CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: 43rd Annual Winter Repertory Gala
A Dance Review & Some Random Thoughts by Julinda D. Lewis
At: The Woman’s Club Auditorium, 211 East Franklin St., RVA 23219
Performances: February 8 – March 3, 2019
Ticket Prices: $18 for adults; $15 for seniors and students (with valid ID); and $12 for children
Info: (804) 798-0945 or www.concertballet.com
It has been awhile – at least two years, maybe three – since I’ve seen a performance by the Concert Ballet of Virginia. This company, which describes itself a “collection of unsalaried Virginians. . .operating within the framework of a full-scale professional dance company” occupies a unique position. Based on a mission to reach large, diverse audiences, the performing company itself is a form of outreach, offering performing opportunities to many who want to experience ballet without the commitment of a full-time professional career. Many performances take place in schools, bringing storybook ballets and dance exploration to students of all levels.
The company also offers two annual gala programs at The Woman’s Club Auditorium on East Franklin St. The recent 43rd Annual Winter Gala, held February 24, included live music by The Concert Ballet Orchestra and two new works, The Banks of Green Willow, choreographed by Concert Ballet dancers Allie Davis and Will Taylor and Circus, a collaborative story ballet created by three Concert Ballet dancers – Toni Lathan, Allie Davis, and Valerie Shcherbakova –to Norman Dello Joio’s “Satiric Dances.”
The Banks of Green Willow, set to music arranged by Richard Schwartz (Symphonic Winds and The Concert Ballet Orchestra), tells the story of an elegant couple in evening dress returning home through a park after enjoying an evening at the ballet. The rich black and green costumes work well with what appears to be a Victorian-era set, featuring gas lamps and a park bench. Concert Ballet dancers Allie Davis and Will Taylor choreographed the piece, keeping the choreography sweet, uncomplicated, and effective for the scene they created.
Circus is a colorful finale piece that includes dancers of all ages and abilities. There are acrobats and tumblers, a snake charmer, tigers, monkeys, a strong man, and more, all under the big top. Company director Scott Boyer takes on the role of an evil Magician, who appears to be vying with the troupe’s Snake Charmer for the affections of the circus’ Tightrope Walker – who looks like the ballerina atop a classic music box.
The program also included works from the Concert Ballet repertory, including an East Indian inspired Sleeping Beauty ballet, Naila, for the junior dancers with stylized movements, a very red-themed and festive Fledermaus, choreographed by Scott Boyer to music by Johann Strauss, and a revival of the company’s “Emperor Waltz.” If I am economical with details, it is because the programs were mis-printed, and The Concert Ballet Orchestra conductor, Iris Schwartz, announced the music and dance selections – without benefit of a microphone.
One thing this company does very well is backdrops and sets. The Fledermaus set included three gigantic chandeliers against the all-red backdrop; The Emperor Waltz featured Greek goddess dresses with Grecian pillars and candelabra – some with real lights – and Naila had some very pretty Alladin-esque costumes.
Another thing they do well is provide live music. Between dances, the orchestra offered a variety of selections from patriotic marches to Gilbert and Sullivan to Big Band.
At the Woman’s Club, there are a couple dozen tables where audience members can sit cabaret-style and order desserts and coffee prior to the start of the program, and during intermission. Most of the audience members appeared to be family and friends of the performers. The program is family friendly, and there were many toddlers in attendance – most of whom were surprisingly attentive! At least one dad ignored the pre-show announcement not to take photographs or make video recordings, and no one seemed to mind.
I chatted with a young woman seated near me – we weren’t seated at a table but sat on chairs in two rows at the rear of the room. (There were also seats in the balcony – the program was well attended. It was, in fact, a full house.) She didn’t have family or friends in the cast but had seen the program listed on Facebook and decided to come as she’s trying to sample more of the culture that Richmond has to offer. While I enjoyed the music and admired the sets and costumes, I had some major private thoughts about the caliber of the dancing: flexed feet; uneven lines; unsteady balances; dancers looking at other dancers for cues, and more. But my companion for the day had no such reservations and indicated that she plans to come to the next performance as well. I think that is just the sort of outreach education The Concert Ballet of Virginia aims for. Some of the characteristics I consider signs of professionalism might be deterrents to someone who is new to dance, or who wants to be entertained, but not. . .challenged. Perhaps she will come again. Perhaps she will also want to sample some of the contemporary dance and other local offerings. Did I witness the birth of a new audience member – a potential patron of the arts? I hope I see her again.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: There were no photographs available at the time of publication.