[image-1]Columbia City Ballet’s executive and artistic director William Starrett has been working on the concept of a spiritual ballet for more than a decade.

It all started with Off the Wall & Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green, Starrett’s 2005 homage to the art of Lowcountry artist Jonathan Green. “There was such a spiritual response [to that production] that I was not anticipating,” says Starrett.
Nine years after the overwhelming success of his Jonathan Green ballet, another of Starrett’s artistic role models, Maya Angelou, passed away. Starrett was thinking that maybe he would craft the nascent ideas in his head into a tribute to this woman he so admired. But that never came to fruition. And then, a year later, on June 17, 2015, there was the shooting of nine people in prayer at Emanuel AME. Starrett knew it was time to put a new production in motion.

According to the Post and Courier, the 90-minute ballet Emanuel: Love is the Answer will be “organized into three parts” and will include a “series of danced vignettes” set to projected videos — including speeches and comments from political leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa — and images (including Green’s Gullah-inspired paintings). Starrett says the ballet encourages healing and understanding: “I was so worried, after the shooting, about how the community would react. But the message of forgiveness came so loud and clear.”

Starrett believes that the timing of the play’s premiere makes sense given the state of the world, saying, “There’s so much unrest around the world, we need hope, and we need a tool to navigate our challenges today.” Starrett hopes that the audience will enjoy the ballet, but more than that he hopes that the audience will walk away with a plan of action, with the “strength and motivation to go forward every day, moment to moment.”

The ballet premieres at the Sottile Theatre Sat., April 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (866) 811-4111.

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