THE Columbia City Ballet is celebrating 50 years of holiday magic.
Ever since the tradition began in 1967, the South Carolina-based company has delivered an unforgettable production of the Christmas classic The Nutcracker.
For 31 years, Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett has grown and shaped the company into a stellar troupe with 32 paid dancers and more than 2,000 season members.
The Nutcracker is a part of many family’s Christmas magic, and each year, the Ballet strives to bring something new and dazzling to the stage.
“What I try to do is I try to top myself every year,” Starrett says. “This year, we have some new surprises in Act One. We have new props, new sets, and new scenery.”
In the beloved tale, young heroine Clara experiences a wondrous Christmas Eve when the nutcracker she received as a gift transforms into a real-life prince at the stroke of midnight. The dashing nutcracker battles the Mouse Queen, and Clara comes to his aid, throwing her slipper at the Queen and saving the Prince. Celebrating the victory, the Prince sweeps Clara away to the magical Land of Sweets, where the two meet the Sugar Plum Fairy. Clara’s bravery is honored through a sugar-coated spectacular as sweets from all around the world perform for her.
The Columbia City Ballet’s 2017’s production is a visual feast inspired by the decadent, filigreed style of Marie Antoinette. With new performers and local dancers, the performance is a resplendent showcase of regional talent.
Starrett has been particularly impressed with the pool of talent he’s found in Savannah.
“We’re utilizing local Savannah dancers that came out to our auditions,” he explains. “The turnout was just stellar. We’re even looking at having some young ladies come into the professional company. There’s a tremendous amount of talent in Savannah. They really came out to the audition, and now, we’ll see these stars be born! We’re just thrilled. My vision from 20 years ago is finally paying off—we have a professional home for dancers that have extraordinary talent.”
The production has become one of the Southeast’s most in-demand shows. This year, The Nutcracker travels to Sumter, Lancaster, Columbia, Florence, Hartsville, and Charleston, South Carolina; Avon Park, Florida, and, of course, Savannah.
“I cannot wait to get to Savannah!” beams Starrett. “It’s my favorite city.”
Starrett and company have timed their show just perfectly so families can fully enjoy the performance.
“It’s the Saturday of Thanksgiving, and we picked a perfect time,” he says. “It’s at 5:30, so grandparents can come with children, it’s not too dark yet, it’s the perfect time for kids who maybe just got up from their nap, right before suppertime. It’s turned out to be the perfect time, and we are just thrilled to be back at The Civic Center.”
Attendees are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance—the show has sold out two years in a row. For future Nutcracker performances, Starrett hopes demand will result in two performance times.
“A lot of times, people say ‘We’re so busy,’ but we really want people to come out and celebrate the arts so we can make sure it’s a constant,” he says. “It’s important to support the arts and events that come to Savannah, because if we’re not supported, we can’t continue to come. It’s the same thing as when you have a great restaurant—if you don’t support it, it might close. We encourage everyone to support the things that are precious to you so you can be a part of the fabric of your community. It’s really important to support local.”
“Plus,” he adds, “The Nutcracker is a spectacular! It’s guaranteed to get you in a good mood and put you in the holiday spirit. Finish your shopping, rest your feet in the Civic Center, and enjoy this magical event with us.”