STUDIO SERIES/FEBRUARY – DANCES BY OUR DANCERS
A COVID-conscious Pandemic-appropriate Program
A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: The Richmond Ballet, Canal Street Studios, 407 East Canal Street, RVA 23219
Performances: February 9-21, 2021, live and streamed.
Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets start at $25; Virtual Tickets $20. [NOTE: On Sunday, February 21st, virtual ticket buyers will receive an email with information on how to access the performance recording, which will be available to stream for one week. Only one virtual ticket is needed per household. Virtual tickets to Studio Series: February must be purchased by 11:59 pm on Saturday, February 20th.]
Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com. See the Richmond Ballet’s website for their COVID-19 precautions and more.
New Works by Marty Davis, Sarah Ferguson, Eri Nishihara, Ira White
Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty
Choreography after Marius Petipa
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Stolen Moments V.2
Choreography by Val Caniparoli
Music by Jean-Philippe Rameau
[NOTE: If you want to skip my introductory musings, jump to the third paragraph. But if you really care about me, you’ll bear with my rambling train of thought…]
In September 2020, I wrote:
For decades I have attended live performances of dance and theater multiple times a week – occasionally squeezing in two shows in one day. But it has been six months since I have attended a live show, six months since the COVID-19 Pandemic turned out world upside down, six months since COVID-19 made us rethink everything in our lives – including our life-giving arts. In July, I forayed out to a socially-distanced exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and in September, I received an email from the Richmond Ballet asking if I wanted to attend a live performance of their Studio Series.
That was five months ago, and now we are nearly one year into the most life-changing event that any of us has ever experienced. In September, I was impressed by the protocols established by the Richmond Ballet to make everyone, including dancers, staff, and patrons of the arts, feel safe and welcome. These measures include digital tickets and programs, staggered arrival times, socially distanced seating and staggered dismissal, a shortened program without intermission, and no Ballet Bar (the drinking kind, not the exercise kind). The audience must remain masked at all times, and perhaps even more impressive, all the dancers wear masks, even while dancing. The artistic leadership has creatively sought out repertory for solos, duets, or pieces that work with social distance guidelines in place. Only dancers who are married to each other or live in the same household partner one another. The company concluded the fall season with 50 live performances and streaming performances of the holiday classic, “The Nutcracker.”
Out of this spirit of resilience emerged the latest program, “Dances By Our Dancers.” The four new works represent “another way the Richmond Ballet has pivoted during the pandemic,” noted Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, who put out a call for new choreography. Three company dancers and the company photographer – a graduate of the VCU Department of Dance and Choreography – responded. The result was a diverse program of contemporary works, averaging about 5 minutes each. The program concluded with the classic “Wedding Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty after Marius Petipa and Val Caniparoli’s “Stolen Moments V.2.” The latter was originally commissioned by the Richmond Ballet in 2015 and rechoreographed for social distancing.
First up was “Closer Than You Think” by Marty Davis (now in his eighth season with the company.) The duet, set to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” for piano and cello, is a lovely contemporary work full of spirals and turns that seem to represent how the couple approaches their relationship. The unusual 9/8 time signature keeps both the dancers and audience on their toes. Opening night dancers were Abi Goldstein and Jackson Calhoun. (Goldstein is a 7-year company member, while Calhoun is a member of RBII.) Dressed in casual pants and muted colors, the two embodied the spirit of Debussy’s movement poem with its contemplative and somewhat introspective feel – perfect for these times.
In a post-performance discussion for the opening night Choreographer’s Club, Davis confessed that choreographing was “definitely more challenging than I thought it would be.” Veteran choreographer Winslett compared choreography to painting. “The choreographer is the painter,” she said, “and the dancers are the paint – paint with two eyes staring at you!”
Since 2005 Sarah Ferguson has filled several different positions with Richmond Ballet, from arts administrator to tour coordinator to company photography. She can now add choreographer to her vitae. Ferguson’s duet, “Stay,” performed on February 9 by Izabella Tokev and Khalyom Khojaev (both of whom started dancing with RBII in 2016 before moving on to the main company). Against the background of music by Dean Lewis, the piece opens with the drama and intensity reminiscent of flamenco. The dramatic theme is carried forward in the costuming, with Khojaev is dressed in black and white, ad Tokev in a soft pink or mauve. Tokev approaches her partner from behind, softly, and they begin interacting within the framework of a classical structure, using contemporary movement that blends organically with the music. At the end, I wondered if she was real or just a memory of lost love.
Eri Nishihara offered a solo, “A Muse,” to one of her long-time favorite Tchaikovsky piano compositions, “Meditation.” Christopher Devlin Hill’s lighting design painted shadowy trees on the floor, adding to the overall effect of nature and sunset. Sabrina Holland embodies the Muse and the music, and I enjoyed that Nishihara was not afraid to linger in a movement and choreographed expressive moments of stillness. There was one brief moment that took me out of my reverie when the Muse lay on her back with her legs splayed. But the ballet ended with all the feel-good memories of a ballerina spinning atop a wind-up music box.
Company dancer Ira White is a Richmond native who came up through the Richmond Ballet’s outreach program, Minds in Motion, became a trainee, danced with RBII, and is now in his sixth season with the main company. For this program, he offered “Pushing Buttons,” a jazzy elevator encounter set to music by Vince Guaraldi and premiered by dancers Abi Goldstein and Patrick Lennon. Goldstein entered a space already occupied by Lennon. Right away, one could see that she was light-hearted and fun-loving in contrast to Lennon’s no-nonsense demeanor. Goldstein wore a cropped top and causal pants with suspenders, while Lennon wore a button-down white shirt, business slacks, and a vest. Lennon tried, unsuccessfully, to hide behind a newspaper, but Goldstein successfully drew him out to dance with her until, apparently, the elevator reached its destination, and they each departed their separate ways.
After this delightful first course of new works, the program concluded with a pair of more familiar works. Guest artists in residence Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda, both visiting from American Ballet Theatre, where she is a principal dancer, and he is a member of the corps de ballet, performed the “Wedding Pas de Deux” from The Sleeping Beauty, with choreography after Marius Petipa. During these wild and crazy times, what a delight to have the opportunity to see stellar dancers from another company sharing their gifts and performing a familiar and romantic duet.
The evening ended with al Caniparoli’s re-imagined “Stolen Moments V.2,” a group work adjusted for social distancing. With eight dancers, no more than six shared the stage at any given time as they executed a series of lively yet graceful solos, duets, trios, and ensemble sections that embodied this company’s mission: to awaken and uplift the human spirit.
Check the company’s website for information on live and streamed performances.