By: Susan Lenz
Columbia City Ballet is busy rehearsing both Emanuel: Love is the Answer for their October 20th performance at Charleston Music Hall and for Dracula: Ballet with a Bite that will be staged in multiple locations in the southeast. Columbia Classical Ballet is busy rehearsing Imagine: Ballet Rocks for its October 13th show here at the Koger Center and for another weekend in West Virginia. These are busy, professional companies.
And behind the scenes they are both also getting ready for the annual holiday tradition called Nutcracker. Most ballet companies in the United States depend on this one production to "pay the bills" for the rest of the season. This one show is a mainstay in Columbia's dance scene, and there's good reason for it.
In an online Christmas eve 2014 Time Magazine article, Sarah Begley and Julia Lull explain the relatively recent Nutcracker phenomena. Ten years after San Francisco Ballet first brought the full-length ballet to America in 1944, New York City Ballet's George Balachine cast thirty-five children in his iconic choreography. Ever since, children have been part of the visual and financial equation. As the article points out, "when your kid's in the show, you've gotta see it—and you probably have to reserve tickets for the whole extended family, too. That means whether you have a young star or just a young audience member, if you're only going to see one ballet per year, it will probably be The Nutcracker."
Music commentator Miles Hoffman once told NPR, "for thousands and thousands of children [The Nutcracker has] been their first exposure both to ballet and to classical music." That is certainly the case here in Columbia. Over the years, I've personally watched young dancers grow up through the available roles, from mouse to bon-bon to party girl to a dancing flower blossom. Hopes and dreams hang on auditions.
So, recently I went to Lancaster, one of eight locations where Columbia City Ballet Artistic Director William Starrett and staff cast children for their company's Nutcracker tour. I met fourteen-year-old Joey Effren, who has been on-pointe for four years. She's hoping to become a snowflake in her third appearance in the annual show. Eleven-year-old Grayson Knox auditioned on-pointe for the first time. She hopes to be in the party scene. It was eight-year-old Carmela Tiedt's first audition for CCB. She's seen the Charlotte Ballet's Nutcracker for the past several years. In two weeks, Carmela and the others will receive their audition results in the mail. If cast, the letter will include a twice-per-week over five-weeks rehearsal schedule. Columbia City Ballet sends a ballet mistress to teach all the parts and steps to every location. They also bring all of the costuming, from town to town and cast to cast. The logistics are mind-boggling. Little Carmela is hoping there are mouse ears and a tail in her future.
Columbia Classical Ballet isn't holding open auditions this year. They cast children from their official training site, Pavlovich Ballet School. Artistic Director Radenko Pavlovich said that past open auditions became "a nightmare" because of conflicting rehearsal schedules, family vacations, school commitments, and outside activities. Besides, Columbia Classical Ballet's professional dancers are having to learn two completely different Nutcracker choreographies. They have their own show, but are also dancing the major roles for a production with Charleston Ballet in Charleston, West Virginia. That cast will include local children who are learning directions and staging before the professional company arrives. Nutcracker is far more complicated that the fairy-tale picture it paints on stage.
As audience members, we are lucky here in Columbia because we have a variety of opportunities to see the production. My advice is to see the show more than once. This is an excellent chance to compare the two professional companies and to see hopes and dreams danced out on stage. Below is a listing of dates and ticket information.
But there's more!
I haven't mentioned the civic company here in town. Ann Brodie's Carolina Ballet is a pre-professional civic ballet company that annually presents The Nutcracker at the Township Auditorium over Thanksgiving weekend. Most roles, even the major parts, are danced by local talent. Casting happened in late August. They are already well into rehearsals and I'll blog about this upcoming show at a later time!
Columbia City Ballet's Nutcracker performances at the Koger Center:
3:00 PM Saturday, December 9, 2017
7:30 PM Saturday, December 9, 2017
3:00 PM Sunday, December 10, 2017
3:00 PM Saturday, December 16, 2017
7:30 PM Saturday, December 16, 2017
3:00 PM Sunday, December 17, 2017
Columbia Classical Ballet's Nutcracker performances at the Koger Center:
7:30 PM Friday, December 1, 2017
3:00 PM Saturday, December 2, 2017
7:30 PM Saturday, December 2, 2017
3:00 PM Sunday, December 3, 2017
Tickets to either company's complete season are available on the Koger Center website: