REVIEW: Columbia Classical Ballet's LifeChance 2018 - The Show Must Go On by Susan Lenz

Less than thirty-six hours before the Koger Center curtain went up, Columbia Classical Ballet’s Artistic Director Radenko Pavlovich received a text message that changed the entire ballet gala. Pavlovich’s protege and Washington Ballet principal dancer, Brooklyn Mack would not be able to make the trip. The program was already printed listing three numbers in which he would appear. This news came on the heels of another unfortunate cancellation. An injury prevented two Pennsylvania Ballet dancers from bringing the 3rd Act Pas de Deux from Don Quixote, always a big crowd pleasing piece, to the stage. 


What to do? The show must go on!


The show did go on and beautifully so. As promised, the evening was a delightful mix of contemporary and classical featuring guest principal and soloist dancers from Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance of Chicago, and Pennsylvania Ballet. The audience was mesmerized though slightly confused by the shifted program. Too many were consulting the line-up using illumination from their cell phones. (This is a BIG no-no and the topic of a recent Dance Magazine article. Checking the program was totally unnecessary. Each piece was clearly announced over the public address system.


The evening started after a few, brief introductions including Kassy Alia, founder of Heroes in Blue. ( Her local charity received some of the proceeds from the evening. She asked all the police officers in attendance to stand for a round of applause. For most, this was their first experience seeing dance. I knew one of the Forest Acres police officers. My husband and I ran into him and his well dressed wife at nearby Hunter-Gatherer before the show. He asked me what to expect. He imagined an evening of tiaras and short, pancake tutus. But, that’s only how the program started. 


Boston Ballet’s Patrick Leonard Yocum and Ji Young Chae dazzled in the Sleeping Beauty Wedding Pas de Deux. But before the first half ended with an ethereal rendition from Les Sylphide, the audience was treated to extraordinary diversity with Manuel Vignoulle and Rena Butler’s Black and White, Columbia Classical Ballet dancer Koyo Yanagishima’s athleticism in a variation from Diana and Actaeon, and Yanagishima’s choreography for two of his fellow company members.  Dancers appeared in itty-bitty costumes. Black and White should really have started with even less. (Long story short, I wish I could have seen the original, changing costumes. But this is the South, after all, not a place quite ready to witness an exploration in a mixed race couple’s relationship and gender equality through parted toplessness even if they progressively added clothing.) Finally, Rosalie Cirio was truly breathtaking in her perfect, long white romantic tutu and expertly partnered by Paul Craig.


When the curtain rose to the cast of Columbia Classical Ballet’s dancers for Rhapsodic Variations, the audience was well aware that Brooklyn Mack, listed to begin the second half, was not in attendance. It really didn’t matter. Rick McCullough’s choreography perfectly suited our local company, the dancers expressed more emotion than I’ve seen in earlier productions, and I’d personally enjoy seeing the piece again.  I certainly could repeatedly watch 50/50, a steamy tango-in-pointe-shoes by Boston’s sultry Ashley Ellis and her handsome partner Matthew Slattery or Dueto danced by Arian Molina Soca and Dayesi Torriente from Pennsylvania Ballet.


What surprised me was seeing the Grand Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker as part of a gala so close after the holiday season. As soon as Tamako Miyazaki took the stage, I understood. She is the embodiment of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the type of dancer who makes the little-girl-heart in me remember why I love dance. Her smile transformed the entire Koger Center into an odyssey of enchantment. It didn’t hurt that her Washington Ballet partner, Rolando Sarabia looks like a matinee idol and lands his Tour en l'air with total bravado. (Tour en l'air is a movement in which a dancer jumps straight upward and completes at least one full revolution in the air before landing.) 


I was delighted to learn that Tamako Miyazaki was once a Columbia Classical Ballet company member. Opportunities here in Columbia assisted with the progression of her career. Opportunities were abound last night due to an unfortunate text message. Koyo Yanagishima’s Diana and Actaeon variation was a program addition. He danced Flames of Paris during the second half. More time on stage was allotted to our local talent. As Radenko Pavlovich put it, “I am raising the bar for quality in Columbia”.  His dancers are stepping up to meet the challenge and definitely held their own on a stage with world-class talent from across the country.