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

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. 

PREVIEW: Puck Luck - Colin Jacob Has It in Columbia City Ballet's Upcoming A Midsummer Night's Dream by Susan Lenz

"Puck luck" is a hockey term that refers to those factors which influence the outcome of a game that do not involve the strategy and skill of the players.


When Columbia City Ballet and the full South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Morihiko Nakahara perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Koger Center this coming Saturday night, January 27th, Colin Jacob will be the envy of many hopeful dancers. He’ll be wearing green and dancing his first principal role. Plucked from the corp de ballet by Artistic Director William Starrett, Colin will use his acting background from high school musical theater and gymnastics to bring Shakespeare’s “merry wanderer of the night," Puck, a mischievous but shrewdly knavish sprite to life.


The role is demanding. It requires lofty leaps, whirling turns, and even a bit of tree climbing. The speed of the scherzo leaves the dancer breathless but insists on an immediate return to stage as if the activity was all in the course of a normal day. A clever but impish character must be maintained despite the grueling pace. This is Jacob Colin’s challenge. He has videotapes from previous Columbia City Ballet seasons, including one featuring Jose Serrano in the role. I remember that show well. In fact, I know the ballet rather well. William Starrett’s 1987 choreography is inspired by Sir Frederick Ashton’s from 1964. I’ve seen that version too. I know that Puck is the audience favorite. I was happy to hear that Colin Jacob is working hard to do as well or even better than those who have already performed the fun but rigorous role here. This is his “big break”. Some might even call it “Puck Luck”.


Perhaps “Puck Luck” was involved. No one could have predicted the strategy that would find the originally cast dancer no longer with the company, that Colin would unexpectedly be told to learn the part after rehearsals had begun. Perhaps “Puck Luck” was involved because Colin’s skill doesn’t come with more than a decade of dance training, something generally expected for a principal part. Yet, my interview told another story.


At seventeen, Colin was asked to help a local, amateur show in his hometown of Brecksville, Ohio.  They needed a male dancer. Without prior dance experience, Colin stepped up to the plate, continued lessons, and earned a scholarship to Pittsburgh’s Point Park University, one of the country’s top programs. He earned his BA in only three years and accepted a trainee position with Ballet West in Salt Lake City. This was after winning scholarships in 2013 and 2014 from Youth American Grand Prix, an international amateur dance competition. No dancer climbs the ladder of success so quickly without natural ability, a great work ethic, and tremendous daily effort. 


My interview with Colin revealed him to be a most articulate young artist who is looking forward to performing to live music.  He said that as a dancer, live music makes the show “feels like the first time because it isn’t exactly like a tape recording. Music is a cultural plus.”


(Please note, child prodigy, Felix Mendelssohn wrote the overture as a seventeen year old in 1826 and added his incidental music, Opus 61, sixteen years later for the production of Shakespeare’s play. The score includes the now, traditional “Wedding March”, generally heard as brides walk down aisles. This melody was adopted by Princess Victoria in 1858 for her wedding to Prince William of Prussia.)


Of course Columbia City Ballet rehearses to a tape recording. There’s no other way to do it!  For Colin, each rehearsal is getting easier and easier, but he is quick to add that each one reveals another fine point for him to work on. 


I am quite sure that Colin Jacobs will be bringing a memorable performance to the stage.  I wish I could see it, but alas I’ll be teaching a fiber arts workshop in Alabama. More than for myself, I hope Colin’s parents are able to make the arrangements. Like Colin, they weren’t expecting “Puck Luck”, a big break for a very likable and talented dancer. Thankfully, many will be in the audience especially to see Colin. He regularly teaches dance at Southern Strut, Columbia City Jazz, Richland Northeast High School and at Columbia Music Festival Association where he also media coordinator. 


Accepting the corps de ballet position with Columbia City Ballet, along with his other dance related opportunities, has provided Colin a level of financial stability. He bought a car and is paying off student loans. More importantly, our local dance company has provided amazing performance opportunities and the potential for upward mobility.  Whether “Puck Luck” was involved or not, Saturday’s performance is more than a “big break” for a single dancer. It is a big break for people in Columbia is watch the start of a winning young talent.  It is a fabulous opportunity to see our full company perform to live music. I’ve focused this preview on just one dancer but there are many. Go see for yourself! It will be worth it!

Tickets for the 3:00 PM matinee and the 7:30 PM evening performances on Saturday, January 27th are available at:


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

All-Arts Trivia-Yeah w/Guest Quizmasters this Sunday Night at The Whig

trivia How much fun was Trivi-Yeah at the Whig, back when Eric Bargeron would slam us up against the wall with what was probably the most clever (and often) most difficult questions in town? Winning was usually out of the question (thanks Les Frogs!), but placing was a thrill! Hell, just winning the best team name was a hoot, even though it was usually because someone who will remain nameless screeched like a banshee.

Well, Trivi-Yeah is back for one night only courtesy of the good folks at the Whig and it benefits the Jasper Project -- and this time Quizmaster Bargeron has created an all-arts slate of questions to spin our brains out of control. And to make it even more interesting, we've asked some guest quizmasters to come in and ask a few questions about local arts and award all kinds of fun prizes in between the standard Bargeron rounds.


Eric Bargeron, Quizmaster


Guest Quizmasters:

JAY Julia Elliott

Julia/Liz Elliott - Author of The Wilds and The New Improved Romie Futch


Larry Hembree, formerly of the Nick, Trustus, SCAC, and current president of the Board of Directors for the Jasper Project


Kari Lebby, musician, podcaster, pop maven, pretty boy


William Starrett, artistic and executive director of Columbia City Ballet


Wade Sellers, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, Columbia mover & shaker, and film editor for Jasper Magazine


Prizes include swag from lots of your favorite arts organizations, books, t-shirts, mugs, pens, stickers, buttons, etc., plus the regular Whig treats and goodies.

6 - 8 pm, Sunday September 25th

$5 suggested tax-deductible donation to the Jasper Project, who brings you Jasper Magazine, 2nd Act Film Festival, Fall Lines - a literary convergence, Marked by the Water, Wet Ink Spoken Word Poetry, and more

For more info -- click here!


Columbia City Ballet’s Body and Movement Explored Returns featuring Caroline Lewis Jones & more

  CCB Company Member Dini Tetrick

Body and Movement Explored is a unique collaboration showcasing the works of Columbia City Ballet dancers and several guest choreographers who have created a mixed repertoire of works for the professional members of the Columbia City Ballet company.

Among the guest choreographers is Columbia-based, but internationally known dancer and choreographer Caroline Lewis Jones. Lewis-Jones has been dancing for over 27 years. At the age of 18 she moved to New York City where she performed for six years. Her credits include the VMA’s with NSYNC, the Latin Grammy Awards, WNBA National Commercial, Commercial work, Disney Industrials, Britany Spears “Me Against the Music” video, MTV’s Body Rock Fitness Video, and more. Although successful as a commercial dancer, her true passion lies within contemporary company work, where she has had the opportunity to work for Mia Michaels Company R.A.W, Dee Caspary’s IV Dance Company, Notario Dance Company, Rhapsody and Company, A.S.H Contemporary, and Justin Giles’ Soul Escape. In 2001 she traveled to Seoul, Korea where she performed for Jason Parson’s and POZ Dance Theatre.  In July 2010, Caroline performed with Sonya Tayeh from “So You Think You Can Dance” with her company in Chicago. She also choreographs for studios around the country, and teaches for  Adrenaline Dance Convention and The Dance Sessions.

Caroline Lewis-Jones

Other guest choreographers include Rachael Leonard from Florida, Jerry Opdenaker, who performed with the company in Nutcracker, technical artist Ryan Stender, and local favorites Journy and Anna Wilkes-Davis.

Jerry Opdenaker

During Jerry Opdenaker's 22-year dancing career, he worked as a principal company member for ballet companies such as Pennsylvania Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and Ballet Florida. As director of the nationally recognized STEP Ahead, Ballet Florida’s choreographic workshop, he was declared as a “Jewel of the Palm Beaches.” He has choreographed for the New York City Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, McKnight Foundation Ballet, Gamonet, Ballet Florida National Choreographic Initiative and Florida Grand Opera. For the past five years he has served as the dance discipline coordinator for the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts  YoungArts program and directed his own company, O Dance, in West Palm Beach.

Rachael Leonard

Rachael Leonard is co-founder and artistic director of Surfscape Contemporary Dance Theatre (SCDT), an adjudicator for the American College Dance Festival Association, a master artist in residence for Very Special Arts and an internationally published author of dance articles and papers. Leonard has choreographed throughout the US and taught at College of Southern Idaho, University of Utah, Alma College, Jacksonville University, Rowland-Hall Saint Marks School, Lowell Elementary School, Stoneleigh-Burnham School and Atlantic Center for the Arts.

Never seen before by any audience this year celebrates the fourth year of the Body Movement series. Performed at the CMFA Arts Space March 11th and 12th at 7:30p.m.

“At the helm of the state’s largest dance company I felt it was extremely important to create the Body & Movement series to help foster the talents for young modern, contemporary and classical choreographers," says William Starrett, Artistic and Executive Director of the company. "Not only from the midlands area but throughout the southeast so they could gain the experience of working with top professional dancers and simultaneously give the dancers opportunity to dance original works created for them with a wide range of creative styles, dance genres and artistic viewpoints.”

A total of twelve mixed repertoire pieces will be performed set to a variety of not only classical but popular music. Dancers include Anna Beavers, Madeline Foderaro, Katie Heaton, Courtney Holland, Laura Lunde, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, Philip Ingrassia, Abby McDowell, Reinaldo Soto, Denis Vezetiu, Regina Willoughby, Claire Richards, Camilo Herrera, Rebecca Bowles, Maurice Johnson, Emily Carrico, Ashley Concannon, Jordan Hawkins, Brandon Michaels, Ian Samuels, Autumn Hill, and Amanda Summey.

In addition to the performance, company member and gifted photographer Ashley Concannon will open an exhibit of her collection of work on Columbia City Ballet dancers.

CCB member Rebecca Bowles

CCB Company Member Denis Vezetiu


According to Concannon, "The BME series was highly influenced by recent works done by Photographer BAKI, particularly those with dancer Friedemann Vogel. I love the movement and lighting of his photography, the balance of strength and grace. I wanted to imitate his work, with just a bit less of a whimsical look. I studied other works created by photographers Rachel Neville and Steve Vaccariello, and ultimately came up with this new collection of my own."

Body and Movement Explored will be held at the CMFA Art Space at 914 Pulaski Street in the Vista on Friday, March 11th and Saturday, March 12th at 7:30 p.m. The end of the performance will have an open mic discussion where the audience is invited to explore and discuss on their experience directly with the choreographers. Tickets are $25 in advance at and $30 at the door. For more information or for help with ticketing call the Columbia City Ballet offices at 803.799.7605. A Facebook event revealing more information about the choreographer line-up can be found online here,

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.

Misty Copeland Heading to Columbia to Benefit Columbia City and Classical Ballets - A Jasper Exclusive

When the 75 plus attendees at Columbia City Ballet's Uncorked Ballet Preview on Saturday night first arrived at the CCB Studios at Taylor and Main we knew we were in for a dance treat. Much of the choreography for the company's upcoming performance of Aladdin comes from challenging classical ballets with time-tested variations such as La Bayadere. Seeing the dancers perform the difficult movements on stage comes complete with a required finesse suggesting a certain ease of performance. But witnessing the dancers in the glaring lights of the studio gives no such illusion. The difficulty, and sometimes danger, of the choreography is plain to see as the dancers pant and grunt and sweat and almost fall then regain their footing, before collapsing at the sides of the studio, exhausted and exhilarated.

No make up, no costumes, no nets.

But before the backstage preview even got underway CCB executive director William Starrett shared an exciting announcement. In conjunction with Columbia Classical Ballet, who suffered tremendous studio losses last fall during the October floods, Columbia City Ballet will be bringing American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland,  to Columbia on March 15th for a luncheon to benefit both Columbia City and Classical Ballets.

"We are thrilled to make this announcement and looking forward to sharing more details as they become available," Starrett said.

Misty Copeland is known throughout the dance world for her athletic dance style as well as for being the first African American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre's 75 year history.  She performed the lead role in Washington Ballet's Swan Lake last spring with Columbia native Brooklyn Mack who is in his fifth year as principal dancer with Washington Ballet.

ABT principal dancer Misty Copeland

Brooklyn Mack & Misty Copeland

Following the announcement, the dancers of Columbia City Ballet continued to take our collective breath away.

principal dancer Claire McCaa

Soloist Autumn Ingrassia

Soloists Bonnie Boiter-Jolley and Maurice Johnson

Soloist Claire Richards



The gentlemen of Aladdin for Columbia City Ballet

Blood spills and terror continues as Dracula returns to the stage at Columbia City Ballet -- by Alivia Seely


Dial up the babysitter and put on the Halloween costume, because this weekend is the 20th anniversary of the Columbia City Ballet’s production of Dracula and it is one that should not be missed.

Back in Columbia, South Carolina for three nights, this year’s production has even more to offer than in years past. With a new technical director, new costumes, a new Count Dracula dancer and even a new character, William Starrett, Executive and Artist Director for the Columbia City Ballet, has pulled “a lot more meat” out of the classic Bram Stoker novel for this year’s show.

“We have a very heavy blend of contemporary movement with classical ballet as a foundation. My goal always is to get the dancer to learn the steps quickly so I can coach them on the quality of the steps and what we bring to the steps and the complexity of the story telling,” said Starrett.

An entire new section was added with the addition of the new character named Renfield, who lives in the basement of Count Dracula and eats bugs and small animals. Along with Renfield, danced by Reinaldo Soto, company member of the Columbia City Ballet, came some new music and original choreography.

But the surprises do not stop there. The new costumes, that clothe 22 dancers, are composed of loose sleeves and large tulle skirts that add dimensions when paired with the movement.

“The costumes for the undead and Maidens have big full skirts, long flowing sleeves, and require the dancers to wear their hair down. As a maiden, I have a lot of tricky partnering to do as well, so the most challenging aspect for me is dealing with both of those things together,” said Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, soloist for the Columbia City Ballet.

This year Boiter-Jolley is playing the role of the Purple Maiden, one of Dracula’s three wives.  “I love getting to become someone, or in this case, something else. I get to be this vicious seductress who shows no mercy. It's a very physical role which I love,” said Boiter-Jolley.

As the tradition continues, everyone at the ballet, including Starrett, encourages the audience members to come dressed in their Halloween costume of choice.

“We have a huge audience in Columbia, which is why we continue to bring Dracula back,” said Starrett.

Tickets are still available through the Koger Center box office for all three performances on Thursday Oct. 29 at 7 p.m., Friday Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday Oct. 31 at 8:30 p.m. So grab a ticket and sink your teeth into the story of Dracula.

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.

Drac is Back! At the Koger for the next three nights -- by Abby Davis



The dark and delightful Dracula is back! Columbia City Ballet presents Dracula: Ballet With A Bite at the Koger Center Thursday, October 30th through Saturday, November 1st at 7:30 pm each night.


Columbia City Ballet’s Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett transformed Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel into a classic and captivating performance. Premiering in 1991, Dracula has since become both a Columbia favorite and a widespread phenomenon. As stated by Dance Magazine, “This entertaining extravaganza guarantees a good time.” The performance is sexy, spellbinding, and an incredibly fun experience for all, appealing to both ballet aficionados and newcomers simply seeking some Halloween fun and entertainment.


Dracula’s 19th year is sure to deliver just as much of a brilliant bite as in years past. The show features many returning cast members as well as some fresh new faces. Autumn Ingrassia, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and Claire Richards are this year’s beautiful maidens. Regina Willoughby, a company favorite, returns as Lucy Westenra, and Claire McCaa is back as Mina Hanker. While your eyes might be focused on the gorgeous and scantily clad dancers, the visuals and lighting are equally spectacular. The spooky visuals have been designed by Columbia City Ballet’s own Technical Director, Ryan Stender, and Lighting Designer Aaron Pelzek has also contributed his touch to Transylvania.

Regina Willougby as Lucy Westeren

























T his haunting extravaganza is the perfect way to get into the Halloween spirit and kick off the holiday season. If you want to dive into the spirit of the season even more, be sure to participate in the annual costume contest during Saturday’s performance.


Tickets can be purchased at Capitol Tickets, online at, or by calling (803)-251-2222 and range from $15-$42. University students are encouraged to take advantage of special discount student pricing on Thursday, October 30th: all tickets are $10 with a valid student i.d.


- By Abby Davis

Grant Show, in town to play Dracula for the Columbia City Ballet, talks with Jasper (pt. 2)



In Part 1 of our interview with Grant Show, he discussed the challenges of taking on a dance role as the titular Count in Dracula: Ballet With a Bite, presented by the Columbia City Ballet this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, October 24-26 at the Koger Center.  Discussion now turns to his career, and how a role in community theatre long ago led to a career as an actor.

Jasper:  I take it you're on a break now, since you have a new series (Devious Maids, on Lifetime.)  Congratulations - how's that going?

Grant Show:  Thank you.  It's going great.  We finished our season real strong.  We started out OK, and had this really nice build, as far as the audience, which I think is a really good sign.  I think the show is really great - I never really had any doubts about it.

Jasper:  So it's officially coming back for another season?

Show:  Oh yeah, definitely.  We go back to work in January.  It'll be back on the air I think the beginning of April.  We're starting earlier this year than last year. Last year was a summer show, and this year it's going to be more of a spring show, in 2014. The cast has been pared down quite a bit, but it was massive, that cast. It had like 18 members, and I think we’re down to 12, which is a big cast anyway.  They've told us a little about what's going to happen next year. I'm excited about it.    My character Spence, and Rosie, who are sort of star-crossed lovers throughout, are broken up in the end, and it takes Spence down a really bad path. He ends up becoming a hot mess. (laughs) I'm looking forward to it.  That was the way it was described to me: he's a hot mess. (laughs more)

spence rosie

Jasper:  You're often described as "television star Grant Show," or "Grant Show from Melrose Place," or from your new series...but you actually began as a stage actor.

Show: Well yeah, I had done a lot of stage.

Jasper: You studied theatre in college, at UCLA.

Grant Show, as Rick Hyde in "Ryan's Hope"

Show:  Well yeah. My first real job (as Rick Hyde, on Ryan's Hope) was a television job, and then I did a lot of back and forth, gosh, for ten years maybe.  And then once I got Melrose Place, once you're on a show, it's really hard to do theatre.  After I left Melrose Place, for the next three or four years I did a bunch more theatre (including Wit on Broadway, and The Glass Menagerie, as the Gentleman Caller, with Elizabeth Ashley at The Alley Theatre in Houston)  and then I moved out to California, and it's very difficult to do both. Your agents don't want you to do theatre.  There’s no money in it. They don't believe the long term, about how it develops you as an actor, as an artist.  They just don't get it.  They don't see any advantage in doing theatre.  They're not doing it, but for us, it's fun.

Jasper: You actually took a break from television after your first series, and went off to London to study at LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) - what was going through your mind at that point?

Show:  I knew that what I was doing, on a daytime soap, wasn't what I wanted to do.  And I also knew that I wasn’t really that good of an actor yet. There was something they were doing over there, and I wanted to go see what they were doing.  I don't even know how much I learned, but it was fun.  I had a good time.  It was like a year of summer camp for actors.

Jasper: Similar to your undergrad experience?

Show:  No, more intense.  A lot more intense. We worked every day, seven or eight hours a day, for nine months.  I couldn't have not learned something - I had to learn something.  What, I couldn’t tell you.  But it was great.  If you have the opportunity...I knew I wanted to do it for at least a year before my contract was up. So I saved up my money, I was young, I was 27, so let's go have fun.  And I did.

Jasper:  Did you always plan on being an actor?

Show:  No.  I was going to be a pilot.  I had planned on flying for the Air Force. But we were poor, and I was in a public school, and you're not going to get into the Air Force Academy out of a public school, so the only real private education I could get was at a parochial, or religious, school.  Very early into being there, I realized I didn't like people telling me what to do. So I left there, and quit that whole plan.  I was well on the way - Eagle Scout, Senator's letter of recommendation... there's a whole bunch of steps you have to have.  I had gotten it all stacked up already, but I just needed to get the right education.  I realized "Yeah, not for me - the military's not gonna do it for me."  So I kind of goofed off for a long time.  I did some plays in high school, just as something to do.  I was a couple of years out of high school, not knowing what I wanted to do, and I did a community theatre play, and I was like "You know?  If they'll pay me to do this, I like this."

Jasper:  What was the show?

Show: Oh, it was some musical revue.  And I don't sing. It was just something that somebody put together, it wasn't a big thing.

Jasper: But you enjoyed it enough, to pursue that as a career?

Show:  Oh yeah. And I've been very, very, very, very blessed.

Jasper:  Do you know what ran on cable not too long ago?  Ice (a made-for-tv natural disaster movie that ran on ABC in the summer of 2000, about Californians struggling to escape and survive a sudden Ice Age.)

Show:  Oh my godddddd.

Jasper:  You know, one of your co-stars in that movie was also a famous screen Dracula -  Udo Keir, who was Andy Warhol's Dracula.

Show:   Yes, yeah I know that. God, they missed the boat on that (Ice.)  That could have been a good, good, fun movie. I just think was okay....

Jasper:  It was actually pretty good.

Show:  It was okay.

Jasper:  The story was actually...

Show:  It was okaaaaay.

Jasper:    Just done on a miniscule budget, but a pretty cool idea.

Show:    It just missed. You never get any time on those things. You get it, and you've got a couple of weeks, maybe, at most,  and they fly you up, and then you start working on it, and it's just work work work work.  And after we're all done, I'm like "Aaaah, god, we could have done this, we could have done that..." I  had all these thoughts in my head about what we could have done.   It's nature of the beast.

Jasper:  We're also fans of Burn Notice, and big Bruce Campbell fans. Any stories about working on that series?

Show: Aw, he's great. (thinks) Nothing all that crazy happened. I loved it.  You know, Jeffrey (Donovan, the star) and I tested opposite each other for that role that Jeffrey ended up doing, so it was probably going to be between me and him. And when they asked me to come in and do a few episodes, I was like "No, I'm not going to come in and play a co-star to someone I read opposite!  I'm not going to be his supporting actor.  They were like "Why don't you read the script, and see?"  And it wasn't just a supporting actor to him, it was a pretty big character, and I had a lot of fun doing it.  I just love those guys. Matt Nix, the creator - he's great. He's terrific.  I talked to him about his whole writing process, and he was really super-supportive, and ready to talk - he's just a good dude.


Jasper:  Apart from your new series, which isn't even new any more, do you have anything else in the works?

Show:  No, that's it.  Katherine and I bought a house on the Marina peninsula that is 90-some years old, that hasn't been touched in 40 years. We're remodeling that, so that's kind of nice.  But I go back to work in two months. So there's not really enough time for anything.

Jasper:  So nothing on the side?

Show:  This.  This is it right now.

Jasper:  Have you visited Columbia before?

Show:  No.  I've played golf in Greenville.  Columbia is great though. I haven't really seen much of it. I've seen from the hotel to the studio, and from the the hotel.  That's all I've seen.  I keep waiting for someone to give me some barbecue. I love me some pork.  But I'm just so busy - this is really kind of a lot, this is (laughing) kind of ridiculous trying to get me ready to do this in four days. So that's all I'm doing. So then I get home, and I'm in my room, doing the steps, and it's not the newest building in the world.  So the floors are all wood, and all creaking around, and I'm sure the person below is like "Yaaaaaa - damn you!  Stop it!  What are you doing up there?"

Jasper:  Thinking about arts now in the broadest sense - what do you see as the role of the arts, and acting, and drama, from a societal viewpoint?

Show:  In the biggest, broadest sense, it's just a sort of visceral understanding that no man is an island, that we're all in this together.  In a real broad sense, that's it - we're all here together.

Jasper:  What do you see happening in the future with the performing arts, especially at the local level, with local playhouses, local ballets, local opera companies that are struggling in the current economy?

Show:  It feels like you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I'm not in it that much, though, I'm not in the trenches. I mean I know you guys just lost a ballet company (in Charleston.) But maybe that's an opportunity.  I believe it's an opportunity for William. He's definitely going to pick up the slack there.  I think it's unfortunate that it's the first place (arts) that money is taken away from, but it's a fact of life. Live theatre, or ballet, if they can't survive because no one's going to see them, then maybe they're not relevant anymore.  I believe they are. And I believe they will.

Jasper:  Finally, what are some favorite roles you have played?


Show:  Both of them are in television shows.  I did a series, gosh, almost ten years ago now, called Point Pleasant.   Marti Noxon (an executive producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, and consulting producer on Glee and Mad Men) was the producer.   I played this guy who had sold his soul to the Devil.  He was basically the Devil's Pope. It was all supernatural crap, and he was just really fun.  The guy could do anything. He didn't give a crap about anybody.  He was a true villain, and that was really fun to play. And then the opposite side of the spectrum, the character I played in Swingtown, Tom Decker - he just wanted to make sure that everybody knew they were invited to the party.  He was the guy that says "you're good enough, you're pretty enough, and damn it, people like you.  Come on in - let's have sex!"  He was really fun, to just be free to just be welcoming to everyone, and your  whole goal is to try to make everybody else feel good about themselves. That was really fun.

Jasper:  And is there any role that you've always wanted to play?

Show:  (without hesitation) Yeah - James Bond!  I think I was born in the wrong area (i.e. America), and I missed my boat on that one.  But what guy doesn't want to play James Bond?

~ August Krickel


Dracula: Ballet With a Bite


Columbia City Ballet presents Dracula: Ballet with A Bite at the Koger Center, running from Thursday, Oct. 24 - Saturday, Oct. 26, 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. 24: all tickets are $10 with a valid student ID.


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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.



The Centerfold -- The Men Behind the Artistic Director

In the most recent issue of Jasper we were graced with a centerfold that included not one but seven attractive young men. While the accompanying story told you all you'll ever need to know about Columbia City Ballet artistic director William Starrett, we thought you might like to know a bit about the other gentlemen in the portrait. To that end, Jasper is proud to present, The Men Behind the Artistic Director of Columbia City Ballet!

Ricky Davis was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. He started training in classical ballet at the age of 16 at the Tolbert-Yilmaz School of Dance in Alpharetta, Ga. Ricky continued his passion for dance in New York City and attended Marymount Manhattan College. While on break from school, Ricky auditioned for Columbia City Ballet and accepted their offer to join the company. This is his 2nd season with the Ballet. In his spare time Ricky enjoys traveling the world and shopping. 

Maurice Johnson is a member of the Columbia City Ballet entering his 7th season. He was born in Greenville, SC and began dancing at the age of 11 at the Fine Arts Center and Greenville Ballet. He studied at the Boston Ballet, The Rock School, and Dance Theater of Harlem. He graduated from University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2005. He's danced with the Nashville Ballet, Richmond Ballet, and also the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company. His notable roles have included Sand Dance Gymnopedies I/II, Sleeping Beauty, and Cleopatra. He also plays the flute!

Soloist Journy Wilkes-Davis, originally from Fort Hood, TX, began his ballet training at age 14 with the Savannah Arts Academy in GA. Now in his 3rd season with Columbia City Ballet, Journy has enjoyed dancing the roles of Arthur in Dracula, Snow King and Arabian Conjurer in the Nutcracker, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, and the Prince in Sleeping Beauty. Journy has also performed as a guest artist in SC, in productions of Don Quixote, Giselle, Paquita, Balanchine's Allegro Brillante and Scotch Symphony, Lila York's Celts. Journy is married to fellow company dancer Anna Porter.

Principal Dancer Robert Michalski is dancing his 14th season with the Columbia City Ballet. Born in Detroit, his previous dancing experience includes three years with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland, the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Eglevsky Ballet in New York. His training began with the Dayton Ballet School. Robert was discovered by Artistic Director William Starrett when he participated in the company's summer dance experience in Myrtle Beach in 1988. Robert has danced the lead role of Dracula: Ballet With A Bite for five seasons, with The State praising his performance as "masterful" and citing his "remarkable talent for making movement seem effortless." Robert has also danced as John Smith in Pocahontas and one of his favorite roles as Chinese Tea in The Nutcracker. He is currently teaching at the Columbia Conservatory and married to Lauren Michalski, Columbia City Ballet's Development and Membership Director.

Wayland Anderson is in his 4th season with the Columbia City Ballet. He has performed soloist roles and the principal role of Darius Rucker in The Hootie and the Blowfish Ballet before he decided to leave and create his own company with H. G. Robert. In 2008 he co-founded DANCEWORDZ the place were poetry meets ballet. In 2011, Mr. Anderson returned to Columbia City Ballet for the 2011-2012 Season. Upon his return he had the pleasure of dancing the Dew Drop Cavalier in Nutcracker. When he is not dancing he enjoys working as a Real Estate Agent with Russell & Jeffcoat.

Philip Ingrassia, raised in San Jose, CA, received his professional training at the School of San Jose Cleveland Ballet under the direction of Dennis Nahat, Donna Delseni, and Lise La Cour.  Mr. Ingrassia then attended the Boston Conservatory where he received the Jan Veen Dance Scholarship, graduating Magna Cum Laude.  He has performed with Ballet San Jose, Ballet Rox, Boston Dance Company, Charleston Ballet Theatre, and is currently a soloist with William Starrett at Columbia City Ballet.  During his career, he has performed such roles as Cavalier and Snow King in The Nutcracker, the Jester in Cinderella, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and was able to perform one of his dream roles as Mercutio in William Starrett’s Romeo and Juliet.  This will be Mr. Ingrassia’s third season with Columbia City Ballet.

Announcing the Jasper Salon Series

In our ongoing mission to help lodge the various arts disciplines, their theories and histories and ways of understanding them, just a little deeper into the hearts of everyone in the greater SC Midlands, Jasper is pleased to announce our new project -- The Jasper Salon Series.

The Jasper Salon Series will consist of a series of intimate gatherings of artists and arts lovers who want to learn more about the arts and experience the arts, both visual and performing, in a manner that offers even greater engagement between artist and patron, and artist and artist. We'll be offering everything from lectures and demonstrations to exhibitions, readings, and performances. And always -- ALWAYS -- the opportunity for discussion because, at Jasper, we fully believe that it is through civil and enlightening discourse that we best practice the art of humanity.

Most events in the Jasper Salon Series will be held either upstairs in the Jasper Studios at the Arcade at 1332 Main street, or downstairs in the common Arcade area. Sometimes attending the events will require a modest ticket price, but most times, the events will be free. (Although Jasper may operate our Econobar in an effort to defray costs and rental fees -- and we always welcome your kind donations via the Jasper Guild..)

Take a look at what we have coming up in the Jasper Salon Series between now and Christmas.



Jasper Salon Series Calendar

Thursday, October 18th 7 pm – Dracula: Behind the Magic with Columbia City Ballet -- join us as we learn about behind the scenes special effects of CCB's Dracula - Ballet with a Bite, including make-up, music, flying bats, splattering blood, and more -- with William Starrett, Robert Michalski, Lauren Michalski, and other surprise guests. Free.

Wednesday, October 24th 7 pm – Local visual artist and author Laurie Brownell McIntosh comes to the Jasper Studios at the Arcade to talk about her new exhibit and art book, All the In Between, (releasing from Muddy Ford Press on October 19th at Vista Studios 80808, with a reading and signing on Sunday, October 21st, also at Vista Studios.) Free.

(Thursday, November 1st 7 pm – Book Launch, Fellow Traveler by Don McCallister -- this is not a part of the Jasper Salon Series, but we're sneaking the news in here so you'll be sure to put it on your calendars.  Join the staff of Jasper, the Artists of the Arcade Studios, and local author Don McCallister as we celebrate the launch of his newest novel, Fellow Traveler, published by Muddy Ford Press.) Free.

Wednesday, November 7th 7 pm – Reading, Don McCallister (see above) reads from Fellow Traveler and discusses his process and what inspired his story concept. Free.

Thursday November 29th 7 pmHow to Watch the Nutcracker with Columbia City Ballet -- learn about the story of the Nutcracker, how it was adapted to become a ballet by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa, as well as some basic terminology and ballet movements and positions that will help you become a more engaged audience member and make the ballet experience more meaningful for you. With William Starrett and Pat Miller. Free.

Thursday December 6th 5 – 7 pm – Beer Tasting:  Christmas Brews – Start your First Thursday off with a tasting of holiday beers. Dr. Bob Jolley (aka the Bier Doc) will assemble a generous variety of Christmas beers for your drinking pleasure and talk about the art of brewing and what makes a holiday brew a holiday brew. Paid registration will be required for this event which will be limited to 25 attendees who will each take home a limited editorion Jasper pint glass.  

Wednesday December 13th 7 pm – this event is currently being confirmed.


Who and What do you want to know more about?

 What do you think would lend itself well to an intimate discussion by a group of people who want to know more about the art that surrounds them?

We'd love to hear your ideas for the Jasper Salon Series events.

Send them to or respond below.

Columbia City Ballet's Off the Wall -- Go for the end of the show

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

-- cb