From CU Bellydance to Raw Elementz and CU Swing to Taal, Columbia dancers have the opportunity to perform in virtually any style and any setting. But until now, there has been at least one exception—classical ballet.
Starting this semester, classically trained ballet dancers Rebecca Bass and Rebecca Schwarz, both BC ’15, are bringing classical ballet to Columbia with the formation of the Columbia University Ballet Ensemble.
“Our goal is to have the dancers perform and learn repertory,” Schwarz, CUBE’s executive director, said. “There’s no opportunity on campus to learn parts of the classical repertory which are the vocabulary of ballet. Those story ballets are the foundation from which contemporary pieces are then built.”
CUBE seeks to reproduce works in the classical ballet canon.
“The big difference between us and CBC [Columbia Ballet Collaborative] is that we’re doing classical choreography, whereas CBC’s mission is to create new contemporary works,” Bass, the group’s artistic director, said.
While CBC allows professional and student contemporary choreographers to experiment on willing bodies, CUBE uses student repetiteurs who learn original choreography from videos and teach it to CUBE’s cast of 32 dancers. This semester, CUBE will be performing Act III of “Sleeping Beauty” at the end of the semester and will be drawing from Marius Petipa’s 19th-century choreography.
“We were actually so impressed with the level of dancers at auditions that we had to add fairies to add variations and solos because we wanted to make sure everyone was showcased,” Bass said. “Then again, in our core group of dancers for the bigger pieces there is a fairly large range in talent. The idea is really to maintain the integrity of the traditional choreography as much as possible, so I guess it will turn into a learning experience for most of the less-experienced dancers.”
The promise of learning classical repertory has attracted a subsection of the dance community that doesn’t often make the transition from the studio to the stage.
“There are a lot of people who wouldn’t have come out to CBC or Orchesis to audition because they don’t feel comfortable, or they feel like they just have more experience with classical ballet,” Bass said.
Since CUBE is not yet recognized by the University, it must raise money for its own costumes, performance space, and other expenses, since it is only a month-old club. The group’s eventual goal is to mount full-length ballets on a proper proscenium stage. For now, they plan to hold this semester’s performance in Barnard’s basement studio.
Bass and Schwarz are hopeful for CUBE’s future.
“We got a lot of people thanking us at the audition for making an opportunity for classical dance,” Bass said.