The singer songwriter duo JOHNNYSWIM seemed to be as surprised to be performing at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA as we were to hear them. To their credit, neither partner in the married couple band acted as if they were too cool for school, repeatedly referencing how they had been looking forward to the gig “for months” and recalling that their last performance was at a bar in Burbank for an audience of three. This isn’t that surprising. It’s not that they weren’t good—they just weren’t quite good enough to be playing a coveted concert in the College of Charleston’s Cistern Yard. (A quick Internet search shows that the couple played SXSW in March and will have a follow-up concert in Tryon, NC tonight.)
In all fairness, Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano (daughter of disco legend Donna Summer) put on a sweet and lovely show, albeit filled with a good deal of chatter (and the show still barely stretched over 60 minutes), and they were able to mix in a few original tunes that shined. But the limitations in Ramirez’s guitar work and the lack of range in Sudano’s beautiful voice make the duo barely local venue material, much less headlining at an international arts festival. Granted, Ramirez’s strong vocals proved entertaining. And both partners are attractive with pleasant stage presence. And certainly the setting under the moss-draped live oaks of the Cistern was enchanting. But given that the team has only released a single EP and don’t expect to release an album for at least another 12 months, an act with a little more experience might have been more in keeping with Spoleto Festival USA quality standards.
For example, the French acrobatic company Compagnie XY who also premiered at this year’s festival with multiple shows of Le Grand C, gave a jaw-dropping performance that packed in as much detail (think carefully choreographed human traffic patterns made to look like chaos that develops into machinations reminiscent of gears and cogs in a perfectly tuned instrument) and subtlety (the gentlemen gallantly smoothing the red skirts of their fellow female acrobats who have just returned to earth from being four persons high in the air) as it did feats of daring do. With 17 performers ranging in size from several tiny-though-immensely-muscular women to a dude with a bit of a belly who clearly tops 200 pounds, the team stays in almost constant motion—sometimes performing in duos or triads or larger groups, and sometimes performing as a single unit. The clever inclusion of French music—from the haunting dirge-like composition that accompanies the opening stunt performed in subdued lighting to another series of stunts in which the entire group sings—adds tremendously to the changing character and atmosphere the group creates for the various stunts being performed.
The 75 minutes of Le Grand C fly by as quickly as the performers (literally) fly through the air in places. This is a uniquely entertaining show not to be missed.