A cool rite of spring in Columbia

dhinshaw@thestate.comMarch 21, 2013 

— John Cantey finally ventured out his front door to announce to a group settled on blankets on his lawn: “The weatherman just said it’s 54.”

No matter.

They were, as one of the guests suggested, present for the very first Rite of Spring block party on Columbia’s Terrace Way, organized by the irrepressible Temple Ligon – an event the host pledged to repeat.

His house and newly planted gardens were open to about 50 visitors celebrating Columbia’s perfect season with Bellinis in the sunroom and ballet on the street.

“I like my neighbors, I like where I live, so it’s going to be my annual contribution,” said Ligon, who wore a white linen suit and watched the performance from his porch.

Dancers wearing pink and green, with rhinestones gleaming in their gauzy skirts, performed on a portable dance floor to a recording of Stravinsky, who wrote The Rite of Spring a century ago.

Guests gathered on a gentle hill, under trees just beginning to bud, or sidled up the narrow street in twos and threes.

Two little girls wearing princess dresses and carrying wands arrived just in time, settling in to wicker chairs with “reserved” signs taped on the back.

A calico cat kept her distance.

Ligon had suggested all-white attire or costumes fitting for The Rite of Spring. Though one woman wore a white ski jacket, and another a white feather boa, most apologized for bundling up in winter wear.

“I do have a white shirt clean,” Buddy Weir said as he arrived, “but it’s cool.”

“I wore my spring purse,” said Tish Lowe, clutching a bag covered in red satin roses.

And John Whitehead always wears black. “Always.”

He recalled living in an apartment on this very street when he was a young man in the Army, and deciding to make this his home.

“Spring and fall are the most glorious times in Columbia,” Whitehead said.

“It feels fresh. It smells good. And when everything is in bloom, it’s the most beautiful city.”

Evening shadows fell across the faces of the Carolina Ballet dancers, who performed for 35 minutes as birds chirped and squirrels scampered up the trees.

Afterward, the guests moved indoors and the dancers took over back rooms to change out of their costumes.

Parents and young girls crowded in the hall, awaiting an opportunity to shower them with admiration.

“It was definitely cold,” 17-year-old dancer Madison Barber said, “but it was fun doing something different.”

Ligon – a one-time candidate for mayor who gives regular lectures on travel, art and architecture that he promotes himself – got good reviews, too, as host. He saw to every detail.

He had gardeners working up until the last minute. (“It makes me so envious,” his across-the-street neighbor Nadine Cantey said.)

Patti Durkin had been looking forward to peeking inside the house. “I just knew it would be fabulous.”

And the host congratulated himself: “I’m in the habit of hiring the best-looking bartenders south of Baltimore.”

All in all, it made for a memorable evening – and a lovely start to spring.

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