In my relatively short (about five years) association with the Columbia Classical Ballet, mostly as a parent and fan, there has been much joy and learning, getting to know a diverse and frequently changing cast of characters, and coming to understand better the hard work and beauty of dance, sometimes from a privileged position (such as standing in the wings backstage or watching rehearsals). The CCB has over this period done a wonderful job of blending the talents of young American dancers with a flavoring of worldwide talent. But there has also been occasional sadness, bordering on loss for me, as change is a certainty. For instance, when Brazilian brothers Junior and Humberto quietly snuck off a few years back, like ghosts in the night, to join other companies, I was dismayed and disheartened (though I understood the dynamics and was happy for them as well). Every year I suffer a sort of melancholy as a dancer or two that I have come to know or enjoyed watching perform, leaves for a better opportunity or to return home. But this year, like a flash flood in a western arroyo, the landscape of local dance has been scoured and swept downstream. So it is with much trepidation and sadness that I go to see this weekend Aladdin, knowing that when the final curtain falls, several of my favorite dancers are headed off to distant parts of the globe. My spirit is darkened, my heart pained. I already miss them.
There are times I wish I had been introduced to dance as a child; that some special connection had been discovered in me (such as happened with my son) so that I could have possibly found a hidden talent for movement and the stage. But no, my interests lay elsewhere, and I treasure them; but I have been increasing enamored by dance and dancers, enjoying the motion, color, precision, and presentation. Inwardly, there is something that pines to be included in such a group (particularly if related to the arts). Maybe it is jealousy of their talent, possibly borderline infatuation and awe (and that goes for anyone who special skills). I always felt that way, even when I was in school; I seemed to know the members of each clique, but was never allowed into any inner circle. And of course, I am an outsider to the special world of ballet---not part of the close-knit fraternity that bonds dancers (like soldiers or cops), that allows them to mesh as a team despite petty rivalries or personality clashes. Only wealthy patrons and backstage support seem to be allowed into that fellowship in any true measure; the rest are often treated with varying levels of attention---from polite disdain to near contempt---for usurpers are not of the chosen. Some dancers do not respond to a friendly salutations, or shy away when approached, and many simply ignore the "lesser" folk. A few I have met surely fit the description of divas, and others sometimes seemed cold and superior.
But the last few years at CCB have been wonderfully different, largely due to the warmness and friendliness of a select group of dancers who embraced my sons and, happily, me. Just as the Teixera brothers were departing, I was introduced to a couple (part of a incoming group of dancers) who also hailed from their homeland. Almost immediately Renata Franco and Waldilei Goncalves welcomed this outsider, just as they seemed to acknowledge everyone, with warmth, class, and good humor. Their first year here was a challenge for them, but they persevered. I enjoyed visiting them and seeing how they were doing. In many ways, they became the beating heart of recent companies. For three years I greatly enjoyed their friendship. I will miss Waldilei’s impish grin and easy manner, his salutation "Hello, Jim," whenever he saw me and came over to chat. I don’t think I ever saw him angry or frustrated (though I know he was at times). He even humored me by listening to my music suggestions and ideas on dance. Renata has that inner spirit of a mother and teacher, and I smile inside when I think of how special a life their children and future students will have with them. She reminds me in many ways of my mother. She served as the ballet mistress this past season and was beloved by her students. The couple returns to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to teach ballet, settle down, and begin a new life. I hope perhaps one day I can send my son down there for a year or so of training from them, should he stay in ballet. Through them, in part, I have come to enjoy the combination of modern and classical ballet, as promoted by groups such as Groupo Corpo, which hails from their hometown.
Also leaving CCB are a trio of beautiful and talented Japanese ballerinas, as well as one Japanese male dancer. I will miss the striking elegance and shy friendliness of Akari Manabe, who seemed to anchor the company on stage with her graceful movement, long arms, and ever-beaming smile. I loved sections where she and Kaori Yanagida danced together. Of all the dancers leaving, she seems to be the one who would most like to stay (although I could be wrong) in Columbia. I imagine that plenty of companies, in the United States and overseas, will be jumping at the chance to get her to join them.
Although I less often spoke with Kaori, she also was always pleasant and cheerful. She will be returning to Hungary with Zoltan Boros, who also danced with CCB. Both have been strong performers in the company, and I know they made many friends here. I suspect their sojourn in Eastern Europe will be short, as certainly they will get plenty of offers worldwide.
The two other Japanese dancers to depart are, Riiko Kitayama, who returns to Canada (though there is the chance she may return) and Kazuki Ichihashi, who joins a company in his homeland. Kazuki got a little more attention and did some really fine dancing; Riiko will be best remembered as the Chinese dancer in the Nutcracker. I had the pleasure of meeting her mother as well.
I’m not sure who else will be leaving the company, and surely there will be new faces. There will be a different feel next year. I suspect the company will take on a less diverse flavor, at least for one year. I hope CCB continues to draw talented young dancers to Columbia. And thank goodness for Facebook, where I will continue to follow their careers when I can.