One of my journalism professors once told me that numbers tell the story. I believe there are exceptions to that rule.
How for instance, does one quantify a life like that of Ron Colton, the founder of Augusta Ballet?
Do you count the number of students he taught? It’s a number, I would imagine, too expansive to accurately record. How about dancers he directed? There were an awful lot of productions, and the Nutcrackers alone make that number difficult to determine. How about audiences he impressed, individuals he inspired or smiles generated by a kind word, compliment or one of his famously wry asides?
You simply can’t count the accomplishments of a man like Ron Colton. What you can be sure of is those accomplishments add up to a life that counted.
Colton, who died Aug. 3, first came to Augusta in 1964. To say his arrival marked something of a sea change in the community’s cultural landscape might, in fact, be understating his impact.
Not only did Colton transform what was then called the Augusta Civic Ballet into a professional company of note, but he opened the still very vital Augusta Ballet School and, thumbing his nose at the perceived norms of the segregated south, brought dance to any child – black or white – willing to work and wanting to dance. It’s easy to forget what a gift Colton was to Augusta. A former George Balanchine dancer who had danced in the New York City Ballet’s inaugural Nutcracker, he was not a journeyman looking for a convenient place to hang his hat. He was a gifted artist and teacher looking for a community that would inspire him and that he, in turn, could inspire as well.
And that, I believe, was his greatest gift.
To spend any time with Ron Colton was to be inspired by him. I have never, by any measure of the word, been a dancer – a fact Colton may have been quietly grateful of. But that does not mean that I was unable to tap into his reserve of passion and knowledge and concern. I always felt that dance, for him, was the obvious and natural device for accomplishing goals that extended well beyond ballet.
Talking to him was to see a vision of Augusta as a true creative capital, a city that not only possessed the potential to become something great and important, but that was in fact well on its way. He was, of course, correct.
What he would never admit, or perhaps did not even realize, is that so many strides forward – be it in the realm of dance or merely the creative community as a whole – could be traced directly back to him. His successes taught so many, myself included, that striving for artistic excellence, demanding quality of those around you and finding the joy that is foundational to the creative process would always pay dividends.
And so I ask that we all spare a moment to remember Ron, mourn with his wife, Zanne, and their family and friends. Just a moment. And when that moment has passed, go create something – something that is both beautiful and meaningful. Do it for Ron Colton and do it because if he taught us one thing, it is that the simple act of creation can have a significant effect.
How significant is impossible to say. Some things just can’t be counted.