A theater troupe from Ireland. A marionette company from Italy. Dancers from New York. Orchestral players from across the United States.
They're converging on Charleston, where crowds of arts lovers will join them beginning Friday - the opening day of this year's Spoleto Festival USA. Through June 13, the town will be covered with plays, concerts, dance performances and operas.
Here are four headline events opening weekend:
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One of the keys to the festival's charm is the Dock Street Theater, Charleston's homage to cozy 18th-century stage venues. It's reopening after a three-year renovation. Spoleto is welcoming it back with a hit from the 1730s: "Flora, An Opera," a comedy that was already a hot property in London when it landed in colonial Charleston.
Flora is a teenager who has just been orphaned. She wants to marry her sweetheart. But her guardian, who wants to get his hands on the money her parents left for her, has his own designs. The hijinks take off from there.
"Early 21st-century theater is more like early 18th-century theater than most people realize," composer Neely Bruce says. He fleshed out "Flora" from the mere outlines that its creators left behind.
"You can basically say and do anything. You can be as bawdy as you like. You can present all kinds of questionable things on the stage, and people will laugh and have a good time."
He's an actor. Famous. Self-centered. A womanizer. Enjoys taking nothing seriously. Then his liaisons start going awry.
That's all the plot that Noel Coward's "Present Laughter" needs.
"You think you can get through life in an easy, flippant and very self-satisfied way. Then life throws you a curveball," says Alan Stanford, who directed the play for the Gate Theatre of Dublin.
"You've actually got to face realities. And... when people who are not used to facing realities are forced to face them, that can be terribly, terribly funny."
Taking over for Charles Wadsworth, the pianist-storyteller-jokester who had hosted Spoleto's chamber-music concert since Day 1, might be a hopeless task except for one thing: No sane person could expect the new artistic director to be another Wadsworth.
Geoff Nuttall, the new leader, had the benefit of watching Wadsworth at close hand. As first violinist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Spoleto's resident quartet for more than a decade, Nuttall has been literally at Wadsworth's side.
"You can never be as effortlessly funny or jovial or charming as Charles," Nuttall says.
"What you want to try to do is keep the spirit alive - keep his pure love of music and dislike of B.S. It's a good combination. I've always believed in that."
For decades, the Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has simultaneously spoofed and honored the heroic, poetic world of ballet - with men playing all the roles, right up to the (usually) most fragile heroines. On the festival's opening weekend, the company will finally make its Spoleto debut.
The Trocks, as their fans call them, will perform some of their classics, including "Swan Lake" and the George Balanchine homage "Go for Barocco." Yes, the style includes slapstick and silliness. But there's more to it than that, artistic director Tory Dobrin says via e-mail.
"The company is very rooted in serious ballet history and technique," Dobrin says.
"The audience expects to laugh when they walk into the theater. The audience walks away with an appreciation of how talented the dancers are as both comedy and ballet artists."