Community brings the arts alive in Augusta

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When Ms. Everitt came to the Augusta Ballet board four years ago, the ballet was a very different organization. Still conjoined with the Augusta Ballet School, it was a professional dance company tasked with mounting a season of productions.

Today, the school and ballet are split, and Ms. Everitt, who has a daughter dancing for the Augusta Ballet School, finds herself balanced between two separate, equally important, worlds.

"I see the need to have one of the very best dance studios as well as a presenting organization like the Augusta Ballet that can bring world-class dance to Augusta," she said. "I see them as serving very different needs, both vital to our arts community."

The Augusta Ballet will present the installation Slow Dancing exhibit at the Westobou Festival in September and a performance by the Aspen Sante Fe Ballet dance company in May.

"I'm so excited I can barely stand it," Ms. Everitt said. "To be a part of this season, it's amazing. It really is about giving people the opportunity to see something they have never seen before."

Ms. Everitt said a board brings an an intangible to the table that is measured in more than numbers.

"It comes down to having a group of people that is passionate about what they are doing," she said. "I mean, you can't beat passion with a stick. You bring a group of people together who want to do something great for Augusta -- well, then everything is possible."

For Ms. Hesse, accepting a permanent position in the Augusta Symphony meant more than finding a permanent gig with an established ensemble -- a grail for most in the classical music world. It was also a homecoming.

Ms. Hesse was reared in Aiken and graduated from the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in 2001. She did her undergraduate work at the University of South Carolina and earned a master's of music performance from Arizona State University this year. She had played half a season for the Tucson Symphony.

"It's funny, because I never thought I would come back," she said. "I wasn't sure I wanted to. It wasn't that I didn't like the South, but I wanted to see other places. But now I have seen places, lived in other places, played a lot of places and now that I've done that, I'm really glad to come back."

Ms. Hesse said she has always been attracted to being part of a massive musical engine.

"I like being part of that bigger team," she said. "A symphony is just such a powerful thing to be a part of. There's nothing like it when you are out there playing. It's incredible."

The appeal is compounded by the Augusta Symphony's season plans. Over four concerts, the symphony will "audition" four conductors vying to replace long-standing maestro Donald Portnoy.

"To come back in the midst of change actually makes it better," Ms. Hesse said. "It's going to be so interesting to see. It's all working out really well.

"I couldn't be happier."

Michele' Hattman has been an Augusta theatrical fixture for more than 20 years.

With scissors and straight pins at the ready, she has costumed productions for most of the major arts groups in the city.

Often recognized as the Fat Man's costume queen, Ms. Hattman struck out on her own after that business closed in the spring, continuing to costume the entire time.

She said she was working on a production for Storyland Theatre when she heard of the closing.

"We just kept on going," she said.

Ms. Hattman, who learned to sew at 4 and started working on a sewing machine at 6, said there's a thrill in producing wardrobe for the stage that she has never tired of.

"It's about taking a folded piece of fabric and a package of sequins and watching it blossom," she said. "It doesn't matter what it is -- a fairy princess, Cinderella, whatever -- but that feeling of seeing it come to life and knowing you had a part in it is amazing."

She said part of the appeal is analyzing the specific needs of each costume and then finding ways to make them work. She is working with the Augusta Opera on its blood-soaked production of Sweeney Todd .

She said that although the costumes are fairly standard period pieces, engineering them for the special effects and musical theater requirements takes thought.

"Fitting a dancer, for instance, is very different," she explained. "The trousers have to rise higher so they don't catch during movement. So those are questions we ask -- how much dancing or moving or crawling around does a character have to do? It affects how a costume is constructed."


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