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Columbia City Ballet looks to expand reach with new production, new special events

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Columbia City Ballet L'Amour

Columbia City Ballet brings Le Ballet de l’Amour to the Harbison Theatre this week.

Take the romance traditionally associated with dance and ballet, add the seasonal excitement surrounding Valentine’s Day, and combine it with the artistic vision and ambition of a veteran entertainer who wants to reach as many people, and touch as many hearts, as possible. The result? A remarkably busy couple of weeks in February for the Columbia City Ballet.

Feb. 14 brings Le Ballet de l’Amour, a special presentation at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical college, while next week brings the second edition of the Main Stage Series, the company’s new monthly series at Main Street’s intimate Main Course venue, and the premiere of Great Gatsby, the latest original ballet from City Ballet Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett.

Comedian DeRay Davis comes to Columbia on tour with Martin Lawrence

By reaching out to new populations in new venues, Starrett hopes to build excitement and anticipation for his latest full-length creation, based on the famous literary tale of Jazz Age greed and passion.

“We are always looking for different ways to bring art to the public,” he says, later adding, “We’re always looking to expand the audience.”

Starrett has always wanted to do something special for Valentine’s Day, and had long hoped to bring his ballet company to new venues such as the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College. Brainstorming with the theater’s executive director, Kristin Wood Cobb, he developed a presentation of CCB’s greatest hits — short numbers incorporating jazz and modern dance as well as selections from classical ballet — all connected thematically. 

“We have been looking for a good opportunity to showcase the brilliance of the CCB dancers in our intimate space,” Cobb offers. “A love-themed ballet seemed to be just the perfect fit.”

For the resulting Le Ballet de l’Amour, Starrett says he tried to avoid “a recipe of duet, duet, duet, duet,” opting instead for pas de trois selections designed for three dancers and some larger group numbers. Choices will include original works created by Starrett and other choreographers, such as the “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” number from Beatles: The Ballet and “Las Vegas Nights” from Hootie and the Blowfish: The Ballet, as well as more traditional works, such as the balcony scene pas de deux from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. He expresses pride and a sense of accomplishment at the inclusion of pieces by a number of young, female choreographers whose work is just now becoming widely known. 

Exploring new territory, both geographically and creatively, leads to exposure to potential new audience members and future patrons. To that end, Starrett has also partnered with The Main Course, an event venue and entertainment complex on the rapidly developing 1600 block of Main Street, to offer a Main Stage Series of dinner and dance one Friday each month.

Like the event at Harbison, these intimate dinner performances will feature divertissements — that’s ballet-speak for brief works and snippets from longer ballets — potentially including excerpts from the perennial favorite Dracula: Ballet With a Bite, a comical Puss in Boots number from last year’s Sleeping Beauty and a selection of ballroom variations from this spring’s upcoming Cinderella.  

“Traditionally, going out to dinner before enjoying a performance is the norm. Main Course provides a one-stop shop for dinner and a show. We are thrilled to see how this series will continue to grow each month.”

The company’s latest full-scale ballet production also embraces this spirit of trying new things. The dancers will be accompanied live by the ColaJazz Little Big Band, a new local outfit led by trumpeter Mark Rapp. 

“I picked some of the greatest hits from the ’20s,” Starrett says of the song list, which includes “The Charleston,” “Making Whoopee,” “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “Tea for Two”  and “West End Blues.”  “Then we worked on how each of these could make the story unfold.” 

The plotting itself is similarly adventurous, with actor Jason Stokes appearing in character as author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who penned the original Great Gatsby novel. 

“We’re always looking for more sophisticated material,” Starrett offers, “I want the audience to take their own journey. I’m turned on by the glamor, the wealth, the excess of the era.”   

Columbia City Ballet Events in February

Feb. 14 — Le Ballet de l’Amour at Harbison Theatre, 7:30 p.m., $25-$50

Feb. 21 — Main Stage Series at The Main Course, 6 p.m., $25

Feb. 28-29 — Great Gatsby at Koger Center, 8 p.m., $22-$54

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