New Beatles Ballet from Columbia City Ballet Means NEW Choreography, Music, and Dance Experience

by Hallie Hayes

Soloist Abby McDowell rehearses for Beatles - The Ballet (photo Ashley Concannon)

Soloist Abby McDowell rehearses for Beatles - The Ballet (photo Ashley Concannon)

In an original ballet conceived by Columbia City Ballet’s artistic director, William Starrett, one has the opportunity to relive, or to experience the ‘60s for the first time through the inspiration of one of the most famous bands of the century: The Beatles.

 

While the opportunity to experience the beautiful classics from Columbia City Ballet is often presented, Beatles The Ballet embraces a new experience, following The Beatles’ careers and impacting the audience through the social awareness that The Beatles presented decades ago.

 

The ballet features 40 classics from the band, all producing short form pieces which allows viewers to experience ballet and this prolific journey in a new way.  The Beatles create dialogue through their music- producing a cultural impact and still today, topics that they covered in the ‘60s make appearances in our conversations; this inspired Starrett.

 

Under the artistic direction of Starrett himself, 12 guest choreographers from all over the country have been brought in to help him with creating this production, including Sherry Horton, Carolina Lewis Jones, Racheal Leonard, James Atkinson and Jerry Opdenaker.   All 32 company members active with Columbia City Ballet will play a role in this production.  Starrett has also brought in two performers from Nashville, TN, who have toured internationally with a The Beatles impersonation group called Rain.

 

The Beatles, generations later, still play a substantial role on young listeners and Starrett acknowledges this, making this a show one for a wide-ranged audience.

 

The ‘60s loved The Beatles.  The ‘80s loved The Beatles.  Today, listeners love The Beatles.

 

In a recent interview with ABC News, Starrett explains the impact that putting the journey of this prolific band into a ballet can have: “Through the dance, the music can have more intensity and you can really see some of the lyrics.”

 

You’ve heard the lyrics.  You’ve sang the lyrics.  Come see the lyrics.  Come experience the lyrics.

 

Before the ballet, a ‘60s themed VIP reception will be held where Starrett will discuss the creation of the ballet.  Enjoy an open bar and travel back in time, as your best 60s attire is highly encouraged.

 

Beatles The Ballet will take place on Saturday, February 2nd at Kroger Center for the Arts with two performance: 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are available at www.krogercenterforthearts.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Columbia City Ballet Dancer Leonardo Victorino Reveals What it Takes to be Dracula

by Christina Xan

Victorino, as Dracula, with Principal Dancer Claire Richards in the role of Lucy Westenra

Victorino, as Dracula, with Principal Dancer Claire Richards in the role of Lucy Westenra

Based closely Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Columbia City Ballet is putting on its annual performance of Dracula this weekend, a show they have been doing for more than two decades.

Last week, I was able to sit down with ballet dancer and company member Leonardo Victorino to talk about what it’s like to get into the role of Dracula, a role he has been playing at CCB for four years.

“I’ve been dancing for 11 years now,” said Victorino, adding that he was inspired by his parents to start dancing, “My parents are musicians, and I grew up in the arts conservatory.”

Victorino experimented with several art genres like painting, violin, and drama, before finally finding the art form that’s enchanted him for the past several years, ballet: “When I was 16, 17 years old I decided to start dancing,” Victorino said, “It was a passion I had but was scared to follow because of negative perceptions. Fortunately, I did it, and it’s the best thing I’ve done.”

When asked why ballet was the art form that spoke to him, he said, “I feel like with ballet, I was able to do all the art I had done in the past in one. I had the drama, the music, the art, and I got to keep moving and expressing myself.”

Though he started dancing seriously as a teenager, Victorino said he believes dance is something that has been inside him since he was born: “When I was a baby, and my mom put me on the bed, she saw me stretching out on the bed,” he paused and smiled, “She thought I looked like a ballet dancer.”

This passion built and built, and he was dancing in a company in Pennsylvania before finding CCB: “I came to Columbia in 2015 when I got offered the job here,” Victorino said, “I immediately started playing Dracula, which was both scary and a huge honor.”

Victorino talked with me about the detailed physical and emotional process it takes for him to get into the role of Dracula: “The moment everyone goes on stage, and I’m left alone, I start getting in the mood of Dracula. As soon as I sit in the chair to start doing my makeup, that’s the moment Leo is leaving, and Dracula is coming,” he shared, “I try to keep far from distractions during the show because the stage is a full-time job. I know I carry the name of the production.”

Furthermore, Victorino shares that he watches documentaries about Dracula as a character and about Bram Stoker as an author so that he can fully understand the mindset of the character: “I’ve learned that to be Dracula I have to feel pleasure in the pain,” he said, “I have to convert the natural in me to the opposite.”

 For Victorino, telling a story through dance is just as and even more important than telling it through words: “Telling a story through dance allows me to express myself without words. The words are kind of dangerous because sometimes you don’t know how to express through them,” he added, “I can express anything inside of me just by movements. I can put out positive and negative energy through my body.”

Victorino also shared with me his two favorite scenes to perform: “The death of Dracula is my favorite scene because of the process of bringing this tragic death to the audience,” he continues, “the second scene where I bite Lucy and she is becoming a vampire is also really fun because we have a very intricate and sensual dance.”

When asked what his goal for the show is Victorino said, “Everything that I’m feeling is important; the stage is the reality for me, and I want to bring this expression as real as I can to touch the audience,” he concluded, “Really, I just hope people come and that they have a good time. Oh, and if they want to see me after the show, I promise I won’t bite!”

To see Victorino and the rest of the production in Columbia City Ballet’s Dracula, get your tickets to attend either Friday, October 26th or Saturday, October 27th.

 

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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

CityBallet presents Beauty and the Beast

Columbia City Ballet invites you to be their guest as they grace the Koger Center stage with its production of Beauty & The Beast, for two spellbinding performances only.

This production features choreography from Executive Director, William Starrett and music composed by Léon Fyodorovich Minkus and will be held on Saturday, March 18 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Koger Center for the Arts.

A love story perfect for ages 9-90, Beauty & The Beast is a captivating fairytale as old as time that blends magic with artistry. The dancers of Columbia City Ballet couple beautiful lines and riveting stage presence to tell a classic tale where love conquers all.

Over 80 local children from the midlands area are incorporated throughout the performance. This musical and romantic fantasy creates a love story, where a frightening beast and a beautiful woman fall for each other despite their differences.

First performed in the Spring of 1991 as a Koger Center box office sell out, Columbia City Ballet brings a newly updated and revived Beauty and the Beast to the stage just in time for the classic Disney film to hit theatres.

Costume Designer, Alexis Doktor has crafted a one of a kind Belle gown to debut in the performance. The production will also feature enchanting medieval sets including the mysterious castle nestled in old France. Columbia City Ballet invites you be their guest for an evening of magic and excitement for this captivating performance of Beauty & The Beast at the Koger Center for the Arts. For more information and tickets, visit www.kogercenterforthearts.com or call the box offices at 803-251-2222. Military and student discounts available at the box office or Koger Center kiosk.

In Jasper Vol. 3, No. 4: Ashley Concannon - Through The Dancer's Eyes

"Any given day finds 25-year-old Ashley Concannon crouching in the corner of the Columbia City Ballet studios between rehearsals. Usually she is sewing ribbons onto a pair of pointe shoes, taping her toes, stretching, exercising, or completing one of the many tasks demanded of her by her profession, but when she can find the time she sneaks behind the lens of her Canon Rebel T3i to capture a glimpse of life in the dance studio from another artistic perspective--that of a photographer. ..." - Bonnie Boiter-Jolley For the full article and photos, check out page 46 of the magazine below: