Ron Colton

Obituary
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  • "I am so sorry to learn of Cousin Ronnie's death. We met..."
    - Barbara Colton
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    - Maria Carter
  • "Sad to learn about cousin Ron's passing. I only knew him..."
    - Paul Buchalter
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    - Carla Randolph Cook
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    - Fran Peters
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Ron Colton died peacefully at home Wednesday night, August 3rd, with his wife at his side. Ron Colton set Augusta dancing around him. And the world beyond Augusta took notice. Colton, who had danced with Balanchine's New York City Ballet and the Slavenska/Franklin company, and then taught dance in Chicago, moved to Augusta in 1964 to become artistic director of the Augusta Civic Ballet and Owner/Director of the Augusta Ballet School Within a short time, his brilliant teaching, eye for talent, and exacting standards grew a civic ballet company into a professional ballet company which drew attention to Augusta from all over the nation. Colton's gifts as a teacher, developing young dancers into disciplined performers with impeccable technique and artistry, made the company a national model for the high artistic standards that could be achieved in a small city. He launched careers for scores of dancers and choreographers. A Dance Magazine writer noted, "Whenever the director of a resident company complains that his community is too small to yield good material for him to train, I cannot help but think of groups like the Augusta Ballet. Ron Colton doesn't 'find' material. He makes it." When he began in the 1960s, Colton was the Augusta Ballet School's sole teacher. By the 1990s, he taught with a staff of teachers who had been his students. The professional August Ballet Company had 12 dancers, a resident choreographer, an eclectic repertoire, and a 32-week season. Colton was the last standing of the "three pillars" of Augusta's remarkable arts community of the 1980s and 1990s. Ed Bradberry, artistic director of the Augusta Opera Company, Harry Jacobs, founder of the Augusta Symphony, and Colton were friends and collaborators: Colton's dancers often performed in Bradberry's opera productions, Jacobs' musicians often provided the music for Colton's ballets. But when Colton was a kid growing up in Detroit, he wasn't planning to be a pillar of anything. His dad was a projectionist and that job was the pinnacle of any boy's aspirations . . . Until, when he was 13, he saw a Gene Kelly movie. At that point, "Gotta dance, gotta dance!" became his life's theme song. He studied ballet for four years in Detroit. At 17, he moved to New York City and landed a job at Radio City Music Hall-four shows a day. He lived with roommates in what he described as "a closet with an air shaft," all of them subsisting on so little that he was selected to go steal sugar from the local Horn and Hardart's automat. Mia Slavenska and Frederic Franklin discovered him and offered him a place in their new company. He toured all over the country with the company, then Japan-the first company to tour in Japan after the war. In the early 1950s, Colton became the youngest member of George Balanchine's New York City Ballet. He danced in Balanchine's very first Nutcracker. Eventually he would bring Nutcracker to his own ballet company in Augusta, where it has been a Christmas season staple for the last 45 years. Colton never thought that being in a small southern city meant having to compromise artistic standards-or standards of social justice, either. He accepted the job in Augusta only after being assured that black students as well as white would be welcome. Russell Joel Brown and his sister, Karen, were two of Colton's African-American students. Karen became principal ballerina with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Russell performs in the cast of The Lion King on Broadway. "Ron's influence in my life cannot be overstated," Russell Brown said. "When Ron came to town he said, 'I'll teach any children who want to learn.' Ron always encouraged me, pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and nurtured my dance ambitions. When I became an adult, we developed a beautiful friendship. I do love that man, for all he has done for me, but also for all he has been to this community." Cindy O'Brien, who studied in the Augusta Ballet School as a girl, took life lessons from Colton's teaching. "He had amazing courage and conviction. We saw it and felt it and it influenced us to keep those same core habits. The seed Ron planted was commitment to doing the best regardless of what you had to work with. We found out who we were in that dance studio." Colton served on panels for the Governor's School for the Arts in South Carolina, and the South Carolina Arts Commission; he was a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts and served on the Dance panel for the Georgia Council for the Arts. He received the Georgia Governor's Award for Achievement in the Arts in 1981. He served on the Greater Augusta Arts Council and was on the Board of Directors of Regional Dance America/Southeastern Regional Ballet Association. He was host director four times for the Regional Dance America/Southeastern Regional Ballet Association Festival in Augusta. The Augusta Ballet Company received the designations of "Major Company" and "Honor Company." Colton's powerful legacy continues to live on in Dance Augusta where Colton was the Artistic Director Emeritus. Dance Augusta, with Colton's wife Zanne as Artistic Director is the official dance company of the Augusta Ballet School. Along with Zanne, Colton is survived by his daughter, Leslie Colton Long of Atlanta, (her husband Brad,) and his sister-in-law, Bon Ellis of Augusta. An announcement will be made at a later date about a remembrance for Colton. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Dance Augusta, Inc. Please sign the guestbook at: www.plattsfuneralhome.com Platt's Funeral Home, 721 Crawford Avenue, Augusta, GA 30904 The Augusta Chronicle-August 7, 2016


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Augusta, GA 30904
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