When the Augusta Ballet brought the Dance Theatre of Harlem to town last January for its inaugural New Traditions Festival, organizers were hoping to expose dance to an audience that may not have previously had the opportunity to experience it.
“We had about 400 kids coming in with complimentary tickets from different agencies up in the balconies and they loved it and had great response from them,” said Jim Smith, president of the Augusta Ballet Board of Trustees. “We sold a lot of tickets and filled the Bell, which was the largest audience for ballet in Augusta’s history. The thing we really wanted to do with this company and this festival was expand the audience for ballet in Augusta and we did that.”
This year, festival organizers are again aiming high, booking Philadanco, founded by African American dance icon and 2012 National Medal of the Arts recipient Joan Myers Brown, for a weekend filled with activities.
Festival events begin with a reception for the storied ballet troupe, formed in 1970, Thursday evening, February 2. Then, on Friday, February 3, dancers will spend the day in outreach and education, which is one of the missions of the company as well as the Augusta Ballet.
As the Dance Theatre of Harlem did last year, dancers from Philadanco will lead two demonstrations at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet school, one for younger children from other schools in the area and another for Davidson students.
“The questions from the kids last year were very interesting,” Smith laughed. “They had a Q&A session at the end of the Davidson performance and one girl stood up and said, ‘How can you not be so scared? How can you take these leaps?’ So it’s very interesting.”
From there the dancers will head to Paine College, where they’ll hold an athletic workshop for basketball players there, teaching them techniques to improve flexibility.
“There are some NBA stars who are trained in this way, and the coach last year was very pleased with the results and said he had never experienced that, so it was quite a fun experience,” Smith said.
After the Paine Workshop, Philadanco dancers will then go to Colton Ballet, where they’ll lead two master dance classes, one for intermediate dancers and one for advanced.
“People have to have a certain amount of dance training and experience before they can go to these classes, and we get a lot of aspiring dancers from around the Augusta area,” he said. “We haven’t limited it to youth, but most of the people who attend are young. There are some adult students at Colton and other ballet companies and they are welcome to attend if they wish.”
The festival will culminate, of course, with the Philadanco performance Saturday night, February 4, at the Bell Auditorium. And, in keeping with the festival’s mission, organizers are bringing in help to get tickets to those who might not otherwise attend a ballet performance.
Community partners like The Links, an African American women’s organization with an active local chapter, will sell tickets, while 17 different community organizations (up from 13 last year) will get tickets to children.
“This year, we’ve given out over 600 tickets to 17 different agencies, and every agency that sent people last year will send more this year,” Smith said. “We have the back balconies filled with kids and their chaperones, parents and teachers.”
The New Traditions Festival began almost accidentally after the group found the Dance Theatre of Harlem was available in 2016 and realized they needed a bigger venue and that dancers would be available for educational programs as well. Response has been so overwhelmingly positive, that Smith said the Augusta Ballet is already planning for future festivals.
“We had such a great response, particularly from the African American community, we went out looking for another company that had a similar profile and we had a lot of our traditional audience at the show last year and they were very happy with it and they told us they really enjoyed it, so we thought we’d try one more time with Philadanco,” he said. “I think in the future, we’ll probably blend in some classical companies, some other companies. We’re talking to several right now about next year, so we do intend to continue the festival.”
New Traditions Festival
Master Dance Classes
Friday, February 3
4:30-6 p.m.: Intermediate
6:30-8 p.m.: Advanced
Saturday, February 4
Augusta Ballet Superheroes
Visit augustaballet.org for more information on these events.