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Get cultured with 3 performing arts events at University of South Carolina

Sara Mearns, a Columbia native and principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, will perform as part of the Ballet Stars of New York fundraiser for the University of South Carolina School of Theatre & Dance.
Sara Mearns, a Columbia native and principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, will perform as part of the Ballet Stars of New York fundraiser for the University of South Carolina School of Theatre & Dance. Courtesy of the USC School of Theatre & Dance

The performing arts scene is thriving and growing at the University of South Carolina, and one only needs to look at the schedule for this weekend for proof. You'll find a ballet performance, opera and a classic play with a modern twist.

The 13th Annual Ballet Stars of New York’s gala performance — which showcases students as well as renowned professional dancers — is Sunday, April 15, at the Koger Center for the Arts. The Lanny and Sidney Palmer One Act Series by Opera at USC is Saturday, April 14, and Sunday, April 15, at USC’s School of Music Recital Hall. And “Sense and Sensibility,” a play based on Jane Austen's novel, begins its weeklong performance on Friday, April 13, at Drayton Hall Theatre.

“The Department of Theatre and Dance is committed to the pursuit of excellence, and bringing great art to the greatest number,” says Robert Richmond, the department's chairman. “This weekend, that mission takes the form of connecting our audiences with five of the world’s top ballet talents and producing the work of one of the country’s brightest and most popular playwrights.”

And USC’s School of Music is adding to that: “The one-act series was established to provide more performing opportunities for our students and to allow people a chance to see opera in a different setting,” says Ellen Douglas Schlaefer, director of opera studies.

Here is a look at the three events going on this weekend:

Ballet Stars of New York Gala Performance

When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, April 15.

Where: Koger Center, 1051 Greene St.

Tickets: Starting at $25 ($15 for students) at www.kogercenterforthearts.com.

Worth noting: A gala fundraiser will follow the performance. Tickets — available only through the USC Dance Program office — include admission to the gala, to be held backstage at the Koger Center; orchestra seating during the concert; and complimentary valet parking. Gala tickets are $150 per person at 803-777-1001. Proceeds benefit scholarships for the university’s dance program.

For the 13th year, the dance department brings principal dancers from the New York City Ballet to the Koger Center in Columbia.

Robert Fairchild.

Robert Fairchild — nominated last year for a Tony Award for Leading Actor in a Musical for his debut in “An American in Paris” — will headline the performers. Fairchild recently appeared as The Creature in the off-Broadway production of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which he also choreographed.

“It’s a great experience for our students because they get the opportunity to dance with world-class dancers on the stage of the Koger Center with a full orchestra, which is not something they normally get to do,” says concert director Stacey Calvert, a former soloist with the New York City Ballet and a distinguished artist-in-residence and senior instructor school director for the USC Dance Conservatory.

“It also gives them an understanding of the level of talent and hard work that it takes to become a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. It’s just an experience they’ll never forget.”

Students from the USC Dance Company will perform with the special guests artists, who also include Sara Mearns, Jared Angle and Anthony Huxley.

Mearns, a Columbia native, has also performed on Broadway. She began her ballet training at Columbia’s Calvert-Brodie School of Dance, under the tutelage of Ann Brodie. She first gained major recognition with the New York City Ballet in 2006 performing the lead role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” and was promoted to principal dancer in 2008.

Works by George Balanchine, (“Allegro Brillante" and “Stars and Stripes”) and Justin Peck’s “The Bright Motion” will be performed.

The Lanny and Sidney Palmer One Act Series

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14; 3 p.m. Sunday, April 15.

Where: USC School of Music Recital Hall, 813 Assembly St.

Tickets: Free.

Info: www.sc.edu/music.

Opera at USC offers a free taste of opera with two one-act comedies, “Le 66” by Jacques Offenbach, which will be sung in French, and “La cambiale di matrimonio” by Gioachino Rossini, which will be sung in Italian. Both will have English supertitles and a piano accompanist.

“The one-acts are a great way to get acquainted with opera up-close and personal and free of charge,” Schlaefer says. “These are entirely student run — and are usually directed by a graduate directing student.”

This year, the one-act operas will be directed by Tyler Eighmey, a second-year master’s student working toward a degree in music with a concentration in opera theater stage direction.

“Le 66” takes place in Canada in 1962. Cousins Frantz and Grittly have heard that Grittly’s sister is in trouble and are hitchhiking across Canada to come to her aid.

On their way, they meet Berthold, a traveling salesman. He says Frantz has the winning numbers to a lottery. Frantz borrows money from the salesman and goes on a spending spree, coming back dressed in absurd luxury. Grittly, Berthold and Frantz soon find out how money can truly change a person.

“La cambiale di matrimonio”, or “The Marriage Contract,” is set in London in 1810. Tobia Mill is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a fellow shopkeeper Slook, who is traveling from the New World. Tobia has secret plans to marry his daughter Fanny to this man and has all the pieces in place.

But when Fanny finds out, she begins plotting with her secret lover Edoardo on how to get rid of this stranger. Slook arrives in London fascinated by their unusual customs and eager to meet his new wife. He soon finds out that she doesn't want anything to do with him.

Kimberly Braun plays Marianne, left, and Libby Hawkins plays Elinore in the University of South Carolina's Department of Theatre and Dance production of "Sense and Sensibility." Jason Ayer Courtesy of USC School of Theatre & Dance

'Sense and Sensibility'

When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, and Tuesday, April 17, through Saturday, April 21; 3 p.m. Sunday, April 15, and Saturday, April 21.

Where: Drayton Hall Theatre, 1214 College St.

Tickets: $22 (with discounts for students, faculty, staff, military service members and seniors 60 and older) at theatre.sc.edu.

Jane Austen’s classic story has been adapted to a comical, theatrical stage version by Kate Hamill. The Dashwood sisters — prudent Elinore and impulsive Marianne — find their world changed when their father dies, losing their wealth, social standing, and therefore their chances for marriage.

As they struggle to navigate a life of little means and become entangled in complicated romances, the sisters must learn from their opposite temperaments to find true happiness.

“My go-to catchphrase about this show is that it’s a frothy romp through a Jane Austen dream world,” says director Lindsay Rae Taylor, a second-year master's candidate at USC. “It’s light and airy and filled with love.”

Hamill has become known for her adaptations of classic novels.

“I think what Kate Hamill does really well with this adaptation is that she has placed a cinematic narrative in a playful, circus-like setting,” says Taylor. “You’re barely in one place before you move on to something else. It’s almost like the play is a continual series of transitions. It’s a beautiful ribbon of storytelling that highlights the humor in Jane Austen’s writing.”

The play moves quickly from scene to scene with a constantly moving set, as well as cast of actors working as an ensemble of storytellers.

“Because the whole set needs to have movement and things slide in and slide out, we only use what is necessary to tell the story, and everything has a function,” she says. “And, because we have an ensemble of actors on stage the whole time facilitating those changes, it’s almost like they’re directing our protagonists on their journey. It should be a really beautiful thing to watch.”

While the social complications of Austen’s story, set in the early 19th century, remain intact in the script, Taylor says modern audiences will still have a lot to relate to in this adaptation.

“Kate Hamill has included a group of ‘Gossips’, which are a collection of chatty, heightened, high-society creatures who serve as a sort of Greek chorus for the play. They almost represent a version of social media, always observing and commenting on the action. It creates an atmosphere of always being watched, and often judged, sometimes preventing Elinor and Marianne from responding in the way they want because they are always conscious of how they are perceived.”

Graduate students Kimberly Braun, Kaleb Edward Edley, Libby Hawkins, Darrell Johnston, and Donovan St. Andre, and undergraduates Allie Anderson, Lochlan Angle, Kate Chalfant, Amber Coulter, Olivia Hensley, Tristan Hester, Will Hollerung, Reilly Lucas, Liv Matthews, and John Romanski star in the play.

“I think people have an impression that Jane Austen is boring and stuffy, but Kate Hamill has proved that all wrong,” says Taylor. “She encourages you to be bold and silly with it. How lovely to go to a play and just let it wash over you, to see the actors having fun, and to want to partake in that, too.”