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Claire Varney

Claire Varney is an entertainment and arts correspondent/journalist who covers festivals, events, premieres, and the behind-the-scenes in the US and throughout the world.   


Spoleto Festival USA 2021

Spoleto festival USA is a 17 day international performing arts festival that takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, with performances by leading artists in opera, theater, dance, music and more~

In the 1970s, Pulitzer Prize- winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti was in search for a new city to host the American counterpart to the annual Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.  He picked Charleston because of its charm-and in his words, its “unique beauty”.   

The festival was canceled last year (as most were); and having heard so much about it in the past, I made a point to attend in 2021. No matter what!                    
I'm grabbing every opportunity now and living life to the fullest...aren’t we all?!!

I primarily cover film festivals, but after 2020 -when the opportunity arose to immerse myself in-person at countless outdoor performances and events - in such a beautiful city- I had to grab it - and report on it!


Preservation Hall Jazz Band:

It was a very special night: Opening night of the festival, my very first Spoleto Festival USA event,  and the first LIVE concert performance in you-know-how-long for so many of us. New Orleans' renowned Preservation Hall Jazz Band leader Ben Jaffe declared that it also was their first performance in front of a live audience in over 14 months. 

Under the tall and majestic oak trees, draped with dramatic Spanish moss, the soulful music filled the air and brought us all together in a way we all hadn’t experienced in so long. 

Emotional, Yes. Celebratory, YES!


Caleb Teicher & Company: 

A few evenings later, it was a never forget/were you there? night thanks to NYC-based dancers Caleb Teicher & Company. The show, which was divided into two acts, begin with "Meet Ella", a riveting interpretive dance compilation derived from live recordings of Ella Fitzgerald. 

A brief intermission followed, and the company took the floor again to begin "Bzzzz", accompanied by beatboxer Chris Celiz - a one man symphony/band/jam! Fully into the performance, a few minutes later an unpredicted cloudburst of rain quickly halted the performance, and we all were rushed to the shelter of a nearby College of Charleston building for 30 minutes or so. As the skies cleared and we were back in our seats (about 3/4 of the lucky audience remained), we watched as the house crew hurriedly wiped the stage dry, while being treated to an impromptu audience participation Q&A with Caleb and Chris. A very worthy rain delay!
When all was clear and dry, they resumed performing "Bzzzz" (worthy of its name), and were met with a standing ovation for such a stellar performance. 


Ephrat Asherie Dance:

The following week, I saw what what was also the first performance in front of a live audience since March 2020 for NYC-based Ephrat Asherie Dance.  With their work called ODEON, the audience was transported into an evening of mesmerizing dance that had us at once awestruck, then contemplative, and ultimately celebrating. 

The choreography was an emotional meld of hip-hop, Latin hustle, breakdancing, Brazilian samba, Vogue, ballet, jazz and more- sometimes accompanied with bare silence, and other times with superb percussionists, piano and bass. 

We were blessed that this particular evenings' downpour of rain (I soon learned this is a daily/nightly occurance in Charleston this time of year), ended just a couple hours before the show...and despite sauna-like like humidity throughout their performances, Ephrat and her "dance family" (six in total) had the audience thrilled and in awe  of their talent and sheer stamina, grace, and soul.    


Behind the Garden Gate:

In addition to the performing arts of Spoleto Festival USA, the two consecutive Saturday mornings were dedicated to events presented by the the Charleston Horticultural Society, in collaboration with Spoleto Festival USA and the National Garden Conservancy.
"Behind the Garden Gate” was a set of self-guided tours and leisurely strolls amidst twelve of Charleston’s exquisite private gardens, rarely open to the public. 

Benjamin Lenhart, Chairman Emeritus of the Garden Conservancy explained, “The intent of ‘Behind the Garden Gate’ is to introduce the guests to some of the finest gardens in terms of design and horticulture in Charleston. Hopefully this will be an inspiration for artistic expression in their own gardens, as well as an opportunity to enjoy themselves in some of the most lovely Charleston spaces,” he added.  

And what an inspiration it was!!

“Behind the Garden Gate” was a tremendous success. As Lenhardt summarized, “Considering that we were just emerging from Covid, we had the same amount of garden visitors (which totalled almost 1000) as we did in 2019.”  
He added, "The strong showing I think was indicative that people are desirous of being outside and enjoying gardens again.”  

From my experience, and everyone else I came in contact within the Garden Gates...he couldn't have been more correct.  


Of particular interest to readers, two of the gardens visited were at homes that were featured in major film productions.  


THE PATRIOT starring Mel Gibson


Image Credit:



THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE starring David Keith 


Image Credit: Arthur Howe


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