REVIEW: Columbia City Ballet's Cleopatra featuring Ballerina Regina Willoughby's Retirement Performance

by Susan Lenz

Regina Willoughby taking her final bow for her performance in Cleopatra on March 24, 2018 (photo courtesy of Julia Gulia)

Regina Willoughby taking her final bow for her performance in Cleopatra on March 24, 2018 (photo courtesy of Julia Gulia)

Last night, Ballerina Regina Willoughby couldn’t hold all the flowers presented at the conclusion of her farewell performance of Columbia City Ballet’s Cleopatra. She carefully laid those in her arms atop the mound of roses company dancers had placed at her feet. She gracefully stepped around the pile for one last bow. Artistic Director William Starrett addressed the standing ovation with words of praise for her long career and sparkling personality, and Mayor Stephen Benjamin presented the Key to the City. Many in the audience wiped away tears as the curtain was lowered. 


I hadn’t seen such an emotionally charged scene since Prima Ballerina Mariclare Miranda’s 2006 retirement performance of Giselle. Here in Columbia, the audience seems to know how to respond to the last show in a principal dancer’s life and to the talent they just witnessed. Regina Willoughby was certainly the star in the production. The title role was set on her in 2008 and reprised in 2010. I remember these evenings rather well.


Regina Willoughby was brilliant as Cleopatra in all three seasons, dancing as if she’d already found the Egyptian secrets of an ageless afterlife. Her blunt cropped coiffure by Brittany Mocase Luskin of Studio B at the Old Mill was again perfect. It is little wonder that Regina selected this production for her final appearance. Unfortunately, her Act I partner was not as convincing as past years when Robert Michalski (2008) and Peter Kozak (2010) danced the role of Julius Caesar. Also missing was the excitement and technical abilities seen when William Moore, Jr. danced the part of Ptolemy, Cleopatra’s scheming younger brother. Frankly, the male roles were lack luster until principal Bo Busby stepped onto the stage as Marc Antony. Then, the partnering seamlessly sizzled. Their pas de deux was the highlight of the evening and lived up to a performance worthy of the retirement hype.


Otherwise, much of the choreography was to be in unison or to feature corp de ballet dancers racing across the stage, one-after-the-other in a strong diagonal line. In these instances, it is too easy to see lack of synchronization. Much of the ballet appeared to need additional rehearsal time. The canned music was also problematic. It seemed to need a bit of professional mixing for smoother transitions from melody to melody.


Problems aside, the evening was a lovely way to celebrate a ballerina’s retirement. Columbia City Ballet and local audiences will undoubtedly miss Regina Willoughby but will happily welcome principal Claire Richards and newly appointed principal Bonnie Boiter-Jolley into leading ladies. As Cleopatra’s handmaidens, they complimented one another perfectly. I look forward to seeing them during the 2018-19 season’s productions of Dracula: Ballet with a Bite; The Nutcracker; Sleeping Beauty; and the world premier of Beatles: The Ballet.


My recent interview with Regina Willoughby included well wishes and fond memories from dancers who have moved away or retired. Since then, I’ve received a few more quotes.


Pat Miller Baker wrote: Only once in a blue moon does a ballerina like Regina come along. She made her mark in every role she danced and the memories of her portrayals along with her physicality and artistry shall remain in all of our minds and hearts forever. I have loved being her teacher, coach and friend.  (Pat Miller elegantly appeared in last night’s production as Calpurnia, Wife of Caesar, a character role demanding exquisite dramatic acting.)


Journy Wilkes-Davis wrote: Some of the first big roles in my career I danced with Regina and it was her confident experience that allowed me to grow as a partner. She is a daredevil in the studio and onstage and the intensity she brings to every role pushed me to take risks as a partner where I had previously would have played it safer. I have great memories of dancing Arthur opposite her Lucy in Dracula or Romeo to her Juliet where it was inspiring to match the commitment she brought to her character and build a believable story for the audience. She taught by example how to throw caution to the wind and live in the moment onstage, a gift I will carry with me the rest of my career.


William Moore, Jr. wrote: I will start off by saying that it was a pleasure sharing the stage with Regina for several years! Notably our performance of Cleopatra was an unforgettable process and I am honored that I had that awesome opportunity early in my career. Love Regina dearly and I wish her the best in her retirement!
Love, William Moore Jr, former dancer, current music producer

Jasper Dance Writer Susan Lenz Weighs in on Which Nutcracker Ballet to See but Cautions that the Choice is Yours!

Both have snow, tiaras, and take a young Clara on a fairytale journey into the Land of Sweets with dancing variations and a final pas de deux. So, what are the differences? Which company's production should an informed audience member select?

Is that a Unicorn in Columbia City Ballet's Nutcracker?

Is that a Unicorn in Columbia City Ballet's Nutcracker?


My husband and I own a little frame shop. My sales counter is in front of a non-working fireplace with a mantel holding family pictures, including some of my dancing son. For years these images seemed to remind clients that ballet is part of my life. Every holiday season, clients excitedly tell me, "I'm going to The Nutcracker!" Of course I'm happy for them and ask, "Which production?" The answer is always the same. "The one at the Koger Center."


Further conversation reveals that most people in Columbia are aware that The Nutcracker comes to the Township Auditorium every Thanksgiving weekend. Some even know that this is the civic company.  (I wrote a review of last month's show at Most seem to know that The Nutcracker also comes to the Koger Center for three weekends in December, but they are totally unaware that two different, local professional ballet companies are putting on these shows. They have no idea to which production they've booked tickets. They have no idea that there is a difference. But there is a difference.


The first weekend features Columbia Classical Ballet (Radenko Pavolich, artistic director). The later two weekends feature Columbia City Ballet (William Starrett, artistic director). Yes, the company names are as similar as The Nutcracker's basic storyline.  Both companies use canned Tchaikovsky music, cast students from their independent ballet schools, and include adults from the community in character roles, mainly in the first act's party scene. Both companies sell tickets through the Koger Center's on-line box office. Both have snow, tiaras, and take a young Clara on a fairytale journey into the Land of Sweets with dancing variations and a final pas de deux. So, what are the differences? Which company's production should an informed audience member select?


Let me cut to the chase. If one wants to see a technically superior Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, book Radenko's production. I saw Nao Omoya and Koyo Yanagishima on Saturday night. At least I think I did. The program listed double-cast roles but didn't indicate which dancers were performing in which show. I still have no idea who I saw as Clara. Despite being in several Act II variations in both that afternoon's matinee and the evening performance, these two dancers surprisingly had plenty of energy and brought excellent technique to the stage. The dancers for Columbia City Ballet had two performances the following Saturday. I saw both. Claire Richards was lovely but her afternoon partner was weak. Bo Busby and Regina Willoughby looked understandably tired that evening.


Yet, who goes to The Nutcracker for just the last pas de deux? In almost every other way, Columbia City Ballet's production was more pleasing.


That last sentence was hard for me to write.


I'm predisposed against the liberties William Starrrett takes with his production. I'm more inclined to like the traditional dancing dolls during Act I's party scene. Radenko Pavlovich’s Harlequin and Columbine were first rate but couldn't save the scene. That party unfolded as if a series of recital pieces. At one point, all the girls covered the stage rocking baby dolls, and there weren't even enough to go around. Stranger yet, the Nutcracker doll wasn't even a traditional solid. Its legs were moveable, possibly even like a stuffed animal. 


William Starrett’s nutcracker doll looks like a nutcracker, but it’s the only doll on stage. Instead of the classic mechanized dancing doll variations, Starrett features a flirtatious Scarlett straight from Gone With the Wind mythology and a courtship dance between Clara’s older sister and a lead cadet. It works though. It works because the Columbia City Ballet dancers are good actors. As the scene continues, the audience has no problem following the plot. The nutcracker doll is broken, repaired, and placed by the Christmas tree. Effortlessly, the audience follows the action. Clara is lurked back to the darkened living room and a dream sequence begins. Mice and rats battle and the nutcracker is magically transformed into a living doll and finally a prince. One doesn’t have to consult the program. The plot is told through the choreography, the dancers, and good lighting.  Virginia Welsh as young Clara, though not technically perfect, was utterly charming and carried the audience into the Land of Snow and beyond.


Unfortunately, Columbia Classical Ballet’s dancers generally don’t express much emotion and pivotal moments often occurred in poorly lit areas of the stage. There was too much fog and the machine producing it made a lot of distracting noise. The transitions from the Stahlbaums’ living room into a battle scene and onto the Land of Snow were simply not as magical as intended. Narrative was lost.


Columbia Classical Ballet’s Act II is traditional, though it starts oddly. Why? Well, there is no overture played before the ballet begins. Thus, it is strange to listen to the first part of the angelic scene played to the curtain. William Starrett’s Act II starts the same way but his production includes the opening overture. Musically, that seems proper. Musically, Starrett’s Act II is anything but proper. It starts to the correct, heavenly melody and altogether too much gold lamé but then progresses into the Waltz of the Flowers. The other variations are also mixed up and include Neapolitan Ice Cream Flavors and Striped Candy Canes using music that isn’t even from Tchiakovsky’s Nutcracker score. Anyone familiar with the music knows it’s all out of order.


Yet, it works. There’s a flow from section to section and a nice mix of humor for sheer entertainment. I didn’t even mind the appearance of a white horse dressed as a unicorn. Admittedly, its a gimmick but it is only a magical inspired entrance. It doesn’t distract from the dancing or the progression of the ballet. 


By the end of both ballets, Clara is back in her living room and the audiences are altogether too eager to give standing ovations, as if a requirement. Both ballets had their strong points and weaknesses. Both were worth seeing. 


Both companies have extremely enticing opportunities for audience members to witness something special in the coming new year.  On Saturday, January 20th, Columbia Classical Ballet will present their annual LifeChance, an International Ballet Gala of Stars (always one of the best ballet performances in Columbia). On Saturday, January 27th, Columbia City Ballet is partnering with the full South Carolina Philharmonic under Morihiko Nakahara’s baton for Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Looking ahead, I hope this article assists future audience members make informed decisions about their Nutcracker options. Best bet: see both and compare! Maybe you’ll agree with my impressions. Maybe next year’s productions will be entirely different. There’s still time to catch the last weekend of Columbia City Ballet’s Nutcracker. It can be seen at the Koger Center:

3:00 PM Saturday, December 16, 2017
7:30 PM Saturday, December 16, 2017
3:00 PM Sunday, December 17, 2017


Postscript: Most informed audience members know something else. Using LED devices is strictly prohibited. The family sitting in front of me during Columbia Classical Ballet’s Nutcracker used a cell phone to record the entire Bon-Bon variation. The gentleman sitting beside my husband at Columbia City Ballet’s Nutcracker checked his email during the Sugar Plum pas de deux.  Please, go to the shows but don’t do this!

Susan Lenz - photo by Forrest Clonts

Susan Lenz - photo by Forrest Clonts

Susan Lenz is a full time, professional studio artist in Columbia, South Carolina. Her studio is located at Mouse House, Inc. at 2123 Park Street where she has both a studio for 3D sculptural and installation work and a separate fiber art studio. Susan's work has been juried into numerous national and international exhibits, featured in solo shows all over the United States, and shown on television and in print. She has been awarded six full scholarship art residencies and several "Best of Show" ribbons. She blogs at

The Ballet Aladdin Returns to Columbia After 13 Years



Conceptualized and choreographed by Artistic Director William Starrett in 1995, Columbia City Ballet presents the return of Aladdin for one weekend only, January 29th and 30th. Last performed 13 years ago to the musical score of composer Ludwig Minkus, Columbia City Ballet brings back this classic fairy tale based on Arabian Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian folktales. “Aladdin is a huge epic ballet, technically demanding for the dancers, visually thrilling for the audience and perfect for the entire family. It is such fun to see Aladdin and Jasmine flying on their magic carpet as the Genie grants Aladdin’s famous three wishes,” says Starrett.


But "the ballet Aladdin isn’t just for children," Starrett says, "because the choreographic foundation of the full length production is based on the 1877 ballet La Bayadere that was first choreographed by Marius Petipa." The ballet La Bayadere is a story of deceit and love, poisonous snakes, ghosts, and murder. The ballet "pre-dates the major romantic era by several years and it includes the famous scene from the ballet The Kingdom of the Shades, one of the most celebrated excerpts in all of classical ballet." The famous late critic Clive Barnes of the New York Times is well known for having said, 'If you don’t like the scene of The Kingdom of the Shades you don’t like classical ballet,'” Starrett says. "So even though the children are so familiar because of the Disney popularity adults will love it because it is rooted in such a strong classical foundation in ballet technique and tradition."

This three-act performance is developed from four of Minkus’ most memorable ballets including Paquita, and La Bayadere; excerpts are incorporated into the score of Aladdin.  The roles of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, originated by Peter Kozak and City Ballet Prima Ballerina Mariclare Miranda, will be performed in this production by Ballerina Regina Willoughby and Principal Dancer Christopher Miro. Willoughby, who grew up in Texas, came to CCB in 1997 and has risen through the ranks of the company to the position of Ballerina. Reinaldo Soto will be featured as the Genie. Other favorites from Columbia City Ballet include Claire McCaa, Autumn Hill, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and Claire Richards.


Regina Willoughby - Ballerina for Columbia City Ballet


Christopher Miro will dance the role of Aladdin

Columbia City Ballet will give three performances of Aladdin at the Koger Center for the Arts Friday, January 29th at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 30th at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets, starting at $20, can be purchased at the box office, at or by calling 803-251-2222. An Aladdin tea will be held prior to Saturday’s performance at 1:30 p.m. in the Koger Center ballroom. For tea tickets and information call 803-799-7605. Call today as seating is limited.

Preview - Strength and Beauty - at Indie Grits tonight!

strength and beauty In the 90-plus minute long film, Strength and Beauty:  Three Ballerinas. Three Voices, filmmaker Chelsea Wayant focuses on three different dancers from Charlotte's North Carolina Dance Theatre, each at a different stage of her career. After 17 years of dancing, Tracy finds herself unable to perform some of the more challenging roles in her repertoire with the ease she once did. Alessandra, on the other hand, is just now beginning to be cast in those difficult roles. And Melissa, a contemporary ballet transplant, has just joined the company for her first season. We follow the women across two seasons with NCDT as they discuss many of the topics found most commonly on the minds of professional dancers:  body image, relationships, physical challenges, life outside of ballet, and inevitably, transitions.

A beautifully constructed film experience, Strength and Beauty provides both ballet-lovers and ballet novices an intimate look at the intellectual and emotional machinations of professional ballet dancers. The story arcs are well developed and executed, and the subjects are lovely and engaging. Some innovative camera work and the clever use of Super8  film during which each dancer performs what are clearly improvisational pieces makes for some of the most tender moments in the film.

Jasper advises you to check Strength and Beauty out tonight at 7 pm at the Nick. Following the film Jasper dance editor (and CCB soloist) Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, CCB principal dancer Regina Willoughby, filmmaker John Kirkscey, dancer Dylan G - Bowley, and Columbia Classical Ballet dancer Madeline Foderaro will be discussing the film as part of a panel led by Jasper editor Cindi Boiter.

7 - 9:30 pm at The Nick  -- Check out the Facebook event for even more info.


Ten Reasons to See the Columbia City Ballet's Giselle This Weekend

  Columbia City Ballet Principal Dancer Regina Willoughby as Giselle



  1. Giselle is not for children. This doesn’t mean that children won’t be mesmerized by the costumes, movement, and quasi-fairytale quality of the ballet, and there’s nothing adults-only about the ballet or the story. Giselle, however, is a more mature, sophisticated ballet. No little cutie-pies running across the stage. No magic tricks. No hoopla. Pure art.
  2. Dance programming in Columbia tends to respond to ticket sales. We will continue to see mostly narrative, family-friendly (read: little cutie pies running across the stage, magic tricks, and hoopla) if those are the performances that sell the most tickets. And, of course, the converse is true, as well; we will continue to see fewer serious ballets if we, as a dance audience, don’t support a more challenging type of programming—such as Giselle—with butts in seats.
  3. It is time for Columbia dance audiences to grow up. It is time to learn more about the art we support; to mature as audiences so that we expect more than fluff from our dance artists, and to be able to recognize and appreciate it when our dance artists give us something meaty, like Giselle, to chew on.
  4. Columbia’s dance artists are desperate to give you this kind of programming.  Most of the dancers you’ll see on Friday and Saturday nights have been training most of their lives to perform this kind of ballet. The parts are difficult. They are challenging both mentally and physically. What these dancers want more than anything is to offer this level of performance, do it well, and receive some small bit of validation (read: butts in seats and applause at the end of the night) demonstrating that we know they are capable of dancing at this level. This is what they live for.
  5. Giselle is a ballet that appeals to many different types of audiences. There is romance, of course—ballet is a romantic art—but Giselle is not your typical boy-meets-girl type of narrative. There’s not a whole helluva lot of living-happily-ever-after, and the characters of those that do so are profoundly changed by the events that happen in the story line.
  6. Giselle is one of the most sophisticated ghost stories you’ll ever see enacted. Who gives a rot about vampires and mummies—these ghosts are beautiful and massively athletic dead women with broken hearts and an unquenchable desire for VENGEANCE, baby.
  7. Classical art like this is an important part of an art lover’s cultural literacy (and trivia repertoire. The next time you’re at trivia night at the Whig you’ll be able to answer the question: What is a wili? Answer:  A wili is a supernatural being from Slavic folklore – in the case of the ballet Giselle, a wili is a broken-hearted dead woman who dances men to their deaths!)
  8. Craziness. Serious craziness.  Here’s a preview – at the end of the first act of the ballet, Giselle basically goes nuts. I mean, tearing her hair out, wild woman, Uzo Aduba – eyed, post-postal, Mama-say-if-I’ll-be-alright, crazy. Black Swan crazy. Principal ballerina Regina Willoughby will be performing that part. If Regina can pull off crazy as well as she does composed—and I have no doubt that she can—then we are all in for a momentous treat.
  9. Jasper dance editor (and this blog writer’s daughter) Bonnie Boiter-Jolley will be performing the role of Myrtha—Queen Bitch of the Wilis—on Saturday night. The beautiful and, I feel certain, equally ireful Claire Richards will be dancing the role on Friday night.  You have not seen mean until you see how mean this Myrtha character can be. Seriously cold. Myrtha has no problem sentencing boys to their rhythmic deaths with a single swoop of her lily white hand. Just don’t look her in the eyes.
  10. SAVE On TICKETS by subscribing to What Jasper Said (above right) then  entering the promotional code "jasper" to save $10 off price of $29 & $39 tickets at   Giselle will be performed by the Columbia City Ballet Friday and Saturday, January 31st and February 1st at the Koger Center for the Arts.

Jasper 2013 Artists of the Year Nominations -- Open Now!

Jasper leaf logo Jasper Magazine is accepting nominations for the title “Artist of the Year” in each of the following five categories:

  • Dance
  • Theatre
  • Music
  • Visual Arts
  • Literary Arts

Artists, 18 and older, working in the greater Columbia arts community are eligible for the title based upon their artistic accomplishments during the period from September 2012 until September 2013.*

Nominations should be sent to with the subject heading “Artist of the Year” and should be accompanied by

1)   a single paragraph explaining why the nominee should be considered -- this is the place where you wax poetic & sing the praises of your nominee in terms that will touch our hearts

2)   a brief, but comprehensive list of work produced, performed , published, or presented during the September 15th, 2012 – September 14th, 2013 time period -- this is the place where you get serious. You know all that stuff you said in the paragraph above? We don't need to hear it again. What we need to hear are the specific enumerated accomplishments your nominee has made over the past 12 months and the dates of accomplishment. (Note:  it broke our hearts last year when we weren't able to include highly deserving candidates whose nominators failed to list their nominees' many accomplishments. For our sake, please follow the instructions.)

3) a sentence stating that you have consulted your candidate and she or he has agreed to participate in the competition.

Nominations must be received online by midnight September 14, 2013.

Results will be announced in the November issue of Jasper Magazine.

Upon closing of the nomination call, a panel of judges will select the top three candidates in each field and, from these three finalists, the public will be invited to vote online for each of their top choices at the Jasper website.

  • There is no fee to enter.
  • Artists may nominate themselves.
  • Artists should be made aware of their nomination and agree to participate in the competition.

The category Dance includes:  performance, choreography, or direction of any form of dance including, but not limited to ballet, contemporary, jazz, tap, ballroom, Latin, or folk.

The category Theatre includes: directing or acting in one or more local performances.

The category Music includes: conducting, directing, writing, or performing any style of music in one or more local concerts or recordings; both individuals and groups are eligible.

The category Visual Arts includes: the completion and presentation of any form of non-performing or non-literary arts, such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, print-making, mixed-media, and (new this year) set design, etc.

The category Literary Arts includes: the completion, publication, and/or presentation of any form of prose, poetry, or non-fiction writing, as well as playwriting and the writing of executed screenplays.

*Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year Awards will not be awarded based on achievements accomplished prior to September 15th, 2012. The purpose of the awards is to recognize artistic achievements accomplished within a calendar year, not over a lifetime.


Congratulations to our outgoing

Jasper 2012 Artists of the Year

on a year well-served!

Regina Willoughby - Dance

Kwame Dawes - Literary Arts

Morihiko Nakahara - Music

Chad Henderson - Theatre

Susan Lenz - Visual Arts


Fine Print

  • Previous winners of Jasper Artists of the Year are not eligible for nomination for a three year period following the year in which they won.
  • Previous nominees who did not win are eligible to be nominated in subsequent years.
  • Artists must have resided in Columbia, SC during the September 2012 - 2013 time period. Artists who are from Columbia, but no longer live here, are no longer eligible for Jasper Artists of the Year Awards.
  • Works in progress will not be considered.
  • Employees of Jasper Magazine and clients of Muddy Ford Press are not eligible for competition.


Columbia City Ballet's new Snow White by Jasper intern Giesela Lubecke

Snow White is making her comeback. Last year’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” grossed nearly $400 million worldwide, and the ABC series “Once Upon a Time” a revamp of the tale set in 21st century Maine, was the network’s biggest debut in five years. The Columbia City Ballet has jumped on the fairy tale bandwagon and will begin their spring 2013 season with three performances of “Snow White” at USC’s Koger Center February 1st and 2nd.

This isn’t the first rendition of “Snow White” performed by the Columbia City Ballet. A rendition of Snow White heavily influenced by the Walt Disney movie was first performed in 1989, and two children-friendly versions of Snow White were also performed in 1995 and 2009 through the Ballet’s Educational Outreach Series.

This season’s version, however, has been reinvented by Executive and Artistic Director William Starrett. Starrett, an accomplished dancer and choreographer with more than 30 years of experience, himself danced the part of Prince Charming in the Columbia City Ballet’s 1989 rendition and also implemented Educational Outreach.


Referring to this new rendition of Snow White as “very un-Disney,” Starrett decided to flesh out this year’s version of Snow White, thickening the story’s plot. “There’s more meat to it,” said Starrett.

Starrett drew inspiration from the Grimm Brothers’ version of the fairy tale, a much darker and more morbid story than the 1937 Disney movie. A Russian version of Snow White, “The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights,” written 1833 by Aleksandr Pushkin, led Starrett to feature knights as Snow White’s protectors rather than the standard dwarfs.

Starrett also took pains to focus more on the character of the Queen (played by Regina Willoughby) and fully establish her evilness. The ballet begins with the marriage of the Queen to Snow White’s father, the King, and his subsequent murder. The Huntsman, ordered to slay the innocent Snow White (played by Claire Kallimanis), also plays a more important and ultimately tragic role in the story as the Queen’s lover.

Starrett decided to retain a few sentimental elements of the Disney version. The Grimm’s Snow White awakes from her sleep when she coughs up the poisoned bite of apple. “I thought it wasn’t romantic enough,” said Starrett, who chose to keep in the ballet the spell-breaking kiss from Prince Charming (played by Journy Wilkes-Davis).

Two versions of Snow White will be performed at the Koger Center. The evening performances, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 and 2, are geared for more mature audiences, and before each show Starrett will give the audience a behind-the-scenes lecture.

The matinee, at 3:00 p.m. Feb. 2, is a toned down, family-friendly version. Before the Feb. 2 matinee, a “Snow White Tea” event will be held, offering tea, cakes, cookies and an opportunity to meet the dancers. After the matinee, audience members have the opportunity to go backstage.

Tickets to the Columbia City Ballet’s “Snow White” must be purchased in advance through Prices range from $15-$38. Balcony seating for the performances are now sold out.





Bite Me. Columbia City Ballet presents Dracula: Ballet with a Bite

It's that time of year again. Around here, the start of the holiday season isn't signaled by sleigh bells or turkey and stuffing, but by fangs. Attending Columbia City Ballet's annual production of Dracula: Ballet with a Bite has become almost as much of a tradition as seeing one of Columbia's many productions of the Nutcracker. Yes, you've heard the tunes before, but there's something about those few moments before the curtain goes up when creepy sounds flood the Koger Center -- there's the ridiculous sensation that a bat actually might flap its gnarly wings over your head -- and then the music starts. Thomas Semanski's seductive cadence booms and, before you know it, you're tapping your feet and boogeying just a little in your seat. Let's face it, what the Nutcracker is to the younger set, Dracula is to balletomanes who like a little gore in their choreography. Sure, the Nutcracker might have cute kids, Petipa, and a snowy land enchanted by anthropomorphic dancing candies - but, I'll just say it, Dracula has hotties. Dancing hotties. Talented hotties. Scantily clad female hotties (yes, if you're wondering, it is very weird to be writing this about one's own kid) and muscular male hotties with shirts ripped to shreds in all the right places.

And then there's the ripped Romanian himself.

Principal Dancer Robert Michalski embraces the role of Dracula like no one before him.  Both terrifying and enticing at the same time, Michalski has mastered the art of transforming from the tender-hearted father of two that friends and colleagues in real life know him to be into the kind of two-legged monster you want to hide your own daughters from. A veteran dancer, Michalski's years in dance have earned him an enviable stage presence, and though he admits to not actually dancing so much in this role, his balletic movements coupled with his menacing acting have raised the bar on what local ballet audiences have come to expect from story ballets. Michalski isn't just a dancer, he is an actor.

The contemporary choreography and catchy tunes are enough to bring audiences back year after year, if for no other reason than the fun of it all. But even more importantly, given that city ballet artistic director William Starrett has established a reputation for keeping his dancers around for a while (rather than coming up with a brand new corps de ballet every season) means that almost every dancer on the stage for this season's performance of the ballet has been there before, performing the same role. What this means to the audience is that we get to see dancers who have become experts at the parts they perform. (This, of course, does not include the children's roles which do tend to change as the young dancers progress in their training.) This is not the case with every ballet you'll see -- it is a distinctive and not-always-common characteristic of a recurring ballet production and a consistent corps de ballet and principal dancers. It is something that Columbia ballet audiences are fortunate to be able to witness.

And again, on top of all this is the fun of it all.

And don't forget the hotties.

Columbia City Ballet presents Dracula: Ballet with A Bite at the Koger Center, running from Thursday, Oct. 25 - Saturday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Capitol Tickets, online at, or by calling (803) 251-2222. University students are encouraged to take advantage of special discount student pricing on Thursday, Oct. 25: all tickets are $10 with a valid student i.d.



Jasper 2012 Artists of the Year Finalists

Jasper Magazine is pleased to announce the finalists for Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year in the categories of Dance, Literary Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts.


Dance:  Brooklyn Mack, Regina Willoughby, and Marcy Jo Yonkey-Clayton

Literary Arts:  Kwame Dawes, Julia Elliott, and Dianne Johnson

Music:  Aaron Graves, Morihiko Nakahara, and Josh Roberts

Theatre:  Chad Henderson, Vicky Saye Henderson, and Shelby Sessler

Visual Arts:   Thomas Crouch, Lyon Hill, and Susan Lenz


The above 15 artists were among a number of artists nominated by their peers and fans. Based on the information submitted with the nominations, a panel of judges selected the top three artists in each category to compete for the title Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year.

Now the fun begins! You’re invited to vote for your choice for Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year in each of the five categories by visiting the Jasper website. There, you’ll find summaries of each artist’s accomplishments for the period of September 15, 2011 – September 15, 2012.

The winners of Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year in Dance, Literary Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts will be announced at 7 pm November 15, 2012 at the release of Jasper Magazine V. 002, N. 002 at City Art during Vista Lights. All 15 artists will be featured in the same issue of Jasper Magazine.

For more on the finalists, please continue reading.


Jasper 2012 Artist of the Year Finalists


Brooklyn Mack

Although Brooklyn Mack’s full time position in the Washington Ballet doesn’t allow him as much time in the SC Midlands as he once had, the dancer still considers Elgin his home and, despite a career that finds him dancing across the continents, the Columbia area is where you’ll find him during almost any time off. Nominated by Dance Magazine as one of the 25 young dancers to watch in 2012, Mack was the first African American male to win the Gold Medal at the 2012 Varna International Ballet Competition. He won the gold medal at the 2nd Annual Boston International Ballet Competition and the Grand Prix at the 3rd International Istanbul Ballet Competition, both in June 2012. An interview on National Public Radio, an invitation to dance at the Kremlin Palace, and guest solo artist invitations and performances in Indiana and at Jackson, not to mention performances with Columbia Classical Ballet and Washington Ballet, round out a busy year for Mack.


Marcy Jo Yonkey-Clayton

Recipient of the 2012 South Carolina Arts Commission Fellowship Award for Dance Choreography, Yonkey-Clayton created the dance, The More We Get Together (performed in Columbia, SC and Albany, GA), as well as Get On It, performed at the Columbia College Fall 2011 Faculty Concert. She danced in the following performances: Cow Beans & Cool Water, Angel Train, The More We Get Together, and the Columbia College Dance Lab’s Third Annual Campus Walking Tour of Dance. An assistant professor at Columbia College, Yonkey-Clayton teaches emerging dance artists, choreographs and performs with the Power Company, and the CCdanceLab. This year she taught at the American College Dance Festival in Albany, GA, the SC Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in Myrtle Beach, and the Greenville Fine Arts Center, as well as for Richland One Dance and Columbia College Summer Camp. She completed a Choreography Residence at Ridge View High School, serves as editor awards committee member for the South Carolina Dance Association.


Regina Willoughby

Ballerina with Columbia City Ballet, Regina Willoughby danced the following starring roles with the company between September 2011 and 2012 – Lucy in Dracula, Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, (a role she says she has dreamed of dancing for 20 years!), and Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (a role she says she felt she needed to conquer before she retires). She also appeared with Ballet Spartanburg’s Dance Synergy III and earned the American Ballet Theater Teacher Training Curriculum certification in NYC.


Literary Arts


Kwame Dawes

Earlier this year, Kwame Dawes joined the ranks of Ansel Adams, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Derek Walcott, and Eudora Welty, as winner of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.  Dawes was one of 181 scholars, artists, and scientists selected from nearly 3000 applicants.  In March he received the Poets & Writers magazine Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award, which recognizes writers who have given generously to other writers.  Even though Dawes moved to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last year to become the editor of the renowned literary magazine Prairie Schooner, the Jamaican poet says he still thinks of himself as a South Carolinian, and much of his work has been about getting South Carolina writers in print. Within the past year, Dawes published Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poetry from the Carolinas, an essential collection of contemporary African-American writers from South and North Carolina published by Hub City Press of Spartanburg and launched at the Columbia Museum of Art last fall.  He also published Jubilation: An Anthology of Poetry Celebrating Fifty Years of Jamaican Independence (Peepal Tree, 2012) and his groundbreaking poetry and journalism project, Voices of Haiti, which won the National Press club’s 2011 Joan Friedenberg Award for Online Journalism, is now available as an I-book from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Recording.  Two books forthcoming this fall also suggest his continuing commitment to South Carolina voices:  Seeking: South Carolina Poets Responding to the Art of Jonathan Green (USC Press, fall 2012), and Seven Strong: South Carolina Poetry Prize Winners (also USC Press, fall 2012), selections from the state poetry prize series founded in by Dawes in 2005.


 Julia Elliott

“Totally original” is what the awards committee for the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award said of Cayce writer Julia Elliott, or more precisely, “incredibly imaginative, sharply observed, and totally original.”  Elliott was one of six women writers selected this fall for the $30,000 award, which is given annually to writers who demonstrate excellence and promise early in their careers.  Two short stories were published this spring in Conjunctions and in Tin House, journals known for experimental literary fiction, and her story “Regeneration at Mukti,” originally published in Conjunctions, received a Pushcart Prize and will appear in the 2013 anthology later this year.  An assistant professor English and Women’s and Gender Studies at USC, Elliott is currently finishing The New and Improved Romie Futch, a novel about a SC taxidermist, as well as working on a second novel about primatologists and baboons, which she studied in-depth at the NC Zoo in Asheboro in 2011 as recipient of a creative arts grant from USC.


 Dianne Johnson

Last year, Columbia city officials chose Dianne Johnson’s All Around Town: The Photographs of Richard Samuel Roberts, originally published in 1998, for the city reading initiative Together We Can.  As the program’s featured writer, Johnson gave 45 presentations in 6 weeks, working in partnership with the Columbia Museum of Art and Richland County Public Library, and interacting with over 2000 third graders from Richland District One, working.  Wearing her signature red “FREADOM” shirt, she talks with children about the kinds of freedom they can have if they master reading.  Every student received a copy of the book, which brings Columbia history to life with Roberts’ photographs of Columbia’s African-American communities from the 1920s, accompanied by Johnson’s poetry.  A professor of English at USC, Johnson was also featured at the Upcountry Literary Festival at USC-Union and the South Carolina Book Festival, and she served as a judge for the SC State Library Letters about Literature Program and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators New Writers Contest.  One of her nominators lauded “her contribution to the lives and futures of these 2000 children” and “her tireless enthusiasm and respect for all children.”



Aaron Graves (of Those Lavender Whales)

As the leader/mastermind behind the oddball indie-pop outfit Those Lavender Whales and one of the primary forces behind the community-centered Fork & Spoon Records, Graves is at the very heart of the music scene here in Columbia. While often more associated with his promotional efforts at Fork & Spoon, this past year has been more focused on his long-gestating full-lengthTomahawk of Praise, a powerfully honest and arresting album that pairs quirky arrangements with lyrics that tackle the nature of family, faith, and growing up in what is (arguably) the most fully-realized local recording of 2012. A sold-out release show, numerous regional shows, a tour up the East Coast, and notable performances at the Free Times Music Crawl and the Arts & Draughts series rounded out a banner year for Graves and his band, which also includes his wife Jessica Bornick, and Fork & Spoon co-founder Chris Gardner.


Josh Roberts (of Josh Roberts & the Hinges)

Frequently touted as one of the city's best live acts, Josh Roberts has long been known as one of our scene's true guitar gods, a masterful rock and roller who is capable of both extended technical flights of improvisation fancy and writing monster guitar riff after monster guitar riff. Highlight performances over the past year have included opening gigs for the likes of Band of Horses and Drive-by Truckers as well as a year-capping performance before headliner George Clinton on New Year’s 2011 on Main Street. And just a few weeks ago, Roberts ended a five year recording drought with the Hinges with the release of Mighty Old Distance and Murky Old Time, a concise distillation of the power of his songwriting and guitar chops that captures the musician at the top of his game.


Morihiko Nakahara

In 2011- 2012, Morihiko Nakahara completed his 4th year as Music Director and Conductor of the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra. He also serves as Resident Conductor for the Spokane Symphony in Spokane, Washington. Acclaimed as a versatile artist and a passionate believer in music education for all ages, Nakahara leads a series of successful educational and community access concerts every season. In addition, he is a popular clinician, guest conductor, and speaker at various educational institutions. As a personable ambassador for classical music, Nakahara makes frequent appearances on local media outlets as well as at local businesses and service clubs.


Visual Arts

Lyon Hill

Lyon Hill creates two-dimensional visual art, and as filmmaker, puppeteer, and Artistic Director of the Columbia Marionette Theatre, designs three-dimensional creations as well.  In 2012 he was an awarded participant in the What's Love: input/output exhibition at 701 Whaley.  In the past year he has performed numerous works featuring his creations:  Supine at the Columbia Indie Grits Festival/Spork in Hand Puppet Slam and at the Center for Puppetry Arts National Slam in Atlanta, GA, an excerpt from Hansel and Gretel as part of Pocket Productions' "Playing After Dark" series, and assorted Marionette Theatre productions (including The Brementown Musicians, The Brave Tin Soldier, Pinocchio, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.)  His short film Junk Palace was awarded a Citation of Excellence in the Recorded Media category by the American Chapter of the UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionette.) 

 Thomas Crouch

Creator of the Art Bar Agora, an annual artists’ showcase by and for artists, Crouch produced the third annual showcase in late spring 2012. His art exhibits this year include “Wolfs vs. Baboons” solo show at the Tapps Arts Center, Artista Vista, Mingle and Jingle on Main Street and at the SC Philharmonic Orchestra benefit, “Jail Break” at the Charleston Old City Jail, “No Man’s Land” solo show at Gallery 701 Hallway, an open Farmers’ Market booth, the “Bullets for Band-Aids” veteran’s benefit, “Logical Operator—she loves Me, She Loves Me Not” for the What’s Love solo hallway show. He participated in the Trustus Theatre arts/theatre collaboration for the musical Passing Strange, exhibited at Middleton Gardens in Charleston for the Charleston International Film Festival Live Auction, a Garden Deli show in Columbia, as well as at the Tapp’s Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser, and The Pretty Girls Feminist Art show. Crouch recently gave a presentation on his creative process for High Noon City Art, participated in the S & S Art Supply panel fundraiser, and was commissioned to produce the cover for the short story collection, Buttered Biscuits.


Susan Lenz

Textile and Installation Artist Susan Lenz completed three artist residencies and scholarship programs this year including Studios Midwest, in Galesburg, IL, The Studios at Key West in Key West, FL, and the Hot Springs National Park Artist Residency at Hot Springs, AR. She was the recipient of the SC Palmetto Hands Juried Fine Craft Exhibition Best of Show award in North Charleston, SC and the Niche Award 2011 for fibers in the decorative category winner by Niche Magazine in Baltimore, MD. Her exhibitions include the following: the 2012 Quilt Festival at the la Conner Quilt and Textile Museum in La Conner, WA; a solo show, Fiber Architecture:  Buildings in Stitches at Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts in VA; an invitational show, Decision Portraits at Quilt, Inc.’s International Quilt Show in Houston; Lowell Art Quilt 2012 at the Brush Gallery in Lowell, MA; Material Voice at Ayers Loft Gallery in Lowell, MA; Small Stories at Urban Alchemist in Brooklyn, NY; a solo show, Sun and Sand at Frame of Mind, in Columbia; an invitational show, Narrative Threads at the Page-Walker Gallery in Cary, NC; I’m Not Crazy, Studio Art Quilt Associates traveling exhibition; La Grange National XXVII in LaGrange, GA; a solo show, Last Words, at the Imperial Center, Rocky Mount, NC; the 33rd Annual Contemporary Crafts at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, AZ; an invitational show, Meet the Designers at the Columbia Museum of Art; Crafts National at Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka, KS, Art and the Human Form: Concept, Costume & Beyond, Blue Door Gallery, Yonkers, NY; Textiles in a Tube 2 at Riverworks Gallery in Greenville, SC; the SC Palmetto Hands Fine Craft Exhibition in North Charleston; the 2012 Exhibition at McKissick Museum; a solo show, Last Words at Vision Gallery in Chandler, AZ; an invitational show, The Winter Show at Green Hill Center in Greensboro, NC; Art of Fiber at Workhouse Art Center in Lorton, VA; Fine Crafts at Fredericksburg Creative Center for the Arts in VA; SAQA Layers of Memories, Studio Art Quilt; National Fiber Directions Exhibition 2011, Wichita, KS; Tapps Center for the Arts window installation, Two Hours at the Beach; an invitational show, Green: The Color and the Cause at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC; National Juried Quilt Exhibit at Delaplane Visual Arts Center in Frederick, MD; Unearth: A Celebration of Naturally Inspired Art at Saluda Shoals in Columbia; and the National Heritage Quilt Show at McMinn County Living Heritage Museum in Athens, TN.




Chad Henderson

One of Columbia's youngest professional directors, Chad Henderson has helmed six shows, all coincidentally musicals, in the past year at three of the area's major theatres:  John and Jen at Workshop Theatre, Pinkalicious - The Musical (which was revived later in the season after selling out 100% of its performances) at Columbia Children's Theatre, and Spring Awakening, Passing Strange, Avenue Q, and Next to Normal, all at Trustus Theatre.  Additionally, he represented the Midlands via a residency at The Studios of Key West in Florida, where he directed the 24-hour theatre festival "One Night Stand."  As an actor, he was seen in The Great American Trailer Park Musical at Trustus, as well as in training scenarios for law enforcement and counseling professionals in SC, MT and NM.

Vicky Saye Henderson

Vicky Saye Henderson has been seen in five stage productions in the last year: Andrew Lippa's Wild Party (as Queenie, the tortured showgirl) at Workshop Theatre, and at Trustus Theatre Next to Normal (as Diana, the bipolar wife and mom) Spring Awakening (all adult females), The Great American Trailer Park Musical (as Betty) and Almost an Evening (multiple roles.)  Additionally she acted in two staged readings of plays at Trustus: Southern Discomfort and Satan in High Heels. A SC Arts Commision-approved teaching artist, she has worked with numerous schools, colleges, churches, businesses and individuals, offering specialized courses in theatre arts, improvisation, and professional development.  Her improv and sketch comedy training program for youth, ReWired, is in its 6th year at Workshop Theatre, and she is director for drama ministries at St. Andrews Lutheran Church.  She also appeared in two film projects, Lola's Prayer and Taken In, which were screened at three film festivals, including Columbia's Indie Grits Festival.

Shelby Sessler 

A senior Music major concentrating in voice at USC, Shelby Sessler has performed diverse roles at four of Columbia's major theatres in the past year: the naive Pickles in The Great American Trailer Park Musical at Trustus Theatre, the titular tyke in Pinkalicious - The Musical at Columbia Children's Theatre, Vivienne the snooty antagonist in Legally Blonde at Workshop Theatre, and all three female roles (a German femme fatale, a forlorn Scottish farm wife, and a proper British lady) in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps at Town Theatre. Additionally she teaches voice in Workshop Theatre's Broadway Bound Program. Behind the scenes, Sessler worked as Assistant Stage Manager for the SC Shakespeare Co.'s spring production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged.)

Columbia City Ballet presents The Sleeping Beauty: A Story Where Good Triumphs Over Evil with a Single Kiss

The Columbia City Ballet culminates its 2011-2012 season with the most famous kiss in fairytale history… a sparkling rendition of the full-length classic The Sleeping Beauty. Under the direction of Executive & Artistic Director William Starrett, this elaborate spectacle of magic and glamour takes the Koger Center stage on March 9 and 10 for three performances.

The Sleeping Beauty is one of the purest classical ballets in existence. It has a long and important history with the Columbia City Ballet. It has been produced ten times in our 50 year history: first in 1966, and last eight years ago in 2004. I first danced the role of the Prince in Sleeping Beauty for the Minnesota Ballet when I was 17-years-old. It is thrilling that I can be instrumental in bringing this masterpiece to our community,” said Starrett.

Created in 1890 by choreographer Marius Petipa and legendary composer Tchaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty is recognized as one of the supreme achievements of classical ballet. The ballet takes audiences on a journey through an enchanted forest based on the classic French fairytale by Charles Perrault: the beautiful princess Aurora, performed by Ballerina Regina Willoughby, is cursed by the evil fairy Carabosse, brought to life by Alexis Doktor and Cooper Rust who will be alternating the role, and doomed to sleep for one-hundred years -- only to be awakened by the kiss of her true love, the handsome Prince Charming, danced by Soloist Journy Wilkes-Davis. Also performing are Principal dancers Mark Krieger and Kathryn Smoak dancing the Blue Bird Pas De Deux and the Lilac Fairy will be portrayed by Soloist Claire Kallimanis, alternating with Claire Richards.

Tchaikovsky is also well-known for two other popular full length classical ballets, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. With a score that has stood the test of time, The Sleeping Beauty remains one of the most revered ballets in the world today. The sheer artistry of the technically demanding dancing, and the Columbia City Ballet’s fresh approach to this clearly-portrayed story make The Sleeping Beauty production the perfect family outing and a great ballet for first-timers.

Performances of The Sleeping Beauty are:

March 9 at 7:30 p.m.

March 10 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Before each evening performance, Director Starrett holds a pre-show lecture 30 minutes prior to the curtain where he gives you a unique introduction behind the scenes into the magical world of ballet. Following the March 10 matinee, audience members are invited to tour backstage and meet the Columbia City Ballet dancers.

The Sleeping Beauty is sponsored by Lexington Medical Center. Tickets are on sale at the Coliseum Box Office and all Capitol Ticket Outlets. Charge by phone by calling 251-2222 or on online at For more information about the Columbia City Ballet, call (803)799-7605 or visit


For More of What Jasper Said, please visit our website at

and check us out on Facebook at!/jaspercolumbia

and, please, "like" us to keep up with what's going on in Columbia Arts.

Jasper is your Social Media Guide


Columbia City Ballet takes on Romeo and Juliet this weekend

"If you think Regina Willoughby made you cry in Cleopatra when she killed herself, wait till you see her as Juliet." -- Lauren Michalski, Columbia City Ballet

On Friday and Saturday nights, Columbia dance audiences have the opportunity to see one of the most beautifully choreographed and scored ballets of all time -- Romeo and Juliet, performed by Columbia City Ballet.

Set to the music of Prokofiev, and first performed in the former Czechoslovakia in 1938, Romeo and Juliet offers everything for which dance aficionados attend ballet performances -- romance, beauty, challenging choreography, engaging epaulement, and more.

Rarely performed in its entirety in Columbia -- it has been performed no more than three times by Columbia City Ballet, the last time being eight years ago -- this presentation, with Prima Ballerina Regina Willoughby dancing the role of Juliet, is sure to delight audiences of all ages -- but especially audiences who love ballet in its purest and most exquisite form.

For an added bonus, Columbia City Ballet is sponsoring a post-performance soiree following the show on Saturday night at the Main street Pub at the Sheraton on Main Street.


Friday, February 3 and Saturday, the 4th at 7:30pm at the Koger Center.

For ticket information, visit

(Full disclosure -- Jasper staff writer Bonnie Boiter-Jolley  is a company member in Columbia City Ballet.)



The Free Dictionary: perform definition: to adhere to the terms of.