‘Cinderella’ a fairytale performance for Columbia Classical Ballet
Young students from across South Carolina lined up to see the Columbia Classical Ballet’s production of Cinderella at Columbia's Koger Center last Thursday and Friday.
Brianna Taylor, a high school junior and Columbia Classical Ballet company member, performed as the stepmother in ‘Cinderella.’ Taylor performed in the show at Richland Northeast High School when the Koger performances were canceled post-flood.
The company finished their final performance of ‘Cinderella’ Friday evening. The newly-extended version of the show was reprised after a single performance during the week of South Carolina’s Oct. 4 flood.
The Columbia Classical Ballet’s Forest Acres studio is still under renovations to repair damage from the October flood. After permits to rebuild the studio were approved last month, the studio is expected to reopen on March 13.
By Lia Grabowski
When the curtain rose in the darkened Koger Center for the Arts last week, an awed hush fell over the chattering schoolchildren in the audience.
There before them danced Cinderella, a storybook character who linked up with a fairy godmother to overcome adversity and marry a prince.
In a way, the Cinderella story is the story of Columbia Classical Ballet and its longtime artistic director Radenko Pavlovich. In the last year, the company has endured a flood, Pavlovich’s second significant heart attack and a snowstorm that stranded principal dancers for the company’s signature January event.
Flooded out of their home
Last August, the dancers of Columbia Classical Ballet moved into their new studio in Forest Acres after a summer of renovations. Two months later, the company practiced late into the night Oct. 3 with a choreographer from the Washington Ballet as heavy rains fell outside. Within hours of leaving practice, dams broke across the region, flooding hundreds of houses and businesses, including the Columbia Classical dancing studio near flooded Gills Creek.
"It was a surreal experience,” recounted Lee Lumpkin, chair of the ballet’s executive board, recalling the destruction she and Pavlovich witnessed inside the water-soaked studio.
"I was telling him we were lucky it was our place of business, so many people were without homes. He told me ‘What you need to remember is this is my home and the only home many of our dancers know.'
"All the memorabilia, costumes, photos, books, signed notes, all things he surrounded himself with were gone,” Lumpkin said.
The company was originally slated to perform “Cinderella” the week of the flood, but canceled amid the weather aftermath and another tragedy for the company: Pavlovich’s second heart attack.
The Koger performances were canceled as a result of the flood aftermath, but Richland Northeast High School offered their auditorium for the company. At the time, the dancers thought it would be their only performance. However, a recovering Pavlovich saw the show and decided it needed another chance.
The show must go on
The ballet company found a temporary studio in a vacant space at Richland Mall and began working toward their next event, their annual LifeChance performance, which took place Jan. 23.
Ordinarily, the two and a half hour performance features between 10 and 14 guest artists from all over the country. However, a huge northeast snowstorm stranded performers at airports, including South Carolina native Brooklyn Mack. Mack came in from London for the performance, but couldn’t get closer than Washington, D.C.
“We spent about 20 hours with the office manager and travel agency from Thursday to Friday doing everything we could,” Lumpkin said.
But, as they say, the show must go on. The company put together two 19-minute performances and, with the help of guest speakers, they created an hour-long show from the ashes of the two hour and 15 minute star-studded performance they had intended.
Fairytale finish to their Cinderella story
Now, four months after the flood catastrophe and one month after their nearly canceled LifeChance performance, the company finally had a smooth success with a revival of the Cinderella show. In order to incorporate more of the company, they made the decision to extend the length of the performance and add an evening show in addition to their two Educational Outreach morning shows.
“Educational Outreach is a part of our mission as much as artistry is,” Lumpkin said. Seats are $5 and chaperones attend for free, but if a school can’t afford to pay for their students, they are guests of the company. This year, with the help of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina as a sponsor, schools from all over the state were able to take the morning to attend the performances.
“Every single person in the world that can come should come,” said Lumpkin. “For some, it will leave a lasting impression.”
That was true for Mack, who came as a middle school student with his school to a performance of LifeChance. Now, Mack plans to return to Columbia in March to help raise money for the ballet company’s flood recovery.
The company is getting a boost from its artistic rival, Columbia City Ballet. The Columbia Classical Ballet has always been a financial competitor with the Columbia City Ballet, but the two companies have come together in a rare joint fundraising effort.
“All arts organization are competitors, we’re all vying for the same audience and the same arts dollars, which are limited in South Carolina,” said William Starrett, Columbia City Ballet’s executive and artistic director.
Earlier in 2015, the Columbia City Ballet had already begun to plan a fundraiser for their studio and asked Misty Copeland, a nationally renowned ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre, to make an appearance.
Mack had performed with Copeland in Swan Lake previously in 2015, and he reached out to her about helping the Columbia Classical Ballet as well. She suggested the two studios combine their events and the companies agreed.
“We’re very sympathetic to what they’ve gone through, so we said yes we could work together on this project,” Starrett said.
Now, they will split the costs and proceeds of the March 15 benefit luncheon, where Copeland and Mack will be in attendance for a Q&A session. Starrett said the Columbia City Ballet will put their portion of the funds toward their educational outreach program and their operating costs in order to keep ticket prices low.
Just before the event, Columbia Classical Ballet’s company will celebrate a huge step in their flood recovery. On March 13, with Mack in attendance, they will host a grand reopening of their Forest Acres studio and finally achieve a happy ending to their flood story.