STUDIO ONE: SEPTEMBER
RICHMOND BALLET 2021/22
STUDIO ONE, SEPTEMBER
A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: The Richmond Ballet, Canal Street Studios, 407 East Canal Street, RVA 23219
Performances: September 14 – 24, live. September 23 – October 3, virtual.
Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets start at $25; Virtual Tickets are $25.
Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com.
All audience members, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask covering both the nose and mouth at all times while in the Richmond Ballet building. Visit richmondballet.com/covid to view the company’s updated health and safety protocols.
Choreography by Ben Stevenson, O.B.E.
Staged by Dawn Scannell
Music by Sergei Rachmaninoff
Ten Preludes for piano, Op. 23, No. 1 and Thirteen Preludes for piano, Op. 32, Nos. 9 & 10
Lighting Design by William Banks
Pianist: Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn
World Premiere September 1969, Harkness Youth Dancers, NYC
Richmond Ballet premiere May 10, 2000, Jepson Theatre, RVA
Pas de Deux from Vestiges
Choreography by Colin Connor
Music by Michael Nyman, The Garden is Becoming a Robe Room
Costume Design by Charles Schoonmaker
Lighting Design by Stacie Johnson
World Premiere May 10, 2000, Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre
Glare (World Premiere)
Choreography by Ma Cong
Music by Michael Nyman and David McAlmont from The Glare album
In Rai Don Giovanni; Secrets, Accusations and Charges; Going to America;
In Laos; The Glare
Costume Design by Monica Guerra
Lighting Design by Trad A. Burns
Okay, first the housekeeping, as they say. During 2020/21, the Richmond Ballet delivered five productions, for a total of 96 shows, during a pandemic. With the help of their own medical task force, they returned to in-person classes with virtual options, limited the number of people in the building, and required everyone in the building to mask up. For performances, seating was limited from a maximum of about 250 to 50-75, and both audience and performers wore masks. In addition, the choreographers and dancers modified the choreography to increase the space between dancers, and only dancers who were married to each other or lived in the same household were allowed to partner. Programs ran about an hour, eliminating the necessity of having an intermission, and the popular Ballet Barre was closed to cut down on people mingling in public spaces. And it worked. There were no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission at the Richmond Ballet. Not only did the company weather the storm, in the words of company Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, “We are thriving.”
Emboldened by their pandemic success, the 2021/22 season opened up with no restrictions on seating. However, the audience must remain masked, and for the first Studio One series of performances, there is still no intermission or bar service. The dancers and staff are 100% fully vaccinated, and the masks have come off.
STUDIO ONE: OPENING NIGHT
Opening night at the Richmond Ballet’s Studio Series is a star-studded affair. The elite Choreographer’s Club members pay extra (more than double the standard subscription price) to show their support. In exchange, they get a post-performance Q&A with the guest choreographers and members of the cast and design team, followed by a reception where they get to mingle with the company. While the receptions are on hold until it is deemed safe, the Q&A is still allowed. The first program of the 2021/22 Studio One series opened Tuesday, September 14, with a stunning trio of works and a warm in-person welcome for Ma Cong. Cong, who premiered a new work, was installed as the company’s Associate Artistic Director in June of 2020 and has spent the last year working with the company via Zoom.
The evening opened with “Three Preludes,” choreographed by Ben Stevenson. It featured Izabella Tokev and Joe Seaton, one of nine new dancers. The sweet and innocent duet takes place in a ballet studio and, in fact, mirrors the structure of a ballet class. It begins at the barre, moves to the center floor, ends up traveling across the stage in sweeping phrases with Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn at the piano playing the romantic Rachmaninoff preludes. The intimate lighting made me feel like a voyeur peeking in on a private moment between two lovers.
In the first section, they explore mirroring and opposition as if learning one another’s bodies. Seaton’s arm and Tokev’s leg mimic the same movement on opposite sides of the barre. Once they move to the center, the barre is removed, and Tokev allows her partner to replace it. Finally, they make a grand entrance for a pas de deux set to a brighter tempo that supports more daring lifts and encourages Tokev to run, spin, and jump into Seaton’s awaiting arms. It was almost as if the two dancers were trying to cram all the closeness we missed for the past 18 months into this one short ballet. Some of the partnering required awkward positioning, and a few times, I saw what might have been a misstep, but everything worked out in the end.
Next came the pas de deux from Colin Connor’s “Vestiges.” There are no classic, straight lines in this powerful duet performed by Sarah Joan Smith and Jack Miller. They are both in their first season with Richmond Ballet (although Smith did dance with RBII before joining Kansas City Ballet in 2016). When Smith ran out at the beginning, dressed in an earth-toned crop top and flared shorts, she reminded me of the Puck character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Back arched, knees turned in, with Stacie Johnson’s lighting creating a fiery glow, and Michael Nyman’s score creating high drama with lots of emphasis on strings, it would have been easy for Smith to dominate this duet. But instead, it was a beautifully balanced collaboration powered by dynamic, spiraling interactions. Whereas the opening duet seemed to explore tender, growing love, this one was more about fiery passion.
The program closed with the premiere of Cong’s “Glare,” a work he said he had been holding in his pocket for four years, waiting for the right moment. “2021/22 is the right moment.” “Glare” was inspired by “The Glare,” an album with music by Michael Nyman (yes, the same Michael Nyman as in Connor’s work) and lyrics by David McAlmont. “The key point,” said Cong, “is to watch the music and listen to the dance.” “Glare,” speaks to recent events in history, all across the globe, but its ultimate message, in keeping with the Richmond Ballet’s mission, is uplifting.
At the beginning of the work, one dancer walks out casually and pulls the light switch of a hanging lamp. Various lights populate each section of the work, creating “the glare.” The ballet is performed by six dancers dressed in diverse patterns connected by a warm color palette. The men all wore shorts, but Monica Guerra mixed up the patterns, layers, and textures, giving each dancer an individual look and personality.
Just as the costumes were varied, Cong also varied the movement styles, blending ballet with folk dance, jazz, and hip hop movement in a beautiful jumble of organized chaos. The work is set to five songs from “The Glare” album. “In Roi Don Giovanni” is about sexually charged world leaders, while “Secrets, Accusations and Charges” seems to be about corruption and power. One of my favorite sections was “Going to America,” which features the entire cast mixing it up on stage to a song that is actually about Somalian pirates! “I’m going to America as a prisoner, as a number,” the vocalist croons. But one gets the idea that going to America escorted by the FBI and Navy Seals is preferable to the alternatives.
Couples slow dance in “In Laos” to lyrics that speak of drug mules and drug trafficking. The title song, “The Glare,” is a song about reality television. This final section has the dancers clustered downstage center staring into a light that emanates from somewhere over the audience, bringing the spectators into the midst of the action and reminding us that if we just sit quietly and observe, we are part of the problem.
It was great to be back in the theater, even with restrictions, but most of all, it was a pleasure to be in the theater watching this perfect program. Studio One set a high bar (or barre?) for the rest of the season.
NOTE: Virtual tickets are $25. For patrons who would prefer to watch from the comfort of home, the Richmond Ballet offers virtual access to Studio One. On Monday, September 27th, virtual ticket buyers will receive an email with information on how to access the performance recording, which will be available to stream through Sunday, October 3rd, 11:59 pm. Tickets can be purchased online at etix.com or by phone at (804) 344-0906 x224. Only one virtual ticket is required per household. The deadline to purchase virtual tickets is noon Friday, October 1st. Finally, please note that the Richmond Ballet may be unable to stream this program in its entirety due to music rights restrictions.
Photos by Sarah Ferguson/Richmond Ballet
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