Originally created 02/25/03

Ballet groups merge to give S.C. dancers more opportunities



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Two of the state's largest dance groups are merging to form a single professional troupe that organizers say will help keep top dancers in the state with better pay and a wider audience.

Beginning in 2004, the Columbia City Ballet and South Carolina Ballet in Greenville plan to begin operating under the name South Carolina Ballet.

Although their budgets will remain separate this year, the companies will share some resources while the merger is being finalized.

Eventually the $1 million budget of Columbia City Ballet and the $230,000 budget of Greenville's South Carolina Ballet will merge, said Kara Sproles Mock, president of Columbia City Ballet's board of directors.

The two companies immediately will begin sharing artistic director William Starrett, who is now with the Columbia City Ballet.

"By coming together, pooling resources, needs, strengths, gifts and talents, we are ensuring a win-win situation for everyone," Starrett said. "Greenville gets an award-winning professional ballet company, and Columbia and Richland County can retain its talent."

Greenville's artistic director resigned last year. Without someone to plan for the upcoming season, board members were worried; one even suggested dissolving the Upstate group, said Sheila Cheek, president-elect of South Carolina Ballet in Greenville.

Board members contacted the South Carolina Arts Commission, which suggested that they invite Columbia City Ballet to perform its production of "Dracula."

"That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship," Cheek said.

Talks of forming the state's largest professional dance troupe grew serious when the groups realized they both aimed to build a statewide professional dance company that would tour the southeastern United States, Mock said.

As part of the merger, Columbia City Ballet will perform its four-performance season in Greenville at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, as well as in Columbia at the Koger Center for the Arts.

The longer seasons will give dancers longer contracts. With longer contracts, organizers hope to keep talent in-state and attract more out-of-state talent.

"As a performer, I think it's wonderful," said Mariclare Miranda, prima ballerina of Columbia City Ballet.

Dancers are often lured from South Carolina to other markets, where the seasons are sometimes longer, the money and benefits better and the exposure greater, said Miranda, who is part owner of Columbia Conservatory of Dance.

Now, South Carolina Ballet dancers will be able to perform in two venues, and organizers hope to eventually partner with companies in other areas of the state. Already, Columbia City Ballet is set to perform the first two of its four productions in Myrtle Beach.

The 2003-04 season begins in October with the production of "Dracula" in Greenville and Columbia. It continues with "The Nutcracker" in December, "Romeo and Juliet" in February and "Sleeping Beauty" in March.