Some of the country’s premiere dancers will grace the Koger Center stage on Saturday as Columbia Classical Ballet presents its annual LifeChance: Gala of the Stars. Now in its 18th year, the production offers a mix of classical and contemporary dance styles, and features a jaw-dropping cast of stars from Washington Ballet and Boston Ballet.
Radenko Pavlovich, artistic director of the Classical Ballet, is the man making it all happen. Every year, Pavlovich employs a mix of tenacity, diplomacy and charm to lure mind-blowing talent for an evening of stellar performances. A portion of the proceeds goes to a local charity; this year’s recipient is the Free Medical Clinic of Columbia. Pavlovich has nurtured, trained, inspired, counseled and motivated scores of dancers from throughout the world from his Forest Acres dance studio over the past 21 years. Then, like a proud father, he sets them free, watching them soar as
they perform with some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies.
One of these success stories is Brooklyn Mack, from Elgin. Mack took up ballet under Pavlovich’s tutelage when he was 12 in hopes of improving his football skills.
Now 26, Mack is a principal dancer with the Washington Ballet in D.C., and this summer he became the first African-American man to win a senior gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria. The competition is the oldest in the world and is considered the Olympics of ballet. He also took home three gold medals this summer in the senior male division at the Boston International Ballet Competition, and another in the senior male division at the Istanbul Ballet Competition.
On Saturday, Mack will perform with highly acclaimed Washington Ballet dancers Ayano Kimura, Maki Onuki and Tamas Krizsa. A former member of Columbia Classical Ballet, Krizsa is from Hungary and has performed throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan.
Returning to perform in LifeChance are Boston Ballet principals (and siblings) Jeffrey and Lia Cirio. Pavlovich met Jeffrey at a ballet competition in Mississippi in 2006, when Jeffrey was 15.
“He is just unbelievable,” Pavlovich says.
Jeffrey Cirio was the first American dancer to win the gold medal at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition. He will dance the Don Quixote pas de deux with Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga. Last spring, they received rave reviews as Dance Taps described the pair as “nearly flawless” and Kuranaga as “a mere sylph of a woman, as light as a spring breeze but with a technique of steely precision.”
Lia Cirio in Jorma Elo’s Slice to Sharp Photo by Gene Schiavone
Lia Cirio was promoted to Boston Ballet principal in 2010 and has been dubbed by critics as one of the most accomplished dancers in the company. She will partner with Boston Ballet soloist Sabi Varga in two pas de deux excerpts from Christopher
Last year, the Cirio duo was absent from LifeChance because of another commitment.
“We were so sad and felt that part of our year was missing,” says Lia Cirio. “It is a chance to give back as a dancer, and every year Radenko extends the invite to us, and we consider it an honor to help in some small way in giving to a charity.”
She says they adore the Southern hospitality and the chance to network with other dancers from around the country.
Much of the success of LifeChance comes from the loyalty to Pavlovich of artists like Cirio, who sacrifice their time and juggle incredibly hectic schedules to make the trip to South Carolina.
In addition to the top-notch guest talent, company dancers will present Etudes, a one-act ballet that begins with traditional ballet exercises at a barre. Company member Christopher Miro has also created a new tango-inspired piece.
Pavlovich created Columbia Classical Ballet in 1991 and he brings in dancers from around the world. This year, seven company members are from Japan and others hail from Cuba, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine and Hungary. They are dancing in Columbia for now, but with Pavlovich’s track record, in years to come they could be dancing anywhere.
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