Ballet Springs Forth

Posted On February 26, 2014

New York Ballet Stars return

 And if she comes back …Columbia native brings New York City Ballet friends home for gala event

 by Rachel Haynie

 Columbia City Ballet

In April, Columbians will live out a beloved quotation attributed to Kahlil Gibran. Locally paraphrasing Gibran relates to a ballet dancer who launched from the University of South Carolina Dance Company with talent, sound fundamentals and skills, as well as performance presence remarkable enough to get her into the New York City Ballet Company. If the dancer, so loved by local audiences, was ours and we let her go – so she could make her way onto one of the world’s most venerable stages – she will come back. If not, she was never ours to begin with.

She was, she has. And she will again, on Friday, April 11 when Ballet Stars of New York ignite the stage at the Koger Center for the Arts.

[She] is home town girl Sara Mearns, now a New York City Ballet Principal Dancer. And, fortunately for this capital city, she will return with five friends from the company. Together with current USC dance students, they will perpetuate one of the city’s most anticipated Spring cultural events.

Professor Susan Anderson, who leads USC’s dance program, said: “This April, the connectivity of this event and Columbia’s immutable place in the world of ballet is Benjamin Milliepied who recently ascended to the directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet. Like Sara is now, he was a principal dancer with New York City Ballet when he came to Columbia earlier in this series. For a dancer who graced the Koger Center stage, dancing with USC student dancers, to now be called to direct the world’s oldest and still most prestigious ballet company brings this event full circle. USC student dancers never know where this experience can lead.”

Anderson credits dance faculty member Stacey Calvert for conceptualizing, then actualizing the highly-successful series. Also a Columbia native, Calvert was reared in dance by her mother Naomi Calvert and her godmother Ann Brodie, whose names were locally synonymous, for decades, with dance. Before Mearns danced her way into the New York City Ballet Company, Calvert was a soloist there. Since returning to Columbia, Calvert has been teaching and serving as associate artistic director of the USC Dance Company. In keeping with the tradition she set in motion, she will direct the concert again this April. And, again, the pieces will be quintessentially Balanchine.

“We are one of only a few colleges or universities approved by the George Balanchine Trust to dance his signature ballets,” said Calvert, who has danced featured roles in numerous Balanchine ballets.

Each year, the Balanchine trust approves USC Dance to present one of its approved ballets, matching the request with the roles to be danced and the available number of student dancers technically ready for the challenge.

“The chance to be chosen for one of these roles, to be on stage with the New York City Ballet dancers, is a strong incentive,” explained Anderson, whose most recent academic accolade was being named Carnegie Foundation’s Professor of the Year for South Carolina. She also has been the recipient of the South Carolina Governor’s Professor of the Year, and the Michael J. Mungo Distinguished Professor. Since founding the USC dance program, Anderson has led it to an enviable position within dance academics.

About this year’s concert, Calvert added: “We are doing Stars and Stripes, Balanchine’s patriotic tribute to America, set to music by John Philip Sousa. Being accompanied by the USC Symphony will make this evening even more spectacular!”

Anderson, also a dance historian, explained the significance of Balanchine’s creating Stars and Stripes. “When he came to this country from Russia and founded American neo-classical ballet, he fully embraced his new homeland, and this is an enthusiastic expression of his love for the American culture.”

Chairman of the USC Dance Board Jan Jernigan said: “We offer this gift to our city, thinking especially of those who may not have the opportunity to experience New York City Ballet in New York. And Stars and Stripes is particularly timely. Memorial Day is just ahead, and June 6 is the 70th anniversary of D-Day.”

Calvert added: “That we have thirty student dancers ready to be cast for this piece is proof of the USC program’s advances. In those first couple of years, we had two or three juniors or seniors to dance on stage with six New York City Ballet dancers.”

While dance majors rehearse their roles locally, the New York Ballet stars will be brushing up on well-familiar leading roles from their repertoires. “The New York dancers only arrive with enough advance time for one rehearsal with our students, and with USC Symphony,” Calvert said.

Stars and Stripes is noted for its exuberance and patriotic flourishes, from color and costumes to military elements. While the concert will feature two other Balanchine favorites, this 28-minute ballet will be the highlight.

“Columbia City Ballet has been very generous is lending some of its male dancers to aid in the casting,” Anderson explained.

When the applause for the ballet dies down, another component of the eventful evening will commence, and those holding separate tickets for the gala will follow the distinctive sounds of Reggie Sullivan’s music to the Atrium of USC’s Public Health Building. There patrons will meet, have photo opportunities with, and dine with the ballet stars. Proceeds from this extraordinary post-concert party will fund scholarships for USC dance students.

For tickets and other information on the eighth annual Ballet Stars of New York Gala Performance, contact Rona Walstra, 803.777.1001 or walstrar@mailbox.sc.edu