A guest post from a local ballet student

I'm Molly and I LOVE ballet. I'm 10 years old and this is my 8th year doing ballet. I go to Columbia County Ballet and LOVE it.

When I was 2 1/2 years old I would go to my friends' house while my mom was at work. They went to a ballet class in the afternoon. For awhile, I sat in the lobby and waited for them to finish. One day someone asked if I wanted to join the class. I wanted to start just because my friends did it. (I thought what they did was cool because I had 2 older brothers - and didn't do or have girl stuff!) I liked it, so my mom signed me up for the next year.

Just last summer I joined the company and couldn't be loving it more. I've danced many roles this year in The Nutcracker, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Roar of Love.  I loved ballet when I was little because my friends did it. Now, I love the beauty of it and dancing for the glory of God. When I dance I feel beautiful and free. I don't care what other people think.

My company is a Christian company. We pray before every performance and we always dance for the glory of God. My faith is a big part of my life. I have just started to experience a change in my life. I listen to the Holy Spirit and really love the Lord and others.

Dancing is a way to deliver a story. Through dancing I can send the message of who Christ is. This is what we do in the Roar of Love. It is the story of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," and its hero, Aslan. "As to Aslan's other name, well, I want you to guess………Do you know his name in this world?"

An Evening Among the Stars (of New York City Ballet)

On Friday night the University of South Carolina (USC) Department of Theatre of Dance presented its 11th annual Gala Performance of "Ballet Stars of New York."

NYC Ballet Principal Dancer Sara Mearns, a Columbia SC native, as Odette in Balanchine's "Swan Lake." 

NYC Ballet Principal Dancer Sara Mearns, a Columbia SC native, as Odette in Balanchine's "Swan Lake." 

Seven principal dancers of the world-famous New York City Ballet traveled to Columbia, SC for a single performance in collaboration with the USC Dance Company. Accompanied by the USC Symphony, the seven stars shared the stage with the USC student dancers for a delightful evening featuring George Balanchine's "Donizetti Variations," Jerome Robbins' gorgeous "In the Night," and Balanchine's classic "Swan Lake." 

What a rare and special opportunity for USC dance students to interact and dance alongside some of the best dancers in the world! And for the audience, to witness the brilliant artistry of Jared and Tyler Angle, Megan Fairchild, Chase Finlay, Gonzalo Garcia, Rebecca Krohn and Columbia-native Sara Mearns on the stage of the intimate Koger Center. 

The event was particularly special for Augusta Ballet Office Manager Lisa Pham, as it was her first attendance of a live ballet. A classical musician, Pham has accompanied performances but only experienced the action onstage via the interpretation of her conductor. On Friday, she was "near tears" as she witnessed the strivings of serious students of dance, as well as the finesse of the Ballet Stars of New York. 

A Win-Win for Augusta Ballet and Cutno Dance Center

Augusta Ballet's presentation of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) in January's first-ever New Traditions Dance Festival was unprecedented in several ways. For one, the feature performance took place at The Bell Auditorium, with more than twice the seats of the venues at which we've presented in the past. 

To ensure that the theatre was filled to capacity and that the audience was diverse in age and ethnicity, we designed the "Win-Win" program. Win-Win participants sold DTH performance tickets on Augusta Ballet's behalf - at a 20% discount. Ticket buyers enjoyed 10% off the ticket price and Win-Win groups received the other 10% for their organization. 

Participants in the Win-Win program included: 

The Links, Incorporated of Augusta 

The Junior League of Augusta

North Augusta Dance Center

Davidson Fine Arts

Jessye Norman School of the Arts

Symphony Orchestra of Augusta

Columbia County Ballet School

Boy Scouts of Augusta

Brothers and Sisters of Aiken

Hope for Augusta

Aiken County Historical Society

Tutus and Dance Shoes

Cutno Dance Center

Cutno Dance Center redirected their Win-Win savings into sending their dancers to competition. Thanks to the ingenuity of the Win-Win program, the cooperation between Cutno and the Ballet, and the exuberance of the community members that purchased DTH tickets thorough Cutno, the dancers competed in the Showstopper Dance Championship in North Carolina last weekend. AND WON! 

In this case, the program was really a Win-Win-Win for the CSRA dance community!

In their very first competition, the Cutno Junior/Senior Company placed 1st in the Platinum Category for Hip Hop. Cutno brought home trophies for 2nd place in their division for tap, 5th place overall, and 1st place for their Mini Troupe Dancers. 

In their very first competition, the Cutno Junior/Senior Company placed 1st in the Platinum Category for Hip Hop. Cutno brought home trophies for 2nd place in their division for tap, 5th place overall, and 1st place for their Mini Troupe Dancers. 

Some of the Winners showing off their trophies. 

Some of the Winners showing off their trophies. 

Cutno Dance Center owner and Augusta Ballet board member Ferneasa Cutno with two of her dancers. 

Cutno Dance Center owner and Augusta Ballet board member Ferneasa Cutno with two of her dancers. 

My Feet Hurt: explaining pointe

Pointe work visually extends the leg and makes the ballerina appear to be floating on air. 

Pointe work visually extends the leg and makes the ballerina appear to be floating on air. 

Rooted in the 18th century royal courts of Italy and France, ballet is a dance form that historically valued a light, airy feel. For that reason, it's often considered an effeminate pursuit. Although strength and athleticism are increasingly important in ballet, there remains a demand that dancers, particularly female, exhibit an almost other-worldly grace. 

The intricate courtly footwork of early ballet evolved into dancers stretching and arching their feet into impossibly extended forms, creating the illusion of legs that went forever. Those pointed feet later inspired ballerinas like Marie Taglioni to dance on the very tips of their toes. Taglioni's dancing, executed without the benefit of modern pointe shoes, is quite impressive, as it was astonishingly light and would have been very painful. 

Although dancing on one's toes is painful, it's easier to do with the structure of the pointe shoe. 

Although dancing on one's toes is painful, it's easier to do with the structure of the pointe shoe. 

Soft ballet slippers or "flat" shoes are comfortable and flexible, allowing the ballerina to strength, stretch and warm up her feet. 

Soft ballet slippers or "flat" shoes are comfortable and flexible, allowing the ballerina to strength, stretch and warm up her feet. 

Today, both male and female dancers usually begin class with 30-60 minutes of "flat work" or "technique" to warm up their feet before the women trade their soft ballet slippers (canvas or leather, like those you see on small children) for their sculpted, satin pointe shoes. The pointe shoe is designed to provide a hard, square box, which ballerinas stuff with lamb's wool and other cushioning materials, and on which the ballerina can more easily stand and balance. The shank along the sole of the shoe provides support for the ballerina's arch, helping her to spring up and down on her toes. 

Despite the significant advances in pointe shoe design in the last hundred years or so, the shoes don't protect ballerinas from chafing and blistering, digging and bleeding, and squeezing and malformation. The feet, ankles, calves, knees, hips and abdominals must be very strong before a dancer is ready for pointe work. And then she can expect a lifetime of cramping arches, swollen toes, scraped heels and misshapen bones in her feet.

The miracle of pointe work is the blood and sweat that goes into making it so incredibly lovely to see. 

White House, Black Ballerinas

Debbie Allen with Michelle Obama at the event. 

Debbie Allen with Michelle Obama at the event. 

In celebration of Black History Month, First Lady Michelle Obama highlighted the contributions African American women have made to dance by welcoming 51 local Washington, D.C. dance students to the White House yesterday.

The children enjoyed a day-long dance camp with pioneering black women in dance, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Virginia Johnson, and Hip-Hop choreographer Fatima Robinson.  

Kudos to Mrs. Obama and the important women who gathered in D.C. to educate and inspire young dancers. In doing so, they also showcased the evolving inclusiveness of dance and exposed the need for us all to do more. 

Dance Theatre of Harlem Company member Lindsey Croop and Washington DC dancers in a masterclass led by Artistic Director Virginia Johnson in the East Room this morning. (Photo: DTH)

Dance Theatre of Harlem Company member Lindsey Croop and Washington DC dancers in a masterclass led by Artistic Director Virginia Johnson in the East Room this morning. (Photo: DTH)

On Art & Artists: from Niki Haris

from guest blogger, Singer/dancer/choreographer/actress & Augusta resident Niki Haris

Niki Haris, ARTIST

Niki Haris, ARTIST

I have been involved in so many areas of the art world and feel blessed to have had its presence in my life. I also recognize the urgent need to cultivate a community that supports and nurtures those who know the importance of art - and helps to encourage those who don't. 

My dad (Gene Harris), who recorded and played piano starting at 4 years old, lived and died the artist’s way. While he was still in a wheelchair and was in need of a kidney, the audiences would say, "How does he do it?” He said that the pain would go away when he played for the audiences and that he HAD to do it. His art was truly his first love… and that’s coming from me, his last child.

When I think of the African American artists whose shoulders I stand on, I know many of them did not have the comforts that I enjoy. And yet they created while wars raged on, while enslaved, while thought of as "less than" and while hunger turned their bellies. This ferocious call to create lets me know that, in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds, the hardwiring of the creative will triumph. The romantic in me wants believe that the drive was so strong in them that they would have done their work even without the reward of acknowledgment and profit. In this world of FaceBook "Likes," many of us are so consumed by a need to be “Liked” that the creative process is, at best, groomed for a particular audience and, at worst, completely stifled by a need for perfectionism or a fear of failure. As writer and cultural commentator Seth Godin says, "If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being an artist.” 

Let us all lean into our inner artist. Let us all be fearless and ferocious in our desire for a creative, loving and supportive community. As the great writer and cultural critic James Baldwin said, "The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

 

A place at the barre for black dancers auditioning

 

African-Americans were historically excluded from the aesthetic and cultural mores of classical ballet. And although times are slowly changing, the ballet studio often still looks very white. 

That's why companies that actively seek out and celebrate diversity among their dancers are as important now as ever. Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) was founded in 1969 with the very purpose of engaging blacks, both as dancers and dance patrons. Last Saturday, DTH held auditions for its 2016 summer intensive program at the studios of Augusta Ballet School/Dance Augusta. The opportunity for intensive training at one of the country's most respected companies drew children 8 and older from as far as Greensboro, NC. 

Regardless of whether or not she was accepted into the program, 13-year old Milan Carter was grateful for the opportunity to interact with DTH, “a company that’s been at the forefront of African-American arts for so long.” As a black ballerina, Milan said, “Having a company of beautiful, diverse dancers saying, ‘you can do this, you can become this,’ is empowering.” 

Also in January, International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) held the first-ever ballet audition exclusively for women of color. Fifteen ballet organizations sent representatives, including DTH’s Virginia Johnson. In addition to the audition, they discussed why there remains a need for such an event in 2016. “I know that this is a conversation that has been going on for decades, but there really does seem to be something different now… where maybe there really is an opportunity to make lasting change, ”Dance USA’s Amy Fitterer remarked.     Read more. 

 

 

 

  

Chanelle Turnbull (16), Avilon Tate (13), Dasia Amos (13) and the DTH summer intensive audition at Augusta Ballet School - Photo credits: Marin Rose and Lakendrick Kelly

Original Black Ballerinas

Successful black ballerinas like ultra-famous American Ballet Theatre Principal Misty Copeland and “war orphan” Michaela DePrince have many pioneering predecessors to thank. Here are brief biographies of just a few: 


Raven Wilkinson was one of the first African-American ballerinas allowed to join a ballet company. During the 1950s, she danced with the Ballets Russes under the condition that she pose as a white woman by painting her face. After two years of increasing racial discrimination, including threats in the South, she left Ballets Russes and eventually landed a spot in the Dutch National Ballet.

ilkinson and Misty Copeland

ilkinson and Misty Copeland

Janet Collins broke boundaries by being the first African American to grace the stage with the Metropolitan Ballet. She faced some of the same racial controversies as Raven Wilkinson with Ballets Russes before she found her home at the Metropolitan Opera.[2]

Janet Collins

Janet Collins

Lauren Anderson was the first African American Principal dancer of the Houston Ballet. She proved that there was a place for African Americans in classical ballet. 

Lauren Anderson

Lauren Anderson

Aesha Ash broke boundaries in 1996 as an African American member of New York City Ballet. She has also drawn a lot of commercial attention to the African American ballet world. 

Paunika Jones studied at the Ailey School and the Dance Theatre of Harlem School’s Summer Intensive Programs. She was invited to join DTH’s Dancing Through Barriers Ensemble in 1996, where she remained for two years until she was accepted into the professional company in 1998 as an apprentice and ascended through the ranks to become a Principal Dancer in 2004.

Francine Sheffield studied at New Jersey Ballet. She has performed with choreographers such as H.T. Chen, Wendy Perron, Amy Pivar, Marlies Yearby and Baraka De Soleil. She was a company member of Urban Bush Women under the leadership of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar for six years, where she traveled and performed all over the world. 

 

Sources

651 Arts
Wikipedia
 

Raven Wilkinson

Raven Wilkinson

Black History Month at Augusta Ballet

February is Black History Month at Augusta Ballet.

On the heels of our historic presentation of Dance Theatre of Harlem on the Jan. 30 - the performance at The Bell was the largest, most diverse dance audience in Augusta history! - Augusta Ballet honors Black History Month in several ways...

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DAILY BLOG POSTS – SUBMIT YOURS!

In celebration of African-American contributions to ballet history and the advancement of dance as an art form, Augusta Ballet’s “Blog for Ballet” will feature daily posts (Mon – Fri) all month, from various voices. 

Share yours! Tell us your personal experience as a black dance artist, explore the theme of diversity in dance or describe how black dance artists have inspired you. We welcome entires from dancers, students, parents, cultural commentators, and people of all ages!  

Submit your post (100-400 words). 

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FREE ALVIN AILEY FILM SCREENING FEB. 27

ailey.jpg

Augusta Ballet presents "Beyond the Steps: Alvin Ailey American Dance"
A FREE film screening
Saturday, February 27th 1 - 3 p.m.
at the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library on Telfair St.
Complimentary refreshments.
All ages welcome.

Reserve your seat.

BEYOND THE STEPS follows Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during a pivotal time in its history as the company ventures abroad while establishing new roots at home in New York City.

Immediately following the film, dancers from Cutno Dance Center will perform a brief tribute to Alvin Ailey's famous "Wade in the Water." Wear comfortable clothes and shoes so you can join in to learn some of the moves! 

Dance Theatre of Harlem and Arthur Mitchell's legacy of diversity in dance

Mitchell partners ballerina Diana Adams in Balanchine's masterpiece "Agon." The piece debuted in 1957 to an audience critical of the interracial cast. 

Mitchell partners ballerina Diana Adams in Balanchine's masterpiece "Agon." The piece debuted in 1957 to an audience critical of the interracial cast. 

Arthur Mitchell co-founded Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) with Karel Shook in 1969, in the recent wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. At a time of black optimism, as well as ongoing racial tension in America, DTH emerged to bring black youth into the ballet fold.

Mitchell, a former principal with George Balanchine’s renowned New York City Ballet, had been a rare and successful African-American participant in the elite, Caucasian world of pre-civil rights era classical ballet. With DTH, he envisioned a place where the children of Harlem, the poor, black Manhattan neighborhood where Mitchell grew up, would have the same opportunity he’d had to study ballet. Through affordable ticket pricing for community concerts, DTH also helped introduce the larger Harlem community to classical dance.  

Arthur Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, DTH expanded its outreach and education programs, and became a leader in the world of neoclassical ballet. Today, Dance Theatre of Harlem is still recognized as an international tour-de-force and an important contributor to the landscape of American dance. The multi-racial performing company reflects the increasing diversity of dance and dancers, which it helped to initiate over four decades ago. 

The Company went on hiatus from 2004 - 2012 and is now back on the national stage, both at home in Harlem's Apollo Theatre, and on tour across the country.  Don't miss their first-ever appearance in Augusta, Jan. 30th at The Bell Auditorium. 

Purchase Tickets

 

 

 

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dance Theatre of Harlem