RICHMOND BALLET:

STUDIO SERIES/MARCH – BLOWS IN WITH BIGGER BALLETS

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: March 16-28, 2021, live and streamed.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets start at $25; Virtual Tickets $20. [NOTE: On Sunday, March 28th, 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: March must be purchased by 11:59 pm on Saturday, March 27th.]

Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com. See the Richmond Ballet’s website for their COVID-19 precautions and more.

REPERTORY:

Paquita

            Choreography after Marius Petipa

            Music by Léon Minkus

            Staged by Judy Jacob

            World Premiere: 1983, American Ballet Theatre

            Richmond Ballet Premiere: April 6, 1990

Violin V.2

            Choreography by Val Caniparoli

            Music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber

            World Premiere: March 21, 2006, Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre

            After setting the stage by being one of the first American ballet companies to return to live performances in 2020, the Richmond Ballet has taken the lead again by expanding from small works (solos, duets, short in length) to present two full-length ballets on its latest Studio Series program. While maintaining the pandemic precautions that have been in place since returning to the stage in September – dancers who partner are family members, married to one another, or members of the same household, and all dancers wear masks throughout their performance – the latest program included up to nine dancers onstage, and the ballets lasted about 20 minutes each instead of three to five minutes.

            Paquita was originally conceived by 19th-century French classical ballet master Marius Petipa as a ballet in two acts. It is more commonly performed today as a one-act divertissement that allows the dancers to display their technical skill and prowess. This performance was a vehicle for soloists Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis and a diverse ensemble including Kate Anderson, Lauren Archer, Eri Nishihara, Hannah Powell, Naomi Robinson, and Naomi Wilson.  Anderson and Robinson are currently members of RBII, and Powell is a trainee.

            The black lace tutus with white underskirts and touches of red in the hair for the ensemble and in the bodice for the soloist promoted the Spanish origin of the plot: a beautiful gypsy girl falls in love with one of Napoleon’s officers, only to discover that she, too, is of noble birth. Despite its traditional theme and style, Paquita is often light-hearted and fun. But make no mistake, this ballet is intended to be a showpiece for the soloists, Beaton and Davis, with some charming variations for Wilson, Nishihara, and Archer. Wilson shines with precise footwork and elegant flourishes. Nishihara shows off turns, and Archer exhibits control in balances and leaps. Beaton exemplifies beauty and grace, while Davis circles the stage with strength and bravado. Except for the fairy tale story elements – which have been omitted in this iteration – Paquita is the sort of ballet many of us envision when we first learn of ballet, and it lives up to all the expectations.

            The second half of the program, which was performed without intermission, was a reworking of Val Caniparoli’s Violin, re-envisioned via Zoom as Violin V.2.  The new version allowed the dancers to stay 6′ apart from one another most of the time because, as Caniparoli said via video feed, “The arts have got to stay alive.” This work also featured guest artists Colin Jacob and Joe Seaton.

            As in the original, the dancers begin in a circle, as if standing at the edge of a precipice, with a lone female dancer isolated in the shadows outside the circle. She soon fades away, and the large circle morphs into five smaller circles, the first of many iterations, leaving the men to interact in a series of quirky motifs, including an amusing scooting, sideways walk. Initially a men’s dance, the work begins to incorporate the women in trios, quartets, quintets until it crescendos with four men and four women dancing together. The overlapping and ever-changing circles of light and the cool green of the pared-down costumes enhance the unconventional surprises that occasionally spark this contemporary ballet that provides a satisfying movement experience that is at once intricate and uncomplicated.

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RICHMOND BALLET:

RICHMOND BALLET:

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.

REPERTORY:

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.

RICHMOND BALLET: STUDIO SERIES/NOVEMBER

Diversity and Mastery Bring Hope in Challenging Times

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Richmond Ballet’s Canal Street Studios, 407 E. Canal Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Performances: November 10-22, 2020

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets:$25-$101; Virtual Tickets: $20/One-week access to recorded performance, only one ticket required per household

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

In September I was impressed by the precautions the Richmond Ballet had taken to make sure dancers, staff, and audience members felt safe to return to the studio. The November program is the company’s third COVID-conscious production, and it seems that experience and resilience have come together to make this the most moving show yet.

The collection of short works and excerpts began with the Romantic-era “Rachmaninoff Rhapsody” choreographed by Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, and concluded with a new work by the company’s newly appointed Associate Artistic Director Ma Cong, “To The End.” These two works, both of which premiered November 10, book-ended Salvatore Aiello’s introspective solo, “Extensions,” (a 1990 work that is also new to the Richmond Ballet) and an excerpt from William Soleau’s “Closing Doors” (2002). Clocking in at just under an hour with no intermission, this program was as near perfect as one could hope for.

The curtain came up on a stage lit entirely in blue, highlighting a corp of four ballerinas in the stiff, tulle classical tutus that fill little girl’s dreams. On Thursday night, Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis performed the pas de deux set to the modest pace of the score that allows the viewer to observe in detail the articulation of each step. Stoner’s choreography is a contrast in control and abandon that juxtaposes clean, simple lines, symmetry, and diagonal formations. The dancers linger in luxurious movement phrases that demonstrate virtuosity without conceit.

Ira White performed the Aiello solo. Dressed in practice shorts and a tank top, he stood silently, listening to pianist Douglas-Jayd Burn playing Alexander Scriabin’s score. These unhurried moments of stillness before the dance began were a poignant introduction to a work that highlights the choreographer’s intimate relationship with the music. Once inspired, the dancer returned to the barre and began to move reflectively, at one with the music, taking his time, warming up and exploring movement that brought the music to life. An unexpected plunge over the barre was breathtaking, and at the end I heard an audience member whisper, “he’s amazing!”

The section chosen from Soleau’s “Closing Doors,” was an amusing quartet (Kate Anderson, Eri Nishihara, Naomi Wilson, and Marty Davis on Thursday) performed to the ornamental Baroque deliciousness of Bach’s “Sonata in E Minor.” Davis’ part in this brief divertissement, lasting barely five minutes, consisted of him moving his chair from spot to spot while reading a book and essentially ignoring the three women (Kate Anderson, Eri Nishihara, and Naomi Wilson) in deep pink flowing dresses who were energetically dancing around him. The sound of a door shutting brought him out of his reverie, but, as in real life, it is too late, and he had missed his opportunity.

Ma Cong was born in China and has served as Resident Choreographer of the Tulsa Ballet for 12 years. I have been enamored of his work since I first saw the Richmond Ballet perform “Ershter Vals” in 2009. Since then, Stoner Winslett has commissioned Cong to create several more works, including including “Lift the Fallen, “Winter’s Angels,” and “Chiaroscuro.” This newest work, “to the end,” is a sort of companion piece to September’s “alone, beside me,” which taken together are described as works that pay “homage to society’s reactions to the pandemic and the hope for a brighter future.”

“to the end” was created as a double pas de deux. Cong taught the choreography in collaboration with the Tulsa Ballet to two couples simultaneously in Tulsa and Richmond, creating both live and virtual versions of the work. The Richmond dancers learned the piece entirely via Zoom.

Performed on Thursday by Cody Beaton, Eri Nishihara, Sabrina Holland, Marty Davis, Trevor Davis, and Ira White, the work explores post-pandemic adjustment in stages that, much like grief, range from confusion to survival to relief. The dancers’ black and white costumes (designed by Emily Morgan) are simple and stark, and at one point thin stripes of light on the floor (designed by Christopher Devlin Hill) reflected the pattern of the women’s tops. The small groups, limited contact (only dancers who live in the same household ever actually touch), and masks reflect the restrictions we have grown all too accustomed to living with these past eight months. But the purpose of this work is to inspire hope and invoke gratitude.

There are unexpected floor-sweeping movements, with hair freely flowing and tossed about. Body rolls engage the dancers from the soles of their feet to tops of their heads, while precariously off-center suspensions appear to reflect how many of us have been navigating the world of late. The work is sensual, but not sexual. An offering of white pillar candles in glass cylinders remind me of the candles at an altar. “to the end” was not so much about the dancer’s technique or even the sequences and construction of movement, as it was about the feeling. It’s public yet personal, and deeply moving. “Hope and love are gonna bring us together very soon,” Cong concluded in a video interview with Winslett.

Photos: Top – Eri Nishihara in “Rachmaninoff Rhapsody”; Ira White in “Extensions”. Middle – Naomi Wilson, Eri Nishihara, and Kate Anderson in “Closing Doors”; Ira White in “to the end”; Eri Nishihara in “to the end”; Bottom – Ira White and Abi Goldstein in “to the end” and Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis in “to the end”. Featured image at top of page – Ira White and Marty Davis in “to the end”. All photos by Sarah Ferguson. All Rights Reserved.

Purchase Whistlin’ Women and Crowin’ Hens and Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance on Amazon.com!

RICHMOND BALLET: STUDIO SERIES/OCTOBER

Separate and Together: Dances for a Pandemic Audience

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Richmond Ballet’s Canal Street Studios, 407 E. Canal Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Performances: October 13-25, 2020

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets: $26-$101; Virtual Tickets: $20/One-week access to recorded performance, only one ticket required per household

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

It seems that recently isolation, loss, separation, togetherness, loneliness, and mental health issues have dominated many conversations on social media – where most conversations have, of necessity, occurred. So it, it comes as little surprise when some or all of these themes are reflected in our arts. The Richmond Ballet’s second Studio Series program for 2020/2021 focused on works that tackle separation and togetherness – some with more clarity and relevance than others.

The program includes two world premieres, one by the Richmond Ballet’s Artistic Associate and Ballet Master, Malcolm Burn, and one by local choreographer, teacher Starrene Foster, the founding Artistic Director of the Richmond-based modern dance company Starr Foster Dance.

Burn’s duet, “Another Time, A Different Rose,” pays homage to Michel Fokine’s classic “Le Spectre de la Rose” (made famous by Nijinsky, dressed in a rose-petal costume, leaping through a window at the end of the ballet). Burn used the same piano composition by Carl Maria von Weber, and dressed the male half of the duet, danced by Marty Davis on Saturday, in a simplified version of the rose-petal costume. (The one-shouldered, rose-colored body suit with its ruffled top may have been confusing if you didn’t know Davis was the Spirit of the Rose.) Naomi Wilson (who is in her first year as a company member, after two years dancing with Richmond Ballet II) danced the role of the Young Girl, but this duet is really a showpiece for the male dancer. Davis’ steps grew increasingly light-hearted as the fantasy developed, but there was no extravagant leap, and the piece is really too short to allow for extended development, so I felt a bit disappointed at the end, as if the Young Girl had awakened from her dream before the final climax.

Starr Foster – who knows I have often described the works she composes for her own company as dark, both physically and psychologically – created a new work, “Always a Way,” that explores the highs and lows of sheltering in place during a pandemic, with original music by Dave Watkins. Somewhat somber but not dark, the contemporary duet, danced by Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis, features weight sharing that manifests as lifts, planks, and hinges, and explores tension and resolution via intricate spirals. One brief but lingering expression occurred when Davis curved over Beaton, emanating warmth and protection.

The program included portions of the lighter-than-air romantic ballet “Pas de Trois from Swan Lake” (Nicholas Beriozoff after Marius Petipa), danced by Lauren Archer, Izabella Tokev, and Khaiyom Khojaev, Salvatore Aiello’s “The Waiting Room,” and Val Caniparoli’s “Djangology.” In “The Waiting Room,” there are three women, three chairs, and a light hanging from the ceiling. Set to the music of Arvo Part, the work explores the possibilities of the unknown and possible suggests there is no relief from the harshness of reality – not exactly what we want to hear right now, but thankfully, it is in the middle of the program. The program, which runs for under an hour, with no intermission – because, well, there’s still a pandemic – concluded with on an upbeat note with excerpts from Val Caniparolli’s sassy jazz-on-pointe ballet, “Djangology,” set to music by Romani-French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

All together, this Studio Series was an interesting evening of dance that (a) was over all too soon and (b) for me, didn’t quite live up to the promise of the theme. I personally would have preferred three works that went a bit deeper rather than five works that allowed enough time for some to only scratch the surface. And finally, (c) it’s great to be back in a theater!

All photos by Sarah Ferguson:

Cody Beaton & Trevor Davis in “Always a Way”

Matthew Frain in “Djangology”

Lauren Archer, Raquel Smith & Izabella Tokev in “Djangology”

Lauren Archer in “The Waiting Room”

CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: Winter Gala Features American Themes & More

THE CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: Winter Gala 2020

A Dance Program Review

At: The Woman’s Club Auditorium, 211 East Franklin Street, RVA 23219

Performance: February 23, 2020

Ticket Prices: $12-$18

Info: (804) 798-0945 or http://concertballet.com/ or info@concertballet.org

The Concert Ballet of Virginia, a  civic company based in Hanover County, continued its 44th performance season with a Winter Repertory Gala at The Woman’s Club Auditorium on Sunday, February 23. The Winter Repertory Gala – a showcase for the junior, senior, and performing companies – shared the program with The Concert Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Iris Schwartz, alternating a musical composition with a ballet.

The Orchestra seemed to focus on patriotic music, American composers, and American themes, opening with a rousing rendition of the “George Washington Bicentennial March” by John Philip Sousa. This set the tone and expectation for the remainder of the program.

Additional musical interludes included a Cole Porter symphonic portrait, another march, and a medley of American music, including “Shenandoah,” which lays claim to a rather contentious proposal to be Virginia’s “interim state song,” and “My Country Tis of Thee,” which the conductor encouraged the audience to sing along with but there were no takers.

The first ballet, Lindsay Hudson’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” featured an ensemble of enthusiastic young dancers who, while they did not always keep their legs straight or keep their toes pointed en l’air, appeared steady on their pointes and brought an infectious element of joy to their performance. Scott Boyer’s period costumes with full tulle skirts coordinated with  deVeaux Riddick’s décor, with its life-sized pink and green plants, all of which were well suited to the genteel atmosphere with some patrons seated at tables, where they were served desserts and beverages, reminiscent of an 18th or 19th century salon. The ballet ended on a light note with a very charming back-to-back slide to the floor.

The first half of the program also included Valerie Shcherbakova’s “Bretagne,” set to music by Darius Milhand that seemed somewhat dark, even ominous, in contrast to the dancers’ white dresses with narrow fabric panels draped delicately along their arms. This ballet was set in an undisclosed period and locale (although the title suggests a French locations), with four blue panels painted with chandeliers and draperies and somewhat mysterious obelisks. The work is created with intentional symmetry, and ends with a lighter, livelier coda.

The second half of the program included Scott Boyer’s ‘The Gum Suckers,’ a contemporary ballet that swaddled the dancers in colorful layers and features several different lifts that were sturdy and well-supported.  There was a section in which it was unclear whether the two lines of dancers were supposed to be moving in unison or in canon, but the ballet, which featured a quintet of five pint-sized dancers, was undoubtedly an audience favorite and earned extended applause.

It should be noted that Boyer, a founding member and the company’s artistic director, is the only remaining member of the long-time artistic and executive team. The program pays homage to Robert Watkins (former Artistic Director), deVeaux Riddick (former Designer and Technical Director), and Eleanor Rennie (Executive Director).

The program closed with Karen Moore’s “Rainbow Room,” which saw the dancers dressed in glittery top hats and fringed dressed moving in a jazzy Bob Fosse style to the big band sound of Benny Goodman. Christopher Gangloff’s pretty rainbow lighting effects added an extra layer of pizzazz to this work that began with the dancers laying of the floor, legs up, like the petals of a flower. A sassy percussion beat guided the dancers into a rousing kick line that circled the stage and Boyer, Donald Myers, and an apparently uncredited male dancer escorted the bevy of young women, wearing white tie and tails (but, alas, no top hats!) to complement the women’s fringed frocks.

The Concert Ballet of Virginia’s Winter Repertory Gala 2020 offered a genteel afternoon of audience-pleasing dance and live music in a beautiful setting on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Concert Ballet of Virginia Winter Gala 2020 program cover

RICHMOND BALLET’S “SWAN LAKE”: Happily Ever After

Richmond Ballet’s SWAN LAKE: A Valentine Treat

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: February 14-16 @ 7:00pm; February 15 & 16 @2:00pm

Ticket Prices: $25 – $125

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

It’s hard to believe that when the ballet Swan Lake debuted at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1877 that it was not well received. Times change, and with it, people’s taste and expectations. After many adaptations and variations – the current production has choreography by Nicholas Beriozoff  after Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, and Alexander Gorsky, with restaging and additional choreography by Richmond Ballet’s Malcolm Burn. Petipa and Ivanov choreographed the 1895 revival; the original choreography was by Julius Reisinger. One constant in the evolution of Swan Lake has been Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score, with all its drama and the familiar leitmotif, “The Swan’s Theme.” https://youtu.be/9cNQFB0TDfY

In addition to the music, Swan Lake is a visual treat with its three major sets: the lakeshore, the area outside the castle where Prince Siegfried begins his birthday celebration, and the magnificent castle ballroom. Credit for the opulent set and costume design goes to Jens-Jacob Worsaae.

Two dancers with the Chinese National Ballet, a company the Richmond Ballet has developed a relationship with overtime, were scheduled to dance the lead roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried but plans were changed due to fears about the coronavirus, which prevented Xu Yan and Li Wentao from traveling to the US.

The lead roles were performed by Sarah Lane and Cory Stearns, both principal dancers  with American Ballet Theatre. The chemistry between the guests and the Richmond Ballet seemed organic, and both Lane and Stearns seemed to derive as much joy from performing their roles as the opening night audience on Valentine’s Day. There were audible ooh’s and ah’s each time the curtain rose, and extended applause for the guest artists as well as for the soloists.

Trevor Davis was pure joy as the Court Jester and Mate Szentes made such an impression as von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer, that people actually booed when he took his final bows. The most memorable dancing occurred in the ballroom scene in the third act and included a “Czardas” led by Melissa Frain and Ira White, a “Neapolitan” duet performed by Elena Bello and Marty Davis, and a “Russian Dance” that drew enthusiastic applause for Eri Nishihara. The Black Swan “Grand Pas de Deux” also occurs in the third act and Lane and Stearns did not disappoint. Their performance was elegant and enthusiastic.

BTW- While I understand the convention of applause after the pas de deux (and various displays of virtuosity), the dancers’ mid-performance bows break the flow of the dance and interrupt my enjoyment of the illusion the cast has worked so hard to create.

I always look forward to the big, classic ballet productions the Richmond Ballet offers each year around Valentine’s Day – except when the ballet is Romeo and Juliet because the I find the deaths of the young lovers depressing. Swan Lake has several versions – and endings – and I was happy to find that one of the happier endings was selected.

To clarify, Swan Lake tells the story of the beautiful Princess Odette who is turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer von Rothbart. (No explanation is ever offered, except that without this turn of events, there would be no ballet.) Prince Siegfried is celebrating his birthday with friends and his mother appears to tell him it’s time to get married and start adulting. This sends him into a depression, which he and his friends resolve to address with a hunting trip. Of course, he encounters Odette, who is allowed to appear in human form an hour each day, at midnight.

Prince Siegfried falls in love with Odette and vows to break the evil spell on her with love. Von Rothbart will have none of this and shows up at the castle where the Queen Mother has assembled a half dozen prospective brides for her son to choose from – only von Rothbart brings his own daughter, Odile, disguised as Odette. Prince Siegfried falls for Odile and when he finds out he has been deceived; he rushes to the lake to reassure Odette of his love. This is where some versions have the lovers commit suicide, usually by drowning in the lake, but in this version Prince Siegfried battles the evil sorcerer von Rothbart (with some lovely lightening-like lighting effects), finally overcoming the spell and releasing Odette and the other captive swans from the evil spell. Odette returns to her human form, and she and Prince Siegfried live happily ever after.

Sometimes happily ever after is just what is needed. Swan Lake allows us to linger in the world of make-believe for nearly three hours (with two intermissions). It is a delight for the eyes, the ears, and the soul.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: In Rest and Sleep (a dance about love, loss, reflection, revenge & unlimited chances)

STARR FOSTER DANCE: In Rest and Sleep

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: TheatreLAB The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: February 13-15: Thursday & Friday @7:30pm; Saturday @3:00pm, 5:00pm & 7:30pm

Ticket Prices: $15; $25 on Friday (includes post-performance reception)

Info: (804) 304-1523, https://m.bpt.me/event/4497856

Starrene Foster’s new work, In Rest and Sleep, begins with a bit of audience participation. It would be impossible to describe my experience without giving it away, so *SPOILER ALERT*: If you plan to see it, and want to be surprised, skip the italicized paragraph.

 

*SPOILER ALERT*

The audience is held in the lobby and bar area until it is time to enter the performing space. Latecomers will not be seated. As we prepared to enter the space, we were each given a white calla lily – a symbol of holiness and purity, but also of death and resurrection; it is a popular Easter flower. This made me think of a funeral, a feeling that was reinforced as we processed through a black curtain to the sounds of somber music. Once inside the space, we observed three dancers laying face up on the floor and a fourth sitting on a tree stump in solemn contemplation. We were instructed to toss our flowers on the dancers.

*END OF SPOILER ALERT *

 

In Rest and Sleep is described as a dance about love, loss, and reflection. It is also described, in different settings, as a dance about revenge or a dance about unlimited chances. It is all of that, and more. After the show – which runs about 40 minutes, with no intermission – my theater companion asked what I thought it meant, and my response was, whatever you needed it to mean. This is the kind of work that, after the applause, leave the audience momentarily silent, speechless, mute and alone in the midst of a crowd.

I have, on more than one occasion, remarked to Foster that I found her work dark – not just emotionally, but physically, due to the subdued lighting she and her lighting designers prefer. Yet even though In Rest and Sleep may be thought of as a dark topic, the lighting, while subdued, is not very dark at all. In fact, there are moments when Michael Jarett illuminates the space with bright flashes, like shards of enlightenment. The set, designed by Foster and Brad Lebahn, consists of two rectangles of artificial grass and a tree stump. At the beginning and again later, one dancer sits quietly on the stump carefully observing the other dancers.

The combination of stillness that feels like waiting is juxtaposed with violent reaching, grabbing pulling, dragging, and writhing. There are supportive lifts and gentle touches, but there are also kicks and shoves and intertwining phrases of movement that create a perceptible level of anxiety, of unease.

Two distinct moments in time stood out for me, capturing my attention and stirring my emotions. In a duet, one dancer stood off to the side with her right arm extended, fingers trembling in a repetitive pattern while her partner, some distance away, explored the other side of the space until the two eventually tumbled together. While this interaction was unfolding, a third dancer sat on the tree stump watching intently, and the fourth lay curled at her feet on a patch of grass – resting, or asleep. I saw myself in the dancer with the outstretched arm – reaching, disconnected – as well as in the dancer who sat intently observing, waiting for her season to become involved. Others may have connected with the dancer who was moving through space, or with the sleeping figure.

The other moment that caused me to hold my breath occurred when the four dancers ran, one after the other, to a patch of grass, dropped, rolled to center stage, got up, and repeated the pattern several times! The movement was mesmerizing, but the energy emitted was like a volcano erupting. It was over all too soon.

In Rest and Sleep,  a premiere by Starrene Foster, has only five performances this weekend, and while the audience is seated on three sides of the space, there is limited seating. Everyone is up close to the action – and the resting. On Thursday and Saturday at 3:00pm the performers are Fran Beaumont, Caitlin Cunningham, Shelby Gratz Paez, and Mattie Rogers. On Friday and on Saturday at 5:00pm and 7:30pm the cast is Kylie Hester, Erick Hooten, Anna Lebahn, and Mattie Rogers.

The RVA theater community has an Acts of Faith festival – if dance were included, In Rest and Sleep would be a prime candidate for Acts of Faith, along with the accompanying talk-back opportunities for the audience to discuss works with the cast and creative team.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Starr Foster Dance by Douglas Hayes. NOTE: Production photos were not yet available at the time of posting.

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LATIN BALLET: Legend of the Poinsettia 2020

‘THE LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA: LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA 2020

A Dance Review and Seasonal Observations by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road, Glen Allen, VA, 23192

Performance Were: January 9-12, 2020

Ticket Prices: $10 – $20

Info: (804) 356-3876 or http://www.latinballet.com

The Legend of the Poinsettia is, for many, a local holiday tradition, much as The Nutcracker ballet has become in communities across the USA. This year I attended a Thursday morning production. Because it is designed for school field trips, the program has been truncated and lasts only one hour. I am familiar with the full-length two-act version and was impressed that the field trip edition is seamless, and if you didn’t know what was omitted, it didn’t feel as if anything was missing.

I noted that the indomitable Miss Frances Wessells, who normally dances the role of Abuelita, the grandmother, was absent. I understand that she is saving her appearance for the final performance on Sunday at 3:00pm, and at age 100 (yes, she officially became a centenarian last August!), she can choose to dance whenever and wherever she wants!

There was no soloist, singing “Ave Maria” as well as several other selections. Also, the life-sized nativity, where the Virgin Mary usually takes up residence for most of the second act, remained empty.

Other differences were not cast related. This year’s production has done away with the traditional, and sometimes bulky, set and replaced it with stunningly beautiful projections of background scenes, buildings, window boxes, the night sky, whatever is needed to enhance and promote the storyline. The program doesn’t list a credit for the projections, but Antonio hidalgo Paz is credited for lighting design and technical direction with Steve Kohler as technical assistant.

Dominion Energy sponsored the program as well as some of the schools present. But while the weather was sunny in Richmond and Glen Allen, some schools from Fredericksburg were forced to cancel due to snowy conditions just a little father north of the Glen Allen venue. Those present ooh’d and ahh’d when the curtain went up, and again when the company’s men – Jay Williams, Nicolas Betancourt Sotolongo, and Glen Lewis, performed flips and handsprings across the stage. But this is Latin Ballet, and I felt that the young attendees’ responses were subdued – either because this was their first time attending the theater experience or because their teachers and chaperones had cautioned them to be on their best behavior. And they were – on their best behavior, that is.

At the end, company member Jay Williams invited audience members onstage for a mini-hiphop class, which offered many aspiring performers the opportunity to show off their best moves. The young audience members seemed to enjoy meeting the cast, taking pictures, and getting autographs nearly as much as the performance itself.

            The Legend of the Poinsettia tells the story of Little Maria (with Sydney Smith and Kaia Davis-Martin, who performed on Thursday morning, alternating in the role).  After the sudden death of her mother, who was teaching her how to weave a colorful blanket, Maria finds herself in need of a gift to present to the Baby Jesus on Epiphany Day on January 6. Epiphany or Three King’s Day (Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos) celebrates the 12th day of Christmas and the legend of the three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Christ Child. This provides a great excuse for those who did not take down their Christmas trees on January 1 to just say you were waiting to celebrate Epiphany.

The narration, given in English and Spanish, also emphasizes that this is also the story of “the true spirit of giving.” Not only is there entertainment and a moral, but there is also history, as the program explains how the poinsettia came to be a symbol of Christmas after Joel Roberts Poinsett, first ambassador from the US to Mexico in 1825, imported clippings and cultivated the plants that came to bear

As I have written previously, The Legend of the Poinsettia is a family-friendly, multi-cultural, multi-generational festival featuring dances, music, and colorful costumes from Columbia, Mexico, and Spain. There are cultural offerings from Mexico (the origin of the legend and of the poinsettia plant), Colombia (King’s birthplace, which also celebrates the nine nights before Christmas with las novenas including songs, prayers, and nativity scenes), Venezuela (the home of the gaitas or festive songs that blend the Spanish and African cultures), the Dominican Republic (home of the bachata, a mixture of Cuban bolero and son), Puerto Rico (home of the Christmas parrandas or musical festivities) and Spain (home of flamenco and the Christmas novenas). A blend of solemn candle lighting and prayers with festive singing and dancing is the common thread that ties together the many cultures and traditions, concluding with the miracle of the poinsettia plant, represented by dancers in red and green. The Spirit of the Poinsettia, floating around the perimeter of the stage in a voluminous read gown from which individual poinsettia “plants” emerge, may remind some of the Mother Ginger figure in The Nutcracker who hides a dozen small children under her huge gown.

Tickets are still available for a weekend of family-friendly shows

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Photos from Latin Ballet website; photos of Jay Williams working with the children by Julinda.

 

 

21st ANNUAL YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Presented by K Dance

K DANCE PRESENTS: 21st Annual Yes! Dance Festival

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St, RVA 23220

Performances: December 20 & 21, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 general; $15 for RVATA & Students

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org

This isn’t the first time K Dance has presented the Yes! Dance Festival at the Firehouse Theatre, but it is the first time as the venue’s resident dance company.

This year, the 21st annual Yes! Dance Festival presented a compact and somewhat mysterious collection of works by four companies – not including Kaye Weinstein Gary’s own K Dance – from across the USA. The festival is a great chance for those who don’t have the time or money to travel the nation to sample what’s happening in other parts of the country. Some of the artists are nationally and internationally known, with credits including Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch list.

Catherine Messina (Atlanta, GA) performed her solo, “gamesetmatch,” which did not appear to have anything to do with tennis. Messina entered from the aisle, coming down the steep steps from the tech booth, and walked onto the stage where she sat and removed her boots and socks. Then she danced for a brief interlude, sinewy, winding phrases, interspersed with intense moments of silence in which she stared at the audience. Then, quite matter of factly, she sat, put her socks and boots on, and exited the same way she came. In a blog for Dance Canvas, Messina wrote that her work “centers around the intersection of strangers [sic] lives” and while she was not speaking specifically of this solo, “gamesetmatch” is steeped in a certain randomness that challenges the viewer to choose to engage or remain aloof. https://dancecanvas.wordpress.com/2019/12/19/catherinemessina/

Li Chiao-Ping Dance (Madison, WI) presented two works, the premiere of “here n o w here” and “moi non plus.” The first, a duet performed by Alfonso Cervera and piper Morgan Hayes, included the narrative by the dancers, variations of “barely there, bodily here.” The dancers dressed themselves from a scattered collection of clothes placed on the floor (matching gray sweaters and plaid leggings), moved through a compelling selection of intertwining movement phrases that bore the kiss of contact improvisation. Soloist Lauren Johns, dressed in a cutaway white dress with bustier top moved through “moi non plus” with an air of mystery mixed with boldness; I wondered later if the work was a direct response to the song and later the erotic film that share the same title. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Je_t%27aime…_moi_non_plus

slowdanger (Pittsburgh, PA) is the creative partnership of anna thompson and taylor knight. They performed their duet, “memory 6,” in layers of clothes topped wit ski masks. Their look and sometimes sustained movement reminded me of the noh drama-inspired works of Eiko and Koma, The two slowly built up to a level of transcendence and just when it seemed we were about to be lifted to another plane with them, thompson broke the spell with a single loud clap, and the duo removed their ski masks are returned to earth. The company’s website describes “memory 6” as the seventh installment of a series, in which, “while traversing a purgatory of their own fragmented memories, two bodies combine to build a new form through movement and sound.” http://www.slowdangerslowdanger.com/memory-6.html

MamLuft & Co. Dance (Cincinnati, OH) also presented two works. “You Are Mine!,” choreographed b Hannah Williamson, proved to be darkly dramatic. It was performed by 4 women and 1 male dancer, all dressed in black. One commandeered a throne-like, high-backed chair, and seemed alternately to be in charge and to be the object of the other’s attention. Susan Honer’s “Solos for Woman,” dancer Claire Dieringer shed layers of black to reveal a rainbow striped unitard. The company normally specializes in evening-length dance theater works and their works often examine socially relevant subject matter such as shifts of power, aging, and memory loss. https://www.mamluftcodance.org/about

K Dance closed the program with “Leaf on the Wind,” a dance based on Cynthia Uhrich and Jen Tuder’s five-minute play of the same name, directed by Jacqueline Jones and choreographed by Kaye Weinstein Gary. Two green leaves (Jessica Rawls and Andrew Etheredge) shared a tree with an orange leaf (Gary). A fourth character, a Garden Gnome (Courtney Hans) seemed to have a bit more to do than in the original script as she subtly rotated on a stool in a downstage corner, indicating, I assume, the passage of time (although she moved counterclock-wise). The play started off humorously enough, but it soon became evident that Green Leaf 1 (Rawls) was a bit of a bully bend on discriminating against the Orange Leaf, while her branch-mate, Green Leaf 2 (Etheridge) was intent on keeping the peace. As the work progressed from humor to melodrama, the play evolved into choreography that reflected and eventually resolved the conflict.

A signature of Gary’s Dance Festivals is the Re-Cap that features dancers from all the companies in a brief finale. The works seemed to feature a common thread of some sort of conflict or confrontation, although there was no specified theme. All of this took place in the space of ninety minutes, which was just the right amount of dance in just the right amount of time. For those who did not get to opening night, there are performances at 3pm and 8pm Saturday, and the Saturday evening performance will be followed by a talk with the performers.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson & The Firehouse Web Page

 

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RICHMOND BALLET: Why Do We Love “The Nutcracker”?

RICHMOND BALLET: The Nutcracker – a Holiday Classic

Reflections on a Ballet by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts | Carpenter Theatre | 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: December 13-23, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25-$125

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

Why is The Nutcracker a holiday tradition – what do nutcrackers have to do with Christmas? According to German folklore, nutcrackers bring good luck and protection to your family and home. It represents power and strength, guarding your family against danger and baring its teeth to ward off evil spirits while serving as a messenger of goodwill.

The Nutcracker character originated with Prussian author E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story, The Nutcracker and The King of Mice. In the story, the Stahlbaum family has an annual Christmas party and their children, Marie, Fritz, and their sister Louise, receive gifts from their godfather, Drosselmeyer, a clockmaker with a talent for making mechanical toys. The story, filled with

about the triumph of good over evil. In 1844 French author Alexander Dumas père, adapted Hoffman’s story, changing Marie’s name to Clara. The family became the Silberhauses. This was the version that became a ballet, created in 1892 by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa (French) and Lev Ivanov (Russian). The Petipa and Ivanov choreography became the model for many of our contemporary productions.

The Richmond Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker was conceived by the company’s Artistic Director, Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell with artistic direction and choreography by Winslett and scenery and props by Caldwell. (The magical tree was designed by Alain Vaës and the lush costumes are by David Heuvel.) This year marks Winslett’s 40th production of the holiday classic for Richmond Ballet. From time to time, she makes changes and refreshes the ballet, which keeps it as interesting for the dancers as it is for the audiences.

The Richmond Ballet Nutcracker is a beautifully mounted production that appeals to both children and adults. There is, of course, dancing. While the “star” of the show is Clara, danced on Wednesday by McKenzie Fisher, who shares the coveted role with Kyla Williams, there is plenty of dancing by the adult company members.  There is a lovely duet for the Snow Queen and King (Melissa Frain and Ira White) and later Lauren Archer and Trevor Davis, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced the “Grand Pas de Deux.” After spending the fall semester teaching dance history, it was hard not to think of the changing roles of men and women in ballet from the Classical period (of which The Nutcracker is a prime example) to the Romantic period (when women became more prominent). I was torn between watching Davis spin Archer with mechanical precision – almost as if she were one of Drosselmeyer’s inventions — and gasping in awe as she ran and leaped, landing precariously and gloriously atop his shoulder. Repeatedly.

This ballet is also filled with character dancing, from the halting waltz by the grandparents (Susan Massey and Marcelo Outeiro) to the mouse battle with Anthony Oates as the Mouse King. The second act has something for everyone, dancing flowers and angels, and specialty dances (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese,  Russian, and more. Izabella Tokev and Fernando Sabino were mesmerizing as the Snake and Her Charmer, and the Russian dancers, Patrick Lennon and Logan O’Neil with Matthew Frain as their Dancing Bear is always a favorite. The Trépak, based on a traditional Ukranian folk dance has the men jumping in the air, then spinning on the floor like break dancers, while the bear adds a touch of humor, wearing red shoes to accent his furry costume, and moon walking off the stage while blowing kisses to the audience.

But wait, there’s more. The costumes are stunning, providing a visual delight, along with the huge, colorful set and props like the magical Swan Sleigh that glides across the stage carrying Clara and her Little Prince (Nicholas Blankenship).

And, finally, there is Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. It is familiar from the opening notes through the Finale and is probably the first classical music many children are ever exposed to. There are magical melodies associated with each scene that evoke memories of previous productions and prompt associations with idealized visions of Christmases past, present, and yet to come. The icing on the cake in this kingdom of sweets is that the music is played live, by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erin Freeman and a 30+ member Snow Choir, directed by Lisa Fusco.

The Nutcracker wraps young and old in a warm, familiar fantasy. It means Christmas and traditions and family, and a complete letting go of the stresses of everyday life for two hours of joy.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Richmond Ballet Facebook Page

 

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