Boyle, as Francis Nurse. When we first meet Nurse, he is a gruff, but reasonable man, the husband of Erica Tobolsky’s Rebecca Nurse, who may be the only woman in Salem who places the value of medicine and science over homespun theology. (Tobolsky, incidentally, does a masterful job of playing a woman literally centuries ahead of her time. Her commitment to the reality of the 1620s, while still presenting a modern face of religious tolerance, brings to mind a sort of John Pavlovitz-esque figure, railing against a growing communal intolerance, while attempting to actually follow the teachings of Christ. Kudos to Tobolsky for an exceptionally nuanced performance.) As the final scenes progress, we see Boyle devolve from a rustic-but-endearing rural husband to an anger-filled man determined to save his wife from what has become a theological kangaroo court. Far from just the Taliban and Westboro Baptist, similar examples of religious mob mentality and its destructive potential can be found throughout history, and Boyle’s angry-yet-resigned second act aura provides a chilling insight into what could, can, and has happened before. Eventually, through manipulation and a “creative” interpretation of Christianity, one is left with the idea that the extremists have managed to normalize a dystopian religion and culture.

2. It would be impossible to view the events of The Crucible without at least a perfunctory nod to the similarities between the political structure of Salem and that of 2018 America. An absolutist offshoot of Christianity has managed to gain control of the religion, Church and State are dangerously intertwined with each other, and women’s rights are under their greatest attack since the 1970s. An authoritarian regime of government has aligned itself with churchgoers of the darkest and most suspicious nature. Those of (or without) faith are shouted down, often with nonsensical rhetoric, and a vague militarization of faith has become vogue in conservative circles. In a simple, yet highly effective bit of outfitting, costumer Molly Morgan has dressed David Neil Edwards (who turns in a disturbingly accurate alt-right Ezekiel Cheever) in the quasi-military getup so favored by Tea Party types and Doomsday cult militia members. Most of all, the nature of truth and reality are constantly questioned, both by the script and the production. In a world in which “alternative facts” has become a household expression, one finds a particular apprehension at watching various women branded as witches and men as liars or scoundrels, when the truth (usually) is quite different. Reality as defined by those in power is not reality, be it in the 17th or 21st century. One may call dancing in the rain a Satanic ritual, but that doesn’t make it so, no matter how vehemently the authorities may insist.

3. In its most basic and fundamental structure, The Crucible is about hypocrisy, humankind’s fallibility, self-importance, and the dehumanizing capacities of fear and mistrust. It speaks loudly and with a pointed, accusing finger at fanaticism, selfishness, negative joinerism, and a corrupt clergy-cum-government. In telling his story, playwright Arthur Miller also displays examples of the best and worst of humankind. I was particularly impressed with the emotional and psychological development of the main love triangle. As John Proctor, Darrell Johnston establishes a decent, if flawed, man who has transgressed against his marriage vows with  Abigail Williams (Kimberly Braun), and lives under the eyes of his suspicious wife, Elizabeth Proctor (Libby Hawkins.) Johnston gives perhaps the most powerful performance in a show full of them, especially in his final courtroom meltdown. Having been figuratively tortured by his guilt, and literally worked over by the authorities, he delivers a passionate, enraged, terrified, and yet completely logical argument for his refusal to sign a confession that would make him free, choosing the gallows over sullying his name. Braun matches him step-for-step with a quiet pathos, feeling guilt and rejection simultaneously. As the wronged wife, Hawkins shows an admirable restraint in avoiding shrewishness or even very much of a scolding tone with her husband. She is wounded, but quietly and calmly wounded. Each of these performers work beautifully in tandem, without a single moment of wasted time or movement. We see, through the evening, a cameo or several by each of the Seven Deadly sins; lust, greed, envy, sloth, anger, gluttony, and pride. One character or another displays at least two or three of each, or faces consequences for having so done. Human nature is, apparently, timeless as well as universal.

   I could go on and on about dozens of other possible interpretations of this production, but it would be a monumental task that could easily fill a book. In summation, I will say that director Robert Richmond displays his signature attention to small details and stunning visuals to bring freshness and originality to this oft-told tale. This production of The Crucible is successful in many ways, most of all in its “newness.” The audience member truly believes that these people are experiencing these events for the very first time, which, in the reality of the script, of course they are. A frequent criticism of mine when reviewing classic/older works is that they’re so well-known, the actors seem to more or less acknowledge that the audience knows the story, and turn in good, but stale performances. Such is not at all the case here. Filled with talented students, as well as a few members of the cream of the local theatre community (Jennifer Moody Sanchez, Katrina Blanding, Terrance Henderson, and the aforementioned Boyle), this cast is 100% committed to verisimilitude and consistency in character.

   Full disclosure: I am not a huge fan of Arthur Miller’s work, but I was absolutely mesmerized by this production. From the opening notes of Tituba (Katrina Blanding)’s haunting chant just after curtain, to the shouts of “so-and-so was seen with the devil” in one of the more dramatic moments of the show, to the chills-up-the-spine final moment, the production held my attention, and motivated me to re-read the script sometime soon. Take it from me, even if Arthur Miller isn’t your cuppa, USC’s The Crucible will keep you glued to the story.

REVIEW: A Bright Room Called Day by Frank Thompson

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was

the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the

epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the

season  of  Light,  it  was  the  season  of  Darkness,  it  was  the 

spring  of  hope,  it  was  the  winter  of  despair,  we  had 

everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were

all  going  direct  to  Heaven,  we  were  all  going  direct  the 

other way—in short, the period was so far like the present



-Charles Dickens

“A Tale Of Two Cities”


   After seeing Trustus Theatre’s production of A Bright Room Called Day on opening night, I have made it a point to “talk up” the show as much as possible, but (with sincere regret) I have just now been able to write a review. With all due apologies and a promise not to make a habit of late-posting, I would like to now offer my thoughts on what may be the most riveting show I’ve seen at Trustus since August: Osage County, a couple of seasons ago. There are two remaining performances, Friday and Saturday, 2 and 3 February. In brief, you need to see one (or both) of them.

   While a completely different show in almost every way, A Bright Room Called Day does have a quite literal kinship with its predecessor. August: Osage County was the last show directed at Trustus by its beloved founder, the late Jim Thigpen, and his daughter, Erin Wilson, masterfully directs A Bright Room Called Day. This is the first of Wilson’s work I have seen, and it’s quite clear that both her professional training and the lessons she no doubt learned at the knee of her father have come together to create an insightful, skilled directorial eye and style all her own. Wilson’s attention to the small details of movement and human interaction in a confined space creates a pleasantly cozy feeling in the early scenes, which slowly morphs into a trapped, claustrophobic aura by the end of the performance. (Ironically, as fewer people occupy the room, it seems to grow smaller and more prisonlike.) 

   Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner wrote A Bright Room Called Day in the 1980s, outraged at then-President Reagan for his (Reagan’s) lack of any apparent concern over the AIDS crisis. (Indeed, Reagan is invoked in the modern-day side story that serves as a point of comment on the main story. More on that in a moment.)


   Though Reagan was the bete noir when the show was penned, Wilson has, without changing the script, clearly suggested that we examine the politics of 2018 and what’s going on all around us. The story, while interesting, is an oft-told one. A group of what might well have been called “undesirables” share good times together, only to be divided both philosophically and literally by the rise of The Third Reich. The scenes set in early 1932 could easily have been played in a contemporary 2016. Liberalism seems firmly established, there’s toasting and optimism (the show opens on a New Year’s Eve celebration), and the charmingly eccentric group of characters we meet are leading happy, bohemian lives and freely share their common views as well as their disagreements without rancor. There’s an opium-addicted film star, a devout Communist, a homosexual man-about-town, a one-eyed film-maker, and a seemingly meek actress of lesser fame, who owns the apartment and revels in their company.

   As the scenes and time progress, we sense a growing feeling of unease as Germany begins to undergo a multitude of bad decisions and changes for the worse. Through dialogue and a positively masterful use of projected titles, we follow the Nazi party’s initial defeats, its growing influence, and President von Hindenburg’s eventual hesitant appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor. From there begins the inevitable unraveling of the social fabric, both large-scale and among the small circle of leftists who inhabit the small apartment.

   Without beating the metaphor to death, or even mentioning his name, the “Trump as Hitler” theme rings loud and clear, speaking not only to the skills of the director and cast, but also to the timelessness of Kushner’s script. The 1930s scenes are intercut with a series of 1980s monologues by a young woman of high-school age (remember the side story?), who writes daily hate-mail letters to President Reagan, and offers a great deal of commentary that is just as applicable today as it was in the days of The Love Boat and the Commodore 64 computer.

   The second act brings to the forefront the horrors of Berlin in the early 1930s. The Reichstag fire, book-burnings, and the official opening of Dachau are mentioned, one of the characters suffers a beating, another essentially chooses to collaborate, still another flees for his safety, and Agnes, the owner of the flat, wonders aloud if she will ever leave.

   There are also other visitors to the apartment, none terribly welcome. A pair of friendly-but-don’t-push-us bureaucrats visit Agnes to “encourage” her to rethink her upcoming performance of a skit involving a “Red Baby”, complete with painted baby doll to emphasize the message. There can be tremendous intimidation in ersatz kindness and calm, and the actors in these roles convey just that.

   The story takes two turns toward surrealism in the characters of Die Alte (which, thank you Google, translates to “the old” or “the ancient”) and Gottfried Swetts, who just happens to be Satan. As the representatives of the otherworldly, each is clearly defined as unique in the reality of the main story. Die Alte is wraithlike, eerie, and seems to move freely about within the darkness. Swetts, by contrast, is dressed spiffily in an expensive-looking suit and topcoat. (A word to the wise: don’t pet the Devil’s dog.) At first the inclusion of these characters seemed out-of-place to me, but upon further reflection, what could be more appropriate than vaguely malevolent absurdity in a play about a historically significant collapse of reason and sanity?

   By now you have probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned any actors by name. That’s because director Wilson and her team have produced an almost-flawless piece of ensemble theatre by a cast of top-tier performers. There is no “standout” because this group contains no weak links. The roles are superbly cast, and the chemistry amongst them is clear. Therefore, I offer my congratulations and unfettered praise to Krista Forster, Jonathan Monk, Jennifer Hill, Becky Hunter, Alex Smith, Mary Miles, Frederic Powers, Elena Martinez-Vidal, Paul Kaufmann, and Avery Bateman. Each of you truly disappeared into your characters.

   Danny Harrington does a commendable job with the set, somehow making a pre-war German flat and a 1980s classroom cohesively exist on the same stage. In what may or may not have been a deliberate choice, one of the paintings on Agnes’ wall is partially obscured by what seems to indicate either fallen plaster or water damage. This image spoke strongly to me, and seemed an apt representation of how none of the characters, from the most innocent to the most evil, ever seemed to grasp the larger issues, or “see the whole picture” if you will.

   With one final apology for being so late in turning in my homework, I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t yet seen A Bright Room Called Day to catch one of the two remaining performances. You’ll leave thinking.

 Reviewer Frank Thompson

Reviewer Frank Thompson

Fall Lines Literary Magazine Accepting Submissions for 2018 Issue

Fall Lines.png

Fall Lines – a literary convergence is a literary journal presented by The Jasper Project in partnership with Richland Library and One Columbia for Arts and History.

Fall Lines will accept submissions of previously unpublished poetry, essays, short fiction, and flash fiction from January 15, 2018 through April 1, 2018. While the editors of Fall Lines hope to attract the work of writers and poets from the Carolinas and the Southeastern US, acceptance of work is not dependent upon residence.

Publication in Fall Lines will be determined by a panel of judges and accepted authors (ONLY) will be notified by May 30, 2018, with a publication date in July 2018. Two $250 cash prizes, sponsored by the Richland Library Friends, will be awarded: The Saluda River Prize for Poetry and the Broad River Prize for Prose.

Each entry must be submitted as a single independent entry and include its own cover sheet.

Submit each individual poetry submission, along with its own cover sheet, to with the word POETRY in the subject line.

Submit each individual prose submission, along with its own cover sheet, to with the word PROSE in the subject line.

Cover sheets MUST include your name, the name of the one individual entry you are submitting with that cover sheet, email address, and USPO address. There is no fee to enter, but submissions that fail to follow the above instructions will be disqualified without review.

Please limit short fiction to 2000 words or less; flash fiction to 350 – 500 words per submission; essays to 1200 words; and poetry to three pages (Times New Roman 12 pt.) Please submit no more than a total of 5 entries.


The Columbia Fall Line is a natural junction, along which the Congaree River falls and rapids form, running parallel to the east coast of the country between the resilient rocks of the Appalachians and the softer, more gentle coastal plain.

PREVIEW: Puck Luck - Colin Jacob Has It in Columbia City Ballet's Upcoming A Midsummer Night's Dream by Susan Lenz

"Puck luck" is a hockey term that refers to those factors which influence the outcome of a game that do not involve the strategy and skill of the players.


When Columbia City Ballet and the full South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Morihiko Nakahara perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Koger Center this coming Saturday night, January 27th, Colin Jacob will be the envy of many hopeful dancers. He’ll be wearing green and dancing his first principal role. Plucked from the corp de ballet by Artistic Director William Starrett, Colin will use his acting background from high school musical theater and gymnastics to bring Shakespeare’s “merry wanderer of the night," Puck, a mischievous but shrewdly knavish sprite to life.


The role is demanding. It requires lofty leaps, whirling turns, and even a bit of tree climbing. The speed of the scherzo leaves the dancer breathless but insists on an immediate return to stage as if the activity was all in the course of a normal day. A clever but impish character must be maintained despite the grueling pace. This is Jacob Colin’s challenge. He has videotapes from previous Columbia City Ballet seasons, including one featuring Jose Serrano in the role. I remember that show well. In fact, I know the ballet rather well. William Starrett’s 1987 choreography is inspired by Sir Frederick Ashton’s from 1964. I’ve seen that version too. I know that Puck is the audience favorite. I was happy to hear that Colin Jacob is working hard to do as well or even better than those who have already performed the fun but rigorous role here. This is his “big break”. Some might even call it “Puck Luck”.


Perhaps “Puck Luck” was involved. No one could have predicted the strategy that would find the originally cast dancer no longer with the company, that Colin would unexpectedly be told to learn the part after rehearsals had begun. Perhaps “Puck Luck” was involved because Colin’s skill doesn’t come with more than a decade of dance training, something generally expected for a principal part. Yet, my interview told another story.


At seventeen, Colin was asked to help a local, amateur show in his hometown of Brecksville, Ohio.  They needed a male dancer. Without prior dance experience, Colin stepped up to the plate, continued lessons, and earned a scholarship to Pittsburgh’s Point Park University, one of the country’s top programs. He earned his BA in only three years and accepted a trainee position with Ballet West in Salt Lake City. This was after winning scholarships in 2013 and 2014 from Youth American Grand Prix, an international amateur dance competition. No dancer climbs the ladder of success so quickly without natural ability, a great work ethic, and tremendous daily effort. 


My interview with Colin revealed him to be a most articulate young artist who is looking forward to performing to live music.  He said that as a dancer, live music makes the show “feels like the first time because it isn’t exactly like a tape recording. Music is a cultural plus.”


(Please note, child prodigy, Felix Mendelssohn wrote the overture as a seventeen year old in 1826 and added his incidental music, Opus 61, sixteen years later for the production of Shakespeare’s play. The score includes the now, traditional “Wedding March”, generally heard as brides walk down aisles. This melody was adopted by Princess Victoria in 1858 for her wedding to Prince William of Prussia.)


Of course Columbia City Ballet rehearses to a tape recording. There’s no other way to do it!  For Colin, each rehearsal is getting easier and easier, but he is quick to add that each one reveals another fine point for him to work on. 


I am quite sure that Colin Jacobs will be bringing a memorable performance to the stage.  I wish I could see it, but alas I’ll be teaching a fiber arts workshop in Alabama. More than for myself, I hope Colin’s parents are able to make the arrangements. Like Colin, they weren’t expecting “Puck Luck”, a big break for a very likable and talented dancer. Thankfully, many will be in the audience especially to see Colin. He regularly teaches dance at Southern Strut, Columbia City Jazz, Richland Northeast High School and at Columbia Music Festival Association where he also media coordinator. 


Accepting the corps de ballet position with Columbia City Ballet, along with his other dance related opportunities, has provided Colin a level of financial stability. He bought a car and is paying off student loans. More importantly, our local dance company has provided amazing performance opportunities and the potential for upward mobility.  Whether “Puck Luck” was involved or not, Saturday’s performance is more than a “big break” for a single dancer. It is a big break for people in Columbia is watch the start of a winning young talent.  It is a fabulous opportunity to see our full company perform to live music. I’ve focused this preview on just one dancer but there are many. Go see for yourself! It will be worth it!

Tickets for the 3:00 PM matinee and the 7:30 PM evening performances on Saturday, January 27th are available at:


Deckle Edge Literary Festival Announces Terrance Hayes as 2018 Keynote Speaker

 Terrance Hayes will give keynote address at 2018 Deckle Edge Literary Festival

Terrance Hayes will give keynote address at 2018 Deckle Edge Literary Festival

In the third year of celebrating South Carolina’s rich literary tradition Deckle Edge Literary Festival 2018 will welcome keynote speaker Terrance Hayes on March 3, 2018. Winner of MacArthur, Guggenheim, US Artists Zell, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, Hayes is the author of Lighthead, which was the winner of the 2010 National Book Award, Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music. How to Be Drawn, his most recent collection of poems, was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, and received the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Poetry. He is the current poetry editor at New York Times Magazine and has two manuscripts forthcoming in 2018.


The one-day festival will take place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 with daytime events being held at Richland Library in downtown Columbia. The keynote address by Hayes will take place on Saturday evening at a culminating celebration during which Columbia-based literary artist Nikky Finney will be presented with the inaugural Deckle Edge Southern Truth Award. A South Carolina native, Finney is the author of Head Off & Split, which won the 2011 National Book Award for poetry, The World Is Round, Rice, Heartwood, and On Wings Made of Gauze. She is the John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina. The keynote celebration will take place at the 701 Whaley Market Space.


Almost two dozen sessions will make up the Deckle Edge Literary Festival this year with panels and presentations that cover poetry, prose, songwriting, screenwriting, new works from local authors, a live interview for the Pat Conroy Literary Center filmed on-site, writing graphic novels, writing for social justice, a poetry workshop for teens, USC’s Moving Images Resource Center, literary history, and interactive art-making with Columbia-based fiber and installation artist Susan Lenz. Among the authors attending are Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene, Julia Elliott, Scott Gould, Mark Powell, Tim Conroy, Marjorie Spruill, all of SC’s poets laureates – Marjory Wentworth, Marcus Amaker, and Ed Madden, Brock Adams, Isabella Gomez and many more. The daytime event is free and open to the public and tickets to the keynote celebration will be available soon. Watch the website at for further details as they are released

REVIEW: Columbia Classical Ballet's LifeChance 2018 - The Show Must Go On by Susan Lenz

Less than thirty-six hours before the Koger Center curtain went up, Columbia Classical Ballet’s Artistic Director Radenko Pavlovich received a text message that changed the entire ballet gala. Pavlovich’s protege and Washington Ballet principal dancer, Brooklyn Mack would not be able to make the trip. The program was already printed listing three numbers in which he would appear. This news came on the heels of another unfortunate cancellation. An injury prevented two Pennsylvania Ballet dancers from bringing the 3rd Act Pas de Deux from Don Quixote, always a big crowd pleasing piece, to the stage. 


What to do? The show must go on!


The show did go on and beautifully so. As promised, the evening was a delightful mix of contemporary and classical featuring guest principal and soloist dancers from Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance of Chicago, and Pennsylvania Ballet. The audience was mesmerized though slightly confused by the shifted program. Too many were consulting the line-up using illumination from their cell phones. (This is a BIG no-no and the topic of a recent Dance Magazine article. Checking the program was totally unnecessary. Each piece was clearly announced over the public address system.


The evening started after a few, brief introductions including Kassy Alia, founder of Heroes in Blue. ( Her local charity received some of the proceeds from the evening. She asked all the police officers in attendance to stand for a round of applause. For most, this was their first experience seeing dance. I knew one of the Forest Acres police officers. My husband and I ran into him and his well dressed wife at nearby Hunter-Gatherer before the show. He asked me what to expect. He imagined an evening of tiaras and short, pancake tutus. But, that’s only how the program started. 


Boston Ballet’s Patrick Leonard Yocum and Ji Young Chae dazzled in the Sleeping Beauty Wedding Pas de Deux. But before the first half ended with an ethereal rendition from Les Sylphide, the audience was treated to extraordinary diversity with Manuel Vignoulle and Rena Butler’s Black and White, Columbia Classical Ballet dancer Koyo Yanagishima’s athleticism in a variation from Diana and Actaeon, and Yanagishima’s choreography for two of his fellow company members.  Dancers appeared in itty-bitty costumes. Black and White should really have started with even less. (Long story short, I wish I could have seen the original, changing costumes. But this is the South, after all, not a place quite ready to witness an exploration in a mixed race couple’s relationship and gender equality through parted toplessness even if they progressively added clothing.) Finally, Rosalie Cirio was truly breathtaking in her perfect, long white romantic tutu and expertly partnered by Paul Craig.


When the curtain rose to the cast of Columbia Classical Ballet’s dancers for Rhapsodic Variations, the audience was well aware that Brooklyn Mack, listed to begin the second half, was not in attendance. It really didn’t matter. Rick McCullough’s choreography perfectly suited our local company, the dancers expressed more emotion than I’ve seen in earlier productions, and I’d personally enjoy seeing the piece again.  I certainly could repeatedly watch 50/50, a steamy tango-in-pointe-shoes by Boston’s sultry Ashley Ellis and her handsome partner Matthew Slattery or Dueto danced by Arian Molina Soca and Dayesi Torriente from Pennsylvania Ballet.


What surprised me was seeing the Grand Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker as part of a gala so close after the holiday season. As soon as Tamako Miyazaki took the stage, I understood. She is the embodiment of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the type of dancer who makes the little-girl-heart in me remember why I love dance. Her smile transformed the entire Koger Center into an odyssey of enchantment. It didn’t hurt that her Washington Ballet partner, Rolando Sarabia looks like a matinee idol and lands his Tour en l'air with total bravado. (Tour en l'air is a movement in which a dancer jumps straight upward and completes at least one full revolution in the air before landing.) 


I was delighted to learn that Tamako Miyazaki was once a Columbia Classical Ballet company member. Opportunities here in Columbia assisted with the progression of her career. Opportunities were abound last night due to an unfortunate text message. Koyo Yanagishima’s Diana and Actaeon variation was a program addition. He danced Flames of Paris during the second half. More time on stage was allotted to our local talent. As Radenko Pavlovich put it, “I am raising the bar for quality in Columbia”.  His dancers are stepping up to meet the challenge and definitely held their own on a stage with world-class talent from across the country. 

LifeChance Preview by Susan Lenz

Anyone in Columbia who has even a slight interest in the local dance scene knows that twice a year there's exceptionally good evenings to witness world-class ballet performers. One of those nights is coming up on April 15th when USC presents the 13th Annual Ballet Stars of New York. The other night is just around the corner:


Columbia Classical Ballet presents

LifeChance 2018 this coming Saturday, January 20th.


Don't miss it!


Principal dancers from Boston Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Washington Ballet, and Chicago's Hubbard Street Dance are coming to the Koger Center. One night only! Every year LifeChance puts on this benefit gala. Proceeds will benefit Heroes In Blue (, a local charity that was founded in honor of Forest Acres Police Department Officer Gregory Alia who was killed in the line of duty on September 30, 2015.


Now, I'm sure there will be other news articles featuring the internationally known artists and the very high caliber dancing that this gala brings to the stage, but I promised to write articles from a different point of view. I want to bring more awareness of the local dance community from the audience's perspective. After all, Columbia Classical Ballet's roster of talented performers will also be dancing during LifeChance 2018. These are the dancers who regularly grace our stage. It must be an amazing opportunity for them to perform alongside some of their own idols. It must be exciting for the staff, choreographers, and those behind the scenes too. In this vein, I sought out the opportunity to get a few quotes!


Juliet Brown is really excited about Saturday night. She’s in her second season with Columbia Classical Ballet and fondly remembers last year’s LifeChance as her favorite time on stage. She said, “There are even more guest dancers this year. It’ll be a longer show.” Clement Guillaume echoed my opening statements, “LifeChance is a one time thing. It’s a gala. There aren’t two chances to look good. As a company, we are really close to one another and really looking forward to dancing Rick McCullough’s contemporary piece, Rhapsody.”


Yet, I had the most fun interviewing Koyo Yanagishima. Like his fellow company members, he’s in Rhapsody but he’s also dancing Flames of Paris. In past LifeChance galas, Artistic Director Radenko Pavlovich has showcased several of his exceptionally talented dancers in order for them to share the stage on an equal footing with the world renown guest dancers. Koyo was almost blushing to admit being selected for this rare opportunity. He was assuredly embarrassed by my next few questions.


I asked Koyo if the LifeChance 2018 poster was the first time a solo image of him was used to promote a performance. It was. I asked if he called his mother back in Japan. He did. He shared it on social media too.



Yet, Koyo was quickly serious when discussing Shadows, a male duet he choreographed. Radenko Pavlovich is proud to include Koyo’s choreograpny in Saturday’s line up. It will be seen alongside Topless, a contemporary piece from Hubbard Street Dance. Pavlovich is as eager to see the audience’s reaction to his young dancer’s choreography as he is to see the reaction to the Chicago-based company’s work even though he had to nix the original costuming (or lack thereof).


Time talking with Radenko Pavlovich was enlightening. He mentioned many past events and the amazing guest dancers who have come to Columbia. He added, “When my company dancers come here for a season, they are cheering for one another to excel beyond their own earlier expectations. I believe, without a doubt, that LifeChance is the very best evening of dance in Columbia. It raises the bar for quality, locally and for my company. It makes my dancers push themselves, collectively and individually.”


Hopefully, the excitement at Columbia Classical Ballet for the upcoming star-studded evening will add to the number of people in attendance. I know I'm excited and promise a review of the evening shortly after the curtain comes down!


For tickets to Saturday’s LifeChance 2018 gala:


 Koyo Yanagishima holding a LifeChance 2018 poster in which he is featured.)

Koyo Yanagishima holding a LifeChance 2018 poster in which he is featured.)

Susan Lenz is a full time, professional studio artist in Columbia, South Carolina. Her studio is located at Mouse House, Inc. at 2123 Park Street where she has both a studio for 3D sculptural and installation work and a separate fiber art studio. Susan's work has been juried into numerous national and international exhibits, featured in solo shows all over the United States, and shown on television and in print. She has been awarded six full scholarship art residencies and several "Best of Show" ribbons.
She blogs at
 Susan Lenz   photo Forrest Clonts

Susan Lenz

photo Forrest Clonts

Jasper Dance Writer Susan Lenz Weighs in on Which Nutcracker Ballet to See but Cautions that the Choice is Yours!

Both have snow, tiaras, and take a young Clara on a fairytale journey into the Land of Sweets with dancing variations and a final pas de deux. So, what are the differences? Which company's production should an informed audience member select?

  Is that a Unicorn in Columbia City Ballet's Nutcracker?

Is that a Unicorn in Columbia City Ballet's Nutcracker?


My husband and I own a little frame shop. My sales counter is in front of a non-working fireplace with a mantel holding family pictures, including some of my dancing son. For years these images seemed to remind clients that ballet is part of my life. Every holiday season, clients excitedly tell me, "I'm going to The Nutcracker!" Of course I'm happy for them and ask, "Which production?" The answer is always the same. "The one at the Koger Center."


Further conversation reveals that most people in Columbia are aware that The Nutcracker comes to the Township Auditorium every Thanksgiving weekend. Some even know that this is the civic company.  (I wrote a review of last month's show at Most seem to know that The Nutcracker also comes to the Koger Center for three weekends in December, but they are totally unaware that two different, local professional ballet companies are putting on these shows. They have no idea to which production they've booked tickets. They have no idea that there is a difference. But there is a difference.


The first weekend features Columbia Classical Ballet (Radenko Pavolich, artistic director). The later two weekends feature Columbia City Ballet (William Starrett, artistic director). Yes, the company names are as similar as The Nutcracker's basic storyline.  Both companies use canned Tchaikovsky music, cast students from their independent ballet schools, and include adults from the community in character roles, mainly in the first act's party scene. Both companies sell tickets through the Koger Center's on-line box office. Both have snow, tiaras, and take a young Clara on a fairytale journey into the Land of Sweets with dancing variations and a final pas de deux. So, what are the differences? Which company's production should an informed audience member select?


Let me cut to the chase. If one wants to see a technically superior Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, book Radenko's production. I saw Nao Omoya and Koyo Yanagishima on Saturday night. At least I think I did. The program listed double-cast roles but didn't indicate which dancers were performing in which show. I still have no idea who I saw as Clara. Despite being in several Act II variations in both that afternoon's matinee and the evening performance, these two dancers surprisingly had plenty of energy and brought excellent technique to the stage. The dancers for Columbia City Ballet had two performances the following Saturday. I saw both. Claire Richards was lovely but her afternoon partner was weak. Bo Busby and Regina Willoughby looked understandably tired that evening.


Yet, who goes to The Nutcracker for just the last pas de deux? In almost every other way, Columbia City Ballet's production was more pleasing.


That last sentence was hard for me to write.


I'm predisposed against the liberties William Starrrett takes with his production. I'm more inclined to like the traditional dancing dolls during Act I's party scene. Radenko Pavlovich’s Harlequin and Columbine were first rate but couldn't save the scene. That party unfolded as if a series of recital pieces. At one point, all the girls covered the stage rocking baby dolls, and there weren't even enough to go around. Stranger yet, the Nutcracker doll wasn't even a traditional solid. Its legs were moveable, possibly even like a stuffed animal. 


William Starrett’s nutcracker doll looks like a nutcracker, but it’s the only doll on stage. Instead of the classic mechanized dancing doll variations, Starrett features a flirtatious Scarlett straight from Gone With the Wind mythology and a courtship dance between Clara’s older sister and a lead cadet. It works though. It works because the Columbia City Ballet dancers are good actors. As the scene continues, the audience has no problem following the plot. The nutcracker doll is broken, repaired, and placed by the Christmas tree. Effortlessly, the audience follows the action. Clara is lurked back to the darkened living room and a dream sequence begins. Mice and rats battle and the nutcracker is magically transformed into a living doll and finally a prince. One doesn’t have to consult the program. The plot is told through the choreography, the dancers, and good lighting.  Virginia Welsh as young Clara, though not technically perfect, was utterly charming and carried the audience into the Land of Snow and beyond.


Unfortunately, Columbia Classical Ballet’s dancers generally don’t express much emotion and pivotal moments often occurred in poorly lit areas of the stage. There was too much fog and the machine producing it made a lot of distracting noise. The transitions from the Stahlbaums’ living room into a battle scene and onto the Land of Snow were simply not as magical as intended. Narrative was lost.


Columbia Classical Ballet’s Act II is traditional, though it starts oddly. Why? Well, there is no overture played before the ballet begins. Thus, it is strange to listen to the first part of the angelic scene played to the curtain. William Starrett’s Act II starts the same way but his production includes the opening overture. Musically, that seems proper. Musically, Starrett’s Act II is anything but proper. It starts to the correct, heavenly melody and altogether too much gold lamé but then progresses into the Waltz of the Flowers. The other variations are also mixed up and include Neapolitan Ice Cream Flavors and Striped Candy Canes using music that isn’t even from Tchiakovsky’s Nutcracker score. Anyone familiar with the music knows it’s all out of order.


Yet, it works. There’s a flow from section to section and a nice mix of humor for sheer entertainment. I didn’t even mind the appearance of a white horse dressed as a unicorn. Admittedly, its a gimmick but it is only a magical inspired entrance. It doesn’t distract from the dancing or the progression of the ballet. 


By the end of both ballets, Clara is back in her living room and the audiences are altogether too eager to give standing ovations, as if a requirement. Both ballets had their strong points and weaknesses. Both were worth seeing. 


Both companies have extremely enticing opportunities for audience members to witness something special in the coming new year.  On Saturday, January 20th, Columbia Classical Ballet will present their annual LifeChance, an International Ballet Gala of Stars (always one of the best ballet performances in Columbia). On Saturday, January 27th, Columbia City Ballet is partnering with the full South Carolina Philharmonic under Morihiko Nakahara’s baton for Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Looking ahead, I hope this article assists future audience members make informed decisions about their Nutcracker options. Best bet: see both and compare! Maybe you’ll agree with my impressions. Maybe next year’s productions will be entirely different. There’s still time to catch the last weekend of Columbia City Ballet’s Nutcracker. It can be seen at the Koger Center:

3:00 PM Saturday, December 16, 2017
7:30 PM Saturday, December 16, 2017
3:00 PM Sunday, December 17, 2017


Postscript: Most informed audience members know something else. Using LED devices is strictly prohibited. The family sitting in front of me during Columbia Classical Ballet’s Nutcracker used a cell phone to record the entire Bon-Bon variation. The gentleman sitting beside my husband at Columbia City Ballet’s Nutcracker checked his email during the Sugar Plum pas de deux.  Please, go to the shows but don’t do this!

 Susan Lenz - photo by Forrest Clonts

Susan Lenz - photo by Forrest Clonts

Susan Lenz is a full time, professional studio artist in Columbia, South Carolina. Her studio is located at Mouse House, Inc. at 2123 Park Street where she has both a studio for 3D sculptural and installation work and a separate fiber art studio. Susan's work has been juried into numerous national and international exhibits, featured in solo shows all over the United States, and shown on television and in print. She has been awarded six full scholarship art residencies and several "Best of Show" ribbons. She blogs at

REVIEW: Trustus's A Christmas Miracle at The Richland Fashion Mall by Frank Thompson

“ Why is this important? Well, the only way to create unique theatrical experiences here in Columbia is to create them ourselves. Otherwise, everything being produced in town would be a restaging of an already produced work.” - -Trustus Artistic Director, Chad Henderson



While I will admit to loving the classics, even I sometimes want something newer than A Charlie Brown Christmas or Miracle On 34th Street. Let’s face it, there hasn’t been a new addition to the Holiday canon since A Christmas Story got adapted for the stage, and even then, we could all recite along with Ralphie and The Old Man. Well, leave it to the good folks at Trustus to present a fresh, hilarious, and oft-heartwarming story with A Christmas Miracle at The Richland Fashion Mall. Along with the “God bless us ev’ry one” moments, A Christmas Miracle At The Richland Fashion Mall contains just enough salt and vinegar for those of us who have seen too many saccharine-laden Hallmark movies or grade-school Christmas concerts.

Much of this salt and vinegar comes in the form of Mandy (Clayton P. King) and his partner (both business and personal), Laurel, played by the venerable Gerald Floyd, who celebrates his 72nd role with …Richland Fashion Mall. They bicker, they snipe at each other, and only occasionally does the act give way to a legitimate moment of tenderness. Their banter is flawless, and their stage chemistry undeniable. I do hope to see King and Floyd opposite each other soon.

Another excellent pairing by director Abigail McNeeley is that of Krista Forster as cynical Noelle, and Alyssa Velasquez as the optimist who thinks the mall can remain open. As with King and Floyd, they often argue, but their sense of friendship is undeniable. (Okay, weird and undeniable.) As much as they all deny it, this group of employees in a dying mall (kept open only by a bookstore/monolith “Farnes And Floble”) share a connection through their shabby, much-maligned workplace.

Preach Jacobs shines as the mall custodian/narrator, who may just be the wisest man in the place. His character doesn’t interact very much with the others, providing a sort of detached, Everyman’s perspective. Jacob’s soothing baritone and gentle nature immediately establish him as a voice of calm and reason.

Jared Rogers-Martin (Darrell), Allison Allgood (Player 1), and Samuel Traquina (Player 2) , all turn in excellent performances, but to say too much about them would be to ruin the Deus ex Machina ending. Just please take my word for it. These three manage to keep up with the rest of the cast, in smaller roles. EVERY performer onstage in …Richland Fashion Mall is a consummate professional.

The set, costumes, and production values were certainly up to Trustus’ high standards. As always, the popcorn is on hand, good cheer fills the room before and after the show, and there’s a feeling of a family assembling as patrons take their seats.

And the script, itself? Written by local comedy troupe, The Mothers, A Miracle at Richland Fashion Mall is full of my type of humour (irreverent and a little inappropriate), and I found it delightful. It does, however, toward the end, feel a bit like an SNL skit that went on too long. All ends well, but if it had so done twenty minutes sooner, it would’ve been perfect. A bit of editing here and there, and this show would be the ideal antidote for those in sugar-shock over the last five Rankin-Bass Claymation Christmas tales broadcast every ten minutes.

A Christmas Miracle At The Richland Fashion Mall is a hilarious, well-crafted, and oftentimes touching holiday treat. Like salted caramel, there’s just enough spice to cut through the sugar. Make it a part of your Yuletide this year! You might even want to follow Gerald Floyd’s wise advice:

“Less talkin’, more drinkin’! I wanna get my nog on!”

See the show. I promise you’ll have fun.

 Clayton King and Gerald Floyd - photo courtesy of Trustus Theatre

Clayton King and Gerald Floyd - photo courtesy of Trustus Theatre

Announcing the 2017 Jasper Artists of the Year & Thanking Everyone Who Helped in Celebrating Them

Announcing the winners of the JAYs - and celebrating them - is such a joyous way to spend an evening. Sure, we could bump up the ticket price and ask people to worry about what they're going to wear. We could hold the celebration in some swanky hall with fancy food and funky drinks. Ice sculptures. We could do ice sculptures.

But Jasper decided a long time ago that our celebration of artists who have had a very good year would not fall into that trap of being a who's who and a see and be seen event. We have way too many of those things in town already! And the reality is that once you pay for those mixologists and finger foods -- not to mention the ice sculptures -- you've not only out-ticket priced the working artists in town who just barely get by financially off their art and their other jobs, and you've created an entirely uncomfortable event that people fret about going to and can't wait to leave so they can go home take their Spanx off.

Last night was another example of how we play at Jasper. We had some of the best people in town on our stage, serving us drinks and food, and doling out big authentic hugs to one another.

Those Lavender Whales, finalists for JAY in music, fully embraced our request that they lead us in Christmas Carols -- and Jessica even donned a Dolly wig and sang Hard Candy Christmas! All three JAY literary finalists - Nicola, Al, and Don - put together a sweet and silly Twelve Days of Christmas number involving all the finalists. Mandy, finalist in theatre, performed some beautiful songs accompanied by Chris, also a finalist in theatre, and Tyler, JAY finalist in music. Jay provided us with our sound system.

Off-stage. we had Phill and Matty pouring beer and wine and Joe and Candy serving up some delicious snacks. Ashley was capturing everyone on camera and Barry was popping those images up on screen as fast as he could. Bohumila, Diane, and Billy had coordinated the ornament auction in which more than two dozen ornaments, made especially for last night by artists like Stephen, Barbie, Matthew, and more, went home with folks as a remembrance of the evening. Kristian judged the living Christmas tree contest -- Bohumila won -- and offered up the prize of a dinner at Bourbon. Intern Jenna checked all the contestants in. And Thomas offered us four of his beautiful paintings for auction -- Barry and Chris each took one home. Kyle and Coralee ran the door, selling not only tickets but also the hand-made all-ages coloring books that Billy, Bob, and I had put together, with art in them from Cedric, Michael, Heidi, Laurie, Dogon, Thomas, Alexandra, and Sean.

At the end of the night we were tired, but sustained by our sense of community and that happiness that comes from having an authentically good time in the company of people we can be ourselves around. It was a joy.

So, without any more tap dancing and horn tooting, we are delighted to announce our winners of the 2017 Jasper Artists of the Year.



 Fat Rat da Czar - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Music

Fat Rat da Czar - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Music

 Al Black - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Literary Arts

Al Black - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Literary Arts

 Bakari Lebby - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Theatre

Bakari Lebby - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Theatre

 Sean Rayford - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Visual Arts

Sean Rayford - 2017 Jasper Artist of the Year in Visual Arts

Congratulations once again to all the finalists - Nicola, Don, Tyler, Aaron and the gang, Nicole, Cedric, Mandy, and Chris. 

Thanks to everyone who voted (and sorry to have to clean out those multiple votes and keep it clean, but that's how Sara rolls!) And thanks to all who came out last night to support and celebrate with us.

Happy Holidays from all of us at The Jasper Project!


2017 JAYS.jpg

Focus on JAY Finalists - Don McCallister for literary arts

We're chatting with the 2017 JAY Awards Finalists as we enter the last few days of voting and preparing for the JAY Awards (& Retro Christmas party!) coming up on December 5th


 Don McCallister - photo by Forrest Clonts

Don McCallister - photo by Forrest Clonts

Jasper: What made the past year so great for you as an artist, how have you grown, and to what do you attribute that growth? 

Don: Becoming my own publisher after many years of submitting and freelancing offered new challenges and opportunities to expand my base of knowledge. It’s also opened up new avenues of creativity as I work on the PR side of the game. I’ve even begun designing some of my own graphic materials, which I had experience doing in the past for my small retail clothing business.


Jasper: How have you seen your arts community grow over the past few years and to what do you attribute that growth? 

Don: I’ve noticed and admired so much growth in our arts scene that I wrote a novel about it called Let the Glory Pass Away! (see excerpt at bottom)


Jasper: Why is art so important right now? 

Don: Art is never-not important, perhaps especially so as humanity struggles to pierce through an emergent veil into next-stage consciousness. Look to the artists for guidance. They’re ahead of the curve—always.


Jasper: What role does art play in your life? 

Don: My current body of work already offers a cohesive literary vision, and as the next few books come out this corpus will take on added dimensions of connection in terms of character and plot, but also in a thematic sense. Achieving what will ultimately be the ten or twelve book world of “Edgewater County” has turned into a longterm art project, and at this late stage in the process, I couldn’t imagine living any other way.


Jasper: Who have been your major influences? 

Don: Major adolescent influences were heavy-hitters of the day like John Irving, Vonnegut, Updike, Stephen King and hardcore sci-fi on the pop side of the equation. Lately I’ve been digging Norway’s Karl Ove Knausgaard and his autobiographical “novel” series My Struggle. Not everyone would, though. It’s a writer-to-writer thing in my case with Knausgaard.


Jasper: Who are some of your favorite local artists from an arts discipline other than your own? 

Don: Our community as a whole enjoys a high per-capita rate of remarkably talented and incisive artists, across all disciplines. Visual artists, mixed-media artists, musicians, writers, actors, filmmakers, hybrids, young people striving to break through into new forms—we have it all here. Too many individuals to name.


Jasper: Is there anyone you’d like to thank for their support of your arts career? 

Don: I’ve had ample support from the community and family and friends, but my wife deserves particular citation for supporting me through the years of intensive art-life concentration and effort it took to have achieved my modest but satisfying publishing successes. The literary arts are a lonely, often non-lucrative trade, and having a life partner to provide and manage things proved crucial to my success.


Jasper: Why should folks come out to the 2017 JAY Awards and Retro Christmas Party? 

Don: What’s not to love about a party? And in the case of the Jasper crew, one may expect the retro-holiday cheer served up with a sense of artistic style, a dash of zest, a feeling of accomplishment and grace.





[Narrator Cort Beauchamp, charged with convincing a reclusive rock star to participate in a public ceremony honoring his superstar career, has taken a weekend beach getaway that will get him in close proximity to his prey.]


As I clambered down the other side of the mossy, slick groin and headed for the spit, somehow I didn’t hear the heavy footsteps running across the beach toward me—perhaps the pounding of Mahler’s timpani and the wind cutting across my ears had something to do with it. With my prey so close, now only twenty yards away and striking his yoga poses, I had myopia like a camera lens irising to a small round circle amidst an endless field of black. 


In my sights. 

“Duncan! Duncan Devereaux—it’s me, it’s Cort Beauchamp, it’s—”

Oof—a massive force from behind, a blackout, my wind knocked out; my face, slamming into the rough hard sand and sliding a foot or so to a stop. I tried to cry out, but my words had no wind beneath their wings, only a mouthful of gritty, salty sand.

A pressure in the small of my back—a knee. A voice belonging to the knee, sonorous, a vibration traveling down the length of my aching body. “Sir—I’m going to release you, now, real slow and easy and we all real cool. No sudden movements. Me and sudden movements don’t get along.”

Upon the lifting of the knee, my back, cracking in a fine and thorough manner the likes of which I’ve not enjoyed since I last hit the chiropractor, now over a year ago.

“Gah,” I managed to say. “Blargh.

“Mister, you’re trespassing on private beachfront right now—”

Another edgy voice from behind me, urgent and upset. “What the hell are you doing, Reynaldo?

The pressure on my back eased.

“Let him up.”

And disappeared.


I took a tentative, deep breath; much additional crackling ensued, and a modest but sharp flurry of shooting pains.

My nose and cheeks mudded with gray Sedge Island sand, I rolled over to see a looming security goon as substantial as a small mountain. Alongside the olive-skinned man with forearms like Popeye and backlit by the blazing light of the morning sun over the Atlantic crouched a middle-aged man into whom a once chubby, longhaired rock star had transformed: now reed-thin, gray-faced and wrinkled, but still a version of none other than my old interview subject. The eyes never lie, and his intense, probing marbles shone with recognition.

Duncan’s expression of concern turned to chagrin. “It’s—you.”

“It’s me.”

DD and his bodyguard offered hands that helped me to my feet. I squinted around for the sunglasses that the security guard knocked off my head. I suspected I’d hurt for weeks—the last time I took a spill from the mountain bike I ride around the hilly, rural roads of Cypress Creek, I limped for three months with a sore knee that didn’t want to heal.

I glared at the thug that’d put my dingus into the wet sandy earth. “What is the meaning of this violence? You almost broke me in half.”

“You’re trespassing, sir—this—this is—” 

“Enough.” Duncan, grabbing me by the arm. “This man, he’s a friend. One who’s been trying to get in touch with me for over a month now. Haven’t you, Cort?”

My face, hot as an oven. I could barely meet his eyes.

“So I guess you finally got me.” His smile, genuine. “Might as well join us for breakfast, eh?”

Relieved, I could but agree. And so, for the second time in as many decades, Duncan Devereaux allowed me a glimpse, however brief, into the private life of a rock legend.



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