With new season, Columbia Classical Ballet embraces female focus

Taking the Lead


Sarah Waters is Columbia Classical Ballet’s new assistant to the artistic director.

Columbia Classical Ballet’s new season arrives with a determined focus. This year’s programming will focus on female-driven productions, reflecting internal changes that Artistic Director Radenko Pavlovich feels were a long time coming.

“Well, to be honest, at the end of our last season, it occurred to me that the world is really changing,” he explains. With the #MeToo movement, women are rightfully demanding the respect they deserve. That movement and controversy even touched the ballet world, and it really shook me.”

“Honestly, women are what comes first to mind when people think about ballet, and yet women’s role in leadership positions have been almost exclusively limited to ballet mistresses or coaches,” he continues. “Only recently are there more female choreographers and artistic directors.

“I started thinking, ‘I want to change that in my company and I want the change to be from inside-out.’ I wanted a stronger female presence from the board to the artistic staff to the ballets the company will perform. This season is really a celebration about that change.”

One big part of this transition was appointing “two strong and outstanding women,” Sharon Williams and Anne Fowler, as president and vice president, respectively, of the company’s board, Pavlovich explains.

Williams, who is currently a consultant for the state Bar Association, has served on Classical Ballet’s board for more than a decade. Williams is also the sponsorship chair for company’s annual gala, which raises capital for its community outreach programs.

Fowler, a former ballet dancer and founding member of the Classical Ballet, was instrumental in starting a dance program at Hammond School. Fowler is in her second year as a board member.

“Both of these ladies are tremendous leaders in our community and they also know and respect the mission of Columbia Classical Ballet,” Pavolovich enthuses.

On the artistic side, he added a new position, assistant to the artistic director.

“I offered the position to company member and newly promoted soloist Sarah Waters,” Pavlovich says. “Sarah has been with the company since 2017, and she’s young, but she already shows great leadership skills and I really wanted to give her an opportunity to learn and grow not just as a dancer but as an artistic leader within the company.”

In the new position, Waters, a 24-year-old an Indiana native, helps shape the presentation and choreography of Columbia Classical’s production, as well as contributing to the production/technical side of the program. She is learning about setting lighting and setting the stage with technical directors under the guidance of Pavlovich.

“I am beyond honored that Radenko has given me this great opportunity,” she says. “As a dancer, I never considered the other side of putting together a production, and this has just opened my eyes to so many new possibilities and a future beyond performing.”

Another strong female presence at the company is Resident Choreographer Simone Cuttino.

Cuttino has been associated with Classical Ballet for 20 years, only taking a few years off when her children, now grown, needed her attention at home.

“The ballets that we are bringing to the stage this season really represent the full spectrum of womanhood, starting with Coppelia,” Cuttino offers. “It’s such an easy ballet to watch and enjoy and great for the entire family. The music is wonderful, and Swanhilda is a kickass, smarty-pants kind of a girl. The audience will be enthralled with the story and her sassy character.”

Principal dancer Nao Omoya will portray Swanhilda, who gets into all kinds of mischief when she pretends to be the life-size doll Coppelia. Pavlovich describes Nao as having flawless technique and a charming and lovely stage presence.

“Later in the season Radenko asked me to choreograph an original work to showcase women’s strength,” Cuttino continues. “The piece I’m working on will be tango-themed. I chose tango because it is really a wonderful, sultry way to express women’s passion and strength.”

The season ends with the romantic ballet Giselle, which Cuttino says is “about a young woman and extreme heartbreak which ultimately drives her mad. In addition to these main productions, Cuttino choreographed an entire ballet, Little Red Riding Hood, for a community outreach performance 

“I love Red Riding Hood.” Cuttino says. “She’s actually a very brave girl and overcomes a lot of different obstacles.”

The choreographer is excited about the direction of this season’s programming.

“I love that Radenko is really shining the spotlight on women behind the scenes and with our upcoming productions,” she offers. “Women know how to collaborate and how to delegate. Not always trying to take the lead alone. I think Radenko really appreciates that quality. That collaboration makes our company strong and successful.” 

What: Coppelia

Where: Koger Center, 1051 Greene St.

When: Friday, Oct, 18, 7:30 p.m.

Price: $5-$35


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