REVIEW: Columbia City Ballet's Body & Movement - by Susan Lenz

To Each Their Own: Body & Movement Explored

Yesterday morning I sat at my laptop and composed a glowing review of Columbia Classical Ballet’s one-night-only production of Don Quixote. I knew that just twenty-four hours later, I would be putting words together in another dance review, one for Columbia City Ballet’s Body & Movement Explored. I attended Saturday’s show, the second in a two-night engagement at Columbia Music Festival Association’s black box theater on Pulaski Street. I went hoping the dancing would be as wonderful as the evening before. After all, it is far easier to write compliments than it is to write critical comments.

For the most part, I was not disappointed. More importantly, I learned a lot. Some of what I learned was about the creative ideas at work in a choreographer’s mind. There was a casual but informative talk-back session after the dancing. I also learned that my opinions might be 180 degrees apart from other knowledgeable dance fans, but that doesn’t mean any of us are more wrong (or right!) than the other.

What do I mean by that? Well, I ran into a friend who had also seen Don Quixote the night before. Unlike me, though, my friend found the entire performance boring and lackluster, not at all of the quality they expected from a professional company. We exchanged our impressions. Both of us acknowledged valid points from one another. Neither mind was changed, but it was certainly an engaging and worthwhile conversation.

Body & Movement Explored was an evening that easily showcased works one might totally love or absolutely hate. The person sitting next to you could easily hate the one you loved and loved the one you hated. As for me, I really disliked Philip Ingrassia’s Together Apart. In the talkback session, Philip announced that not only was this the third reiteration of the piece, but that he was greatly satisfied with where it was at and how intended to expand the piece into a full, fifteen-minute number. I was also not a fan of Stephanie Wilkins’ Ache. The three couples often looked awkward in movements that otherwise suggested the intention should have been flowing ease. To me, more rehearsal time was needed.

I found Martin Skocelas-Hunter’s In Good Company boring enough that my mind wandered. His concept was obvious. A group of four women danced side by side, doing the same steps as if an amateur recital. This was followed by four men doing exactly the same thing. The audience was to consider the difference in interpretation between men and women given the same choreography. As my mind wandered, I could almost see how this concept could be translated into a first-rate contemporary art film. What at first I found unexciting became ripe with possibilities. This is why evenings exploring body and movement are so important; Without a stage on which to experiment, choreographers work in the dark.

Though I’ve mentioned works I didn’t particularly enjoy, more than half the fourteen works presented were quite entertaining. This includes Good Eats, a tap-dancing duet choreographed and performed by Jordan Hawkins and Claire Richards to the live music by composer/trumpeter Mark Rapp and drummer Brendan Bull. The music was the title track to Rapp’s 2011 release paying homage to legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson and the performance let the room know why Rapp was recently designated the Jazz Ambassador of Columbia and the State of South Carolina by the SC House of Representatives.

Both of Rachel Leonard’s works were wonderful to watch and showed a wide range of expressiveness. If I had known beforehand, I would have been predisposed to this opinion. Why? Well, Rachel Leonard is one of two founders of Surfscape Dance Troupe, a professional contemporary company in Volusia County, Florida. I saw them perform at the Joan James Harris Theater at the Atlantic Center for the Arts before their 2014 tour to Sadler’s Wells in England.  It wasn’t until the talkback session that my memories seemed to coincide with William Starrett’s story of meeting Rachel Leonard, as well as her story of going to Paris after her company’s performance in England. The first half of the program ended with Café de Courtieser L’Ecart, Leonard’s playful recollection of her trip. It was grand!

Yet the most intriguing number of the night for me was Amanda Summey’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, “Gun Emoji” set to Mendelssohn’s Movement in G Minor for Nicole Carrion, Jordan Hawkins, and Colin Jacobs. This was a work that ought to be further explored, expanded, and performed. The piece powerfully illustrated how differences of opinion can lead to intractable, unresolved tensions, not unlike the varying impressions left on audience members after any dance occasion

Miranda Bailey’s duet for Bonnie-Boiter Jolley and Maurice Johnson was ethereal. Unfortunately, Bailey finale, Origin of Love, would have benefited from a larger space. Still, it was so exciting to see dancers smiling, full of energy, and showing off spins and leaps as if cast in a Broadway musical about a high school performing arts school. Perhaps nothing from the evening will go on to fame, but being in the audience was fun and the ensuing conversations were stimulating. I hope my impressions initiate an interest in local dance, whether one agrees with me or not! We are all entitled to our own opinions and the community will grow if we share, explore, and learn from one another.

Full Disclosure: Jasper Magazine's former Dance Editor, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, is a soloist with the Columbia City Ballet. 

REVIEW: CCB's Body & Movement Explored by David Ligon

Philip Ingrassia and Autumn Hill - photo by Ashley Concannon The art scene has progressed immensely in Columbia, SC over the past decade, and while Columbia City Ballet may have previously seemed to lag behind, performing the same pool of two- and three-act story ballets since William Starrett took over, only creating new ones every few years, the company seems to be moving forward of late and progressing along with the city.


On Friday, February 20 at 7:30 PM Columbia City Ballet presented its third annual Body & Movement Explored series. This event is a departure from what the company typically performs. Starrett has said this is an experimental project for the dancers as well as emerging choreographer to see if it can bring in an audience, and one day be presented on a bigger stage.


It is always exciting to see dancers you have become familiar with onstage be able to share another part of themselves with the audience. Most of the choreography was by Columbia City Ballet dancers. This year marks the first time choreographers came from out of state and volunteered their time to create works, including Rachel Leonard, a freelance choreographer from Florida; Jenny Broe, Owner of StudioFX in Charleston; Kevin James of Smuin Ballet; and former CCB principal dancer, Wayland Anderson. The Columbia City Ballet choreographers included soloist Philip Ingrassia, and corps members Ashley Concannon, Amanda Summey, and Denis Vezetiu.


Mr. Vezetiu choreographed two pieces as well as co-choreographed one with Ms. Concannon. His most captivating was his pas de deux, "Walk," which showcased his incredible strength and control as he manipulated dancer Nadine Tetrick around his body. She never touched the floor, as he was always controlling her. Her port de bras reacted to him like movement through water. They were one body moving together creating something beautiful to Ludovico Einaudi's minimalist score.


Ludovico music was used in four different pieces, as well as other minimalist composers including Philip Glass and Zoe Keating. What is interesting is how these composers created an atmosphere and texture with their music, rather than becoming monotonous because of its repetitiveness, lack of dynamic contrast with only slight rhythmic and melodic variations.


Jenny Broe, one of the visiting choreographers, created an enthralling contemporary piece of work to an up-tempo, club remix version of Bryan Adams’ “Wicked Games.” The choreography was seamless throughout, creating a battle between the dancers as to who could out dance whom. There was no pause for the dancers who moved from one structure to the next in groups or in pairs. The dancers would enter or leave the arena by walking fiercely like runway models. The other stand out choreographer was Rachel Leonard, who choreographed the opening piece “Speak” as well as the finale “Garcons et das Filles et des Bancs”. The last piece was set to operatic music with four sets of couples divided by gender and sitting on benches. There were phallic movements and a titillating flirtation from the four girls and four boys making it humorous and engaging fun. The boys unfortunately, missed some of the musical cues that would've made her vision really come to life.


Starrett recently commented that this is an experimental show trying to find an audience and support. He choreographed a pas de deux, “All for You,” for real life married couple Ingrassia and Autumn Hill. It was a tongue and cheek country western, on the bayou piece with choreography familiar to anyone who has seen Starrett’s previous work. For the music he collaborated with Josh McCaa who is married to CCB principal, Claire McCaa. McCaa’s country western music and voice were great, but didn’t quite sync up to the choreography. Starrett’s work with CCB is typically classical story-line fairytale ballets, like CCB’s upcoming “Cinderella.” “All For You” gave Starrett a chance to try something on a smaller scale and in a less-serious mood. It might have seemed that Starrett was going for laughs at times rather than substance, but maybe the programming of a light piece provided a good contrast with the passionate and personal work of the other choreographers.


Amanda Summey's piece “Identity Crisis” was fresh and thought provoking. Hip-hop, with elements of contemporary ballet, the eight women were wearing red masks that covered the lower half of the face and wearing street clothes. With their faces covered, they had to rely completely on body movement for expression. The music used was just a rapper with no instruments, but the rap voices layered on top of each other, creating a vocalized rhythm. Summey is a poly-artist: a visual artist and sketcher, ballet dancer, choreographer, and theater graduate from Northwestern University, she brings graffiti street art and intellectualism to her work.


The dancers who stood out were the constant duo, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley and Claire Richards. They were in the most pieces but were always paired together. Although these two compliment each other physically – they are tall, slender and blond – it would have been nice to see them dance separately, for each brings her own versatility to the stage.


In the future, CCB should model this show after other workshops around the country by auditioning choreographers to present full-length works (20-30 minutes) so the dancers can get fully invested in the work. There are theaters that can host such an event, other than the informal black box, that won’t run up the cost as much as putting it on at the Koger Center would. Having a professional event at such an informal space has its downsides: there isn’t enough lighting to explore the space, and the sound was a little low, which in turn meant we could hear every step and breath taken on stage. I believe the Columbia arts community will support a mixed-repertory series. Body & Movement Explored should be expanded and promoted bringing one-act ballets of various lengths with plot-less rather than story line structures. I think the series could be artistically and fiscally viable.