Zanne Colton bows under a shower of confetti April 26 at the Imperial Theatre. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News
Zanne Colton bows under a shower of confetti April 26 at the Imperial Theatre. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Zanne Colton reflects on ‘blessed’ dance career

Looking back on her lifetime of dance, Zanne Colton has nothing but gratitude.

“I’m one fortunate individual,” said Colton, who retired from Colton Ballet Co. after the April 26 production of “Z’s Last Hurrah,” which brought together some of her favorite dance pieces. “I am very blessed to be doing something that I believe I was made to do, created to do, born to do and that I can do it in my hometown.

It was love at first sight when Colton was introduced to ballet as a child.

“I fell in love with dance at 7 years old when I walked into my mother’s adult ballet class,” she said.

Her mother always loved the arts, and she combined her desire to stay in shape with her love for the arts.

Zanne Colton. Courtesy photo

The flow and grace of the movement entranced a young Colton.

Alexis Dolinoff a “crazy Russian from the old school” was Colton’s first teacher, followed by Sallie Carlson, who would later be instrumental (along with Colton’s mother) in founding the Augusta Civic Ballet.

“She was a little girl’s dream of what a ballerina should look like – beautiful body, redhaired. The first time saw her she had wonderful lavender teaching clothes. I was totally enamored of her. She had tremendous taste and great creativity,” she said of Carlson.

In 1964, Ron Colton came to Augusta.

According to a Sept. 6, 1964 article in the Sunday edition of The Augusta Chronicle-Herald, Carlson had relinquished her post as director due to the “pressures of a homemaker’s duties,” and Ron Colton, who had trained under George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet was tapped for the post.

“He took a big old leap of faith and came to Augusta,” said Zanne Colton, who was 14 when he arrived.

Ron Colton, who died in 2016, had traveled the world with dance and chose Augusta as the place to settle down and build a school and dance company.

Ron Colton teaching Zanne Colton. Courtesy photo

“He started the school and took us back to the very beginning. He installed a system, a syllabus within the school. Even though we were older, he took us back to grade one; he took us back to the beginning,” she said.

Dance drew her out of Augusta for a few years.  She traveled to New York City and studied on a scholarship and was part of the Atlanta Ballet for a short time.

“But my heart was here. I loved my home. It was good to be able to have a career here to dance and then teach and direct,” she said.

Ron Colton brought “The Nutcracker” to the area, and Zanne Colton danced in Augusta’s first “Nutcracker” in 1971. The first year she was Dew Drop, but she soon took the role of Sugar Plum Fairy.

The Colton tradition of “The Nutcracker” has been strong ever since.

Dancers, like athletes, don’t have long careers in the spotlight, said Zanne Colton, who made the transition from performing on the stage to training the dancers and directing them on stage.

Some of the greatest memories she has are of the relationships she’s developed over the years, she said.

“My greatest relationship was with my partner, Ron,” she said. “We produced on stage the programs. As long as he was alive, we were working as a partnership. He directed me.”

Caitilin McCormack Phibbs (holding the bouquet) is Colton Ballet Co.’s new artistic director. At right is Carlee Snyder Chastagner who will be the company’s ballet mistress. At left is Rosalind Avrett Jones. Charmain Z Brackett/Augusta Good News

And even though he’s been gone for eight years, she still feels his artistic energy and legacy in the Walton Way studio.

Other artistic relationships include her sister, Bon Ellis, who has been part of the company for many years and is also stepping down, and Peter Powlus, dancer and choreographer who she calls her “greatest friend and partner.”

Both Powlus and Ellis joined her at the end of Friday’s performance.

As she continues into her next phase, she still plans to teach but will leave the production side to another artistic director.

 “Bon and I will be there whenever we are asked to help,” she said.

Caitlin McCormack Phibbs, who danced at Colton Ballet Co. and has choreographed works for the company will be returning to the area to take over as artistic director, while dancer Carlee Snyder Chastagner will be the ballet mistress and principal teacher. Rosalind Avrett Jones is a multi-faceted member of the Colton faculty in charge of many tasks from costuming to social media.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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