The Blog


Photo Courtesy of Craig Rhodes  (SEAS  ’18)

As announced at the end of last semester, Shake Shack is opening a location right by campus. And thanks to a tip from one of the new location’s employees, we now know that the Columbia Shake Shack will be open starting Wednesday.

As the location prepares to open, employees can be seen cleaning the streets, loading in burger buns, and learning the new ordering systems.

For all the incoming NSOP Orientation Leaders, who report for training on the same day, Wednesday is going to be a great day for coming back to campus.

Founded in 2007 by five professional ballet dancers enrolled at Columbia University, CBC (The Columbia Ballet Collaborative) is comprised of students from all of the University’s undergraduate colleges and affiliates.

On April 15th, the Columbia Ballet Collaborative held their Spring Performances celebrating the CBC’s 10th anniversary season.

A performance set in seven acts, the program showcased ballerinxs (ballerinas and danseurs) of every level, including several professional alumni of years passed. In a packed Miller Theatre, these students past and present brought to life the stunning choreography of seven different nationally-recognized choreographers, including George Balanchine, Caitlin Dieck Locke, Richard Isaac, Barry Kerollis, Emery LeCrone, Craig Salstein, and Claudia Schreier.

While choreographers have the responsibility to shape the movements of the dancers, ballerinxs invest their time, sweat, and emotion into making those pieces translate from the page to the stage.

In the first performance of the night “Five Songs for the Piano” (2010), five ballerinas combined classical movements with loose hair, gestural port de bras, and a constant opening and regression of limbs that mirrored their intense expressions as strands of hair swept back and forth with each motion, obscuring them from view. The piece was not the most technically demanding of the night, but the coordination and skill invested by the dancers, as well as the technical lighting that cast each effort into relief, did more than justice to LeCrone’s construction across five intensely expressive musical pieces.

Choreographer Emery LeCrone: “This piece is about exploring the deep root of our identity and trying to tap into that uniqueness on stage.”

"Five Songs for Piano" choreographed by Emery LeCrone; original score by Mendelssohn. Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Elizabeth Ratze, Sophia Salingaros, Sophia Loo and Allegra Herman.

“Five Songs for Piano” choreographed by Emery LeCrone; original score by Mendelssohn.
Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Elizabeth Ratze, Sophia Salingaros, Sophia Loo and Allegra Herman.

Altogether, “Five Songs for Piano” told a story of coming into one’s own identity, a moment of growth and personal exploration that could also be witnessed on the stage as the ballerinas each brought to life a song with the support of her sisters en attitude.

The second piece “Les Neuf Danseuses” featured a cast entirely composed of CBC Alumni. A beautiful demonstration of coordination– and an impressive set to manage on a small stage– lit up the Miller Theatre as the audience witnessed the CBC’s trademark choreographic meld of modern styles with classical techniques and control.

The key to the audience’s heart, however, came with the third act, when they were introduced to the show-stealing sophomore Nicholas Rio in Claudia Shreier’s choreographic masterpiece “Harmonic.” The ballerinas and the danseur moved through the choreography naturally, as though they were familiar enough with the piece to perform with their eyes closed. Their lifts were smooth and showed no strain, their facial expressions were matched perfectly to the mood of the music and choreography.

A short intermission was followed by several more moving pieces, including master choreographer Barry Kerollis’ “Diagnosis,” once more starring Nicholas Rio and introducing into the spotlight other stars of the night, including ballerina Clara Monk, whose control and flexibility left the audience breathless. The difficulty level of these pieces (including some stunning excerpts from George Balanchine’s masterpiece “Serenade” and the flowing interpretive work of Richard Isaac’s “Troublemaker”) was on par with that expected from a fully professional dance collaborative, and the emotion in their expressions was genuine, affecting the whole audience as they became more than observers in the dancers’ struggle– as can be previewed in the video sample of “Diagnosis” below (gracefully provided through Kerollis and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative):

The night closed with Craig Salstein’s “Blooming Bouquet,” a clever piece that imitates the playful interactions between practicing dancers with rapid sequences of grand jetés and contagious laughter as the delightful young ballerinxs chase each other across the floor, seemingly weightless.

"Blooming Bouquet" choreographed by Craig Salstein. Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Alex Susi and an unidentified ballerina at Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

“Blooming Bouquet” choreographed by Craig Salstein. Photo: Eduardo Patino — featuring Alex Susi and an unidentified ballerina at Miller Theatre at Columbia University.

Smiles remained, but tears bloomed as the dance came to an end and the audience regretfully bid goodbye to the show and the graduating seniors who performed one last time as active Columbia students. The audience could only hope that they would return as alumni for future CBC performances; this hope came through loudly in a cacophony of cheers and a raucous standing ovation that lingered in the air even after the ballerinxs exited.

Illustration by Laura Elizabeth Hand

 

Prior to the Columbia University Orchestra performance at Alice Tully Hall, my most recent event at Lincoln Center was Yo-Yo Ma’s breathtaking cello performance of Symphonie Fantastique. Yo-Yo Ma climbed to the highest note of his cello while we climbed to the edges of our seats. Here, instead of the back corner box, I am in the front, my gaze catching on an audience that has exchanged black gowns and reserved enthusiasm for H&M and outright fervor.

The spring concert will lead with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (1868), and then eventually trail into Columbia’s own rendition of Symphonie Fantastique with a different cellist starring. Alec Hon’s performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D Major (1783) is set to follow Tristan and Isolde first, however, ushering the packed— sold-out— hall into intermission and then the closing march of Berlioz’s Episode from the Life of an Artist: Symphonie Fantastique (1830).

Heels and blue jeans, overexcited parents and a girl in a blue down jacket (leaning in to gesture frantically at a distracted violinist) are the signs marking the rapid growth of our audience as they press into the general admission seating. The vibrations and eerie peels of the stringed instruments begin as they warm up for the highly-anticipated spring concert. Soon enough, the wind instruments’ lend trills to the rising atmosphere.

In the final moments before Tristan and Isolde begins, there is a brief interlude of frantic applause followed by absolute silence.

Then the sound and the silence that punctuates its phrases begins and the audience is spellbound. Even Yo-Yo Ma did not command this degree of respect from his audience. The musicians and the conductor are clearly responding, as the synchronized sweep of elbows gains in pace and coordination. If music is not their first love, as is the case for Chris James, violinist first-year studying psychology (whose proud uncle sits next to me with his torso half twisted over the edge of the balcony box for a better view), it may yet prove to be their finest.

The musicians move with the music, and the audience is moved. Perhaps a finger slips with perspiration here or there, but the overall effect of the students’ passion is unmistakable and impossible to ignore. In a perfect cycle, a moment of silence, then thunderous applause also carries the piece to a close.

After a few minutes of the muffled brush of gowns, squeak of instruments, and squeal of shuffled chairs, all of the sounds of musicians rearranging themselves for a piece, the strings once more coral the audience into submission for Alec Hon as he takes his cello and takes center stage.

During the Cello Concerto, he pants against his cello as the music rises, sweat visible on his forehead, effort and nerves carrying a different tone into the bars. As each run ends, his right shoulder drops and the bow falls back, leaving the responsibility of the piece to his fellow musicians, who perform the piece with frantic energy. When his part comes again, Hon plays without reference or prompt, and the only moving bodies in the room belong to Alec and the third bass player, who attempts to surreptitiously duck away for a second’s relief from the heat of the lights and his stifling formal wear.

When they come together again, the piece comes to a close, ending with a bow and a fond pat on Hon’s cheek by the pleased conductor. The audience rises to a standing ovation.

Intermission is accompanied by the inevitable gush of exiting audience members bottlenecking in the halls and loudly declaring their opinions on the pieces performed thus far. The discourse seems overwhelmingly favorable.

As the audience members make their more subdued return to their seats, there is renewed enthusiasm for Symphonie Fantastique, which I share but pair with some trepidation. Having recently viewed the undisputed master of the cello take on this piece, how will I review an admittedly incredibly talented student orchestra?

I needn’t have worried. While the piece is nearly unrecognizable from the psychedelic interpretation of Berlioz Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic offered, it clearly demonstrates budding mastery of a different style. This is perhaps most evident in the softer percussion and the presentation of the Fourth and Fifth movements. Instead of pushing forward with the shrill nerves of the dream as I first heard it played, the Columbia University Orchestra offers rolling swells of music that invoke a deeper introspection than the NYPhil’s lucid dreams.

Indeed, after the concert ends and the applause grows louder than ever before, I find myself thinking it would be hard to find a member of either audience who did not fall in love with Berlioz and the musicians who brought him to the stage.

The night closes with a lingering audience and many proud tears, the Spring Concert happily demonstrating itself a roaring success.