OK, everyone who really knows me knows how I feel about the state of dance in Columbia, SC. Not to beat a dead horse but, as you've all heard me whine too much, sometimes I feel like we're stuck in the nineteen-eighties or whenever the last time was that Columbia's big two dance company ADs went to see a show that they weren't staging themselves. It's frustrating that the only new and innovative dance and choreography opportunities tend to come out of the university setting.
So, with all these caveats out there I want to express how pleased I was with what City Ballet did with Off the Wall tonight at the Koger Center. Yes, Act I was the longest single ballet act I have ever sat through, and yes, the numbers themselves went on for way the hell too long. But when Act II came around, it was like we were sitting in a different theatre, with a different audience, watching a different company perform a different ballet.
While some of Act II was a retread of previous Off the Wall performances, artistic director William Starrett has added a new scene this season, set in the congregation of a church and, this time, he has scored and scored big. The new church scene starts off with a heart-and-gut twisting rendition of Amazing Grace, sung by a soloist with the Benedict College Gospel Choir whose name I do not know. If anyone knows this young woman's name, then please, pass it along to the rest of us because I don't ever want to miss an opportunity to hear her perform again. As outstanding as she was, her performance was just a precursor of the wild and crazy gospel choral ride the audience was in for as the remainder of the act unfolded. It was, to be completely candid, one of the best performances I have seen in Columbia. (And yes, Bonnie danced in this piece but only for a handful of minutes and in a decidedly standard corps role.)
The choir was over-the-top and athletic in their performance and the dance choreography was innovative and surprising. Dancers seemed to pop out of the pews of the church like hot kernels of corn. But by far, the most exciting thing to me was the fact that there on the Koger Center stage were three different arts disciplines -- ballet, choral music, and the visual art of Jonathan Green -- coming together to present an all around sensory overload that left the audience all but on fire. In a word, it was a success.
So, to those of you who were not planning to attend Columbia City Ballet's performance of Off the Wall and Onto the Stage, my advice is that you reconsider your decision. To be honest, act I may not be for everyone -- in our party, two people loved it and two people thought it drug on fairly mercilessly. But whatever your complaints or lack thereof with Act I, Act II will, by far, make up for any unhappiness with the early part of the show. There are three more chances to see this version of Off the Wall -- Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon. For more information go to www.columbiacityballet.com.