Columbia Ballet overcomes disaster to perform with Charleston Ballet

SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Charleston Ballet Company kicks off their 60th season this weekend at the civic center little theater with “Contemporary Classics.”
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail
Charleston Ballet Company performs this weekend with Columbia Classical Ballet from Columbia, SC, which has had a very difficult season already.

Each new season of the Charleston Ballet seems to bring some new trouble, some new challenge that will inevitably turn into a story director Kim Pauley’s dancers will one day sit around and talk about.

The 60th season, which opens Friday at the Civic Center’s Little Theater, will be no different, but, at least this time around, the trouble is not Charleston Ballet’s, but their frequent collaborators, the Columbia Classical Ballet from Columbia, South Carolina.

Columbia Classical Ballet just came through a flood.

“It was back a few weeks back with the hurricane,” Pauley explained. “They’d just renovated their studio, and it flooded.”

Flooded is an understatement. The dance studio was nearly submerged, with only the roof remaining about the waters.

The building was ruined.

“Not just that,” Charleston Ballet’s director added. “They lost costumes, music, memorabilia — a lot of things that are just irreplaceable.”

The ballet was also forced to cancel a performance, called “Night of Passion,” which represented a shift for the company toward contemporary dance and included choreography by Washington Ballet dancer, Tama Kriza.

“They’d done all this work to prepare and then they couldn’t dance,” Pauley said.

And they almost lost their artistic director and founder. A few days after the flood, Radenko Pavlovich had a heart attack.

“It was just a small heart attack,” Pauley insisted. “It didn’t really slow him down much. He’s still planning on coming up.”

The disaster and heartache of the Columbia Classical Ballet really threw Charleston Ballet off balance.

“We were so worried about them,” Pauley said. “They come up here two or three times a year for our productions. Our dancers are Facebook friends with their dancers. We’re friends. We know them.”

They wanted to help them move forward and she knew, under the circumstances, they could have canceled their performance with her troupe.

“But a dancer needs to dance,” she said.

They’re still coming and Pauley hopes people will come out to support them while they’re trying to get back on their feet.

Charleston Ballet Company has been through their ups and downs, too. Founded 60 years ago by Belgian dancer Andre Van Damme, the small company was always something of an oddity.

“There have never really been many companies our size,” she said. “And there are fewer our size who have been around for so long.”

Van Damme was kind of a character, Pauley explained. A star dancer with the Royal Opera, he was part of the resistance underground during World War II and came to the U.S. with his wife for a fresh start after the war was over.

First, he tried his luck in New York and then in California before finally coming to West Virginia in the 1950s.

“He had some friends at what was then the Charleston Symphony,” Pauley said. “They encouraged him to come here.”

Van Damme was a pioneer, she said, building the little school and company from scratch, and growing it slowly over the 33 years he ran it.

Pauley took over in 1989.

“It was a kind of do-or-die situation,” she said.

Pauley joined the Charleston Ballet as a dancer, after she graduated from WVU in 1985. In 1989, the former Miss West Virginia was also the company’s principal dancer.

“The board decided to give me a chance running the company,” she said.

That was 26 years ago.

Pauley said there were some rough years in the beginning. The company had some rough years here and there in between, but they’ve managed to continue on, and each year, they try to make the new season at least as memorable as the last.

“This season, we’re starting off with a mixed bill,” she said. “We call it ‘Contemporary Classics,’ so, it has some more modern pieces and some classics.”

It will also have a piece the Columbia Classical Ballet planned to debut in South Carolina but couldn’t.

Pauley said her dancers always remember the people they dance with and the ballets they are part of.

“We all have our stories of the shows,” she said, adding. “This will be another one.”

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.

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