THE MAGIC OF THE NUTCRACKER – REFRESHED

Richmond Ballet Presents a Holiday Favorite

An Unconventional Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis & Guest Reviewers Kingston and Emmitt

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre, 600 E. Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: December 9-23, 2022

Ticket Prices: $25 – $130

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

Updated COVID-19 Protocols, see below.

THE PROGRAM

The Nutcracker 

Artistic Direction and Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Production conceived by Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Music performed by the Richmond Symphony

Conducted by Erin Freeman

Scenery designed by Alain Vaës

Costumes designed by David Heuvel

Lighting designed by Richard Moore and Associate, Catherine Girardi

When I was a Girl Scout Leader (which I was, for 27 years), one of my favorite things to do was to take young girls camping for the first time. Likewise, one of my favorite things to do as a writer, teacher, and grandmother is to take my young people to the theater for the first time. Three of my grandsons live in RVA, ages 14, 8, and 8 months. The oldest has seen The Nutcracker before, and with the return of live performances, it was time for the middle one to have his first Nutcracker experience. So on Sunday evening I got a chance to re-experience the classic holiday ballet through new eyes.

The magic begins the moment you enter the theater – well, as soon as you pass through security and have your tickets scanned. [Security approved of my clear plastic tote and the small “sippy cups” I’d brought so we wouldn’t spill the drinks we bought at the concession stand.] While waiting for the program to begin, I enjoyed watching the families with children of all ages, most dressed in their holiday finery. Kingston (a high school student and the family percussionist) and Emmitt (age 8) saw that it was okay to go take a peek at the orchestra pit and returned to their seats discussing the probability of someone falling into the pit.

Other preparatory and property elements worthy of note included explaining why the audience applauded the arrival of the Symphony conductor and the many layers of show drops and curtains that open throughout the lavish production to reveal scenes from the streets of Nuremburg to the entry and drawing room of the Silberhaus home to the Enchanted Snow Forest and Confitenberg, the Kingdom of Sweets. Also, the diversity of the cast is important, because representation matters, especially when young audience members can see people onstage who look like themselves. An example follows a few paragraphs down.

The Nutcracker is a family show for The Richmond Ballet as well as for the audience. Students from the School of Richmond Ballet, apprentices, members of RBII, new and experienced company members, and even faculty and staff share the stage for this multi-generational extravaganza. In addition to refreshed costumes and scenery, the Silberhaus party features newly constructed doll houses for Dr. Drosselmeyer’s magic show, Mother Ginger is back from her pandemic hiatus – with eight kiddy-winks under her voluminous skirts — and Associate Artistic Director, Ma Cong (who dances the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer) has choreographed a new Chinese dance that incorporates elements of Chinese folkdance, which he studied extensively early in his career, with Beijing Dance Academy and The National Ballet of China.

Yes, there is a magic show within the magical show. Dr. Drosselmeyer, godfather to Clara (Adhya Yaratha at Sunday’s 5:30 PM performance) and her mischievous brother Fritz (Sunnelin Seay), and creator of the famous Nutcracker for which the ballet is named, has a penchant for turning toys into humans. Winslett and Cong’s interpretation of Dr. Drosselmeyer, however, is substantially less creepy than the character was originally written. There is also the magic of dreams as Clara falls asleep with her mended Nutcracker – after her little brother Fritz, in a fit of jealously, pulls off its head – and in her slumber journeys with her Young Prince (Benjamin Piner) to the Kingdom of Sweets – where all the dancing happens.

I am on board with the youth in my adoration for the battle between the Mouse King’s army and the Toy Soldiers. But of course, Kingston and Emmitt who are bonafide martial artists, had a lot to say about the fight technique. One graciously commented that, “it was good.” The other assessed that the sword fights were not realistic, specifically that the swords should have come closer. “We practice near misses,” he critiqued.

Emmitt, the eight-year-old, kept up a running commentary: the Bear (Paul Piner) in the Russian dance is breakdancing, and why is one of the Lambs black? My apologies to any nearby patrons who may have been disturbed. Most noteworthy, he was mesmerized by Mother Ginger to the point that he expressed a desire to participate in an upcoming production. He was undeterred when I told him he’d need to take ballet classes, but near the end of the scene abruptly changed his mind. “I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I can’t stand still that long; I have too much energy.”

I learned later that both novice critics retold the story and re-enacted several scenes for their mother. Both also noted that in a pas de deux the woman gets all the good dance phrases. And finally, “There’s no Nutcracker in the second half – it doesn’t make sense. Otherwise, that was a good one!” That’s Emmitt’s summary and he’s sticking to it.

If I may conclude with my own two cents worth…

Adhya Yaratha and Benjamin Piner were absolutely charming as Clara/The Little Princess and Dr. Drosselmeyer’s Nephew/The Little Prince. The Snow Choir sounded heavenly. I would love to learn that magical gliding step that takes the Angels across the stage, guiding or welcoming Clara and her Prince to The Kingdom of Sweets. It reminds me of a gliding step used by Russian dancers that my dance history students showed me this past fall. The new choreography for the Chinese Dance – the title of which is actually Tea – does, indeed have an authentic look and feel. Dancer Eri Nishihara’s highly touted green pointe shoes are, in fact, all that – and, wait, was the dragon newly outfitted as well?

Naomi Wilson was a lovely Butterfly in the Waltz of the Flowers, and finally, it was a pleasure to finally get to see guest dancer Kristina Kadashevych dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy as well as the ballet’s Grand Pas de Deux with Aleksey Babayev as her Cavalier. The petite dancer’s steps appear effortless and feathery – a stark contrast to the conditions surrounding her current residency. Ms. Kadashevych, you see, fled the Ukraine last spring as her homeland was being invaded by Russian soldiers, so perhaps those ethereal steps actually reflect what it feels like to be free. The Nutcracker is not new to her, and she will also be performing with the Richmond Ballet in February when the company returns to Dominion Energy Center with the East Coast premiere of Ma Cong’s Firebird and Balanchine’s signature Serenade (limited run, February 17-19).


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


THE NUTCRACKER PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
December 9-23, 2022 | Dominion Energy Center
600 E Grace St, Richmond, VA 23219

Friday, December 9 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 10 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 11 at 1:00 PM and 5:30 PM
Friday, December 16 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 17 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 18 at 1:00 PM and 5:30 PM
Tuesday, December 20 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, December 21 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, December 22 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Friday, December 23 at 2:00 PM 

UPDATED COVID-19 Protocols (As of March 2022): Please note that we are seating at 100% capacity this season. Beginning with Studio Three in March, we will no longer require patrons to wear masks or to show proof of vaccination/negative COVID test in order to attend a performance.

MASKS: In light of the latest CDC guidelines and Central Virginia’s current “Low/Medium Community Level” status, masks are optional at these performances.

BALLET BARRE: The Ballet Barre (cashless) will be open for our spring Studio performances. Beer, wine, and soft drinks will be available for purchase pre-show as well as during intermission.

CHOREOGRAPHER’S CLUB: In addition to the exclusive Q&A session with the artists, designers, and dancers, we will host a modified post-show reception. More details will be found in your House Notes email.

WELLNESS CHECK: Patrons who do not feel well leading up to a performance are asked to stay home. If you have tested positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, please call our Box Office at 804.344.0906 x224 so that we may discuss ticket options.


Photo Credits: Production photos to follow

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PAGE TO STAGE II

STARR FOSTER’S CROSS-DISCIPLINARY DANCE PROJECT

STARR FOSTER DANCE: Page to Stage II

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: December 1-3, 2022

Ticket Prices: $15-$25

Info: (804) 304-1523; www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance

THE PROGRAM

Choreography by Starrene Foster

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

Costumes by Starrene Foster

Spirits

Inspired by a story by Patricia Smith

Original Music Composition by Daniel Deckelman

Dear Me

Inspired by a poem by Tonyehn Verkitus

Music by DJ Williams Shots Fired; Iron Fist

Sisterhood

Inspired by a story by Judith Bice

Music by Mike Lazarev; When You Are

FeeJee Mermaid

Inspired by a story by Clay McLeod Chapman

Original Music Composition by Daniel Deckelman with narration by Brent\

Costume Concept Design by Johann Stegmeir, Constructed by Starrene Foster

About Us

Inspired by a story by Mary Lou Hall

Original Music Composition by Daniel Deckelman

Sky Burial

Inspired by a poem by M. C. Boyes

Music by Roger Goula; Looking Back to Self Awareness

Things That Fit Tight Around the Ribs

Inspired by a poem by Molly Todd

Original Music Composition by Daniel Deckelman

I think I have seen most of Starr Foster Dance’s Richmond performances since the company was born in 2001. I have been stunned, enthralled, mesmerized, puzzled, amused, and I have even teased Foster about her seeming preference for lighting on the darker side of the lumens scale or lux meter (or however you measure brightness). The point is, Foster has a unique style, one that most often presents women in a powerful light (no pun intended), and dares to stretch outside any semblance of a comfort zone – whether her own, the dancers, or the audience,

Foster’s latest project, two years in the making – or waiting – due to the restrictions of the pandemic, Page to Stage II, is a collection of seven short dances inspired by seven short stories, excerpts, and poems by local writers. Not only do the dances span a wide range of emotions, but the program is an actual book that contains all of the written works – the pages that found their way onto the stage – that the audience can take away to keep.

In addition to the seven writers, Foster invited six guest performers to dance with her core company of four women: Taylor-Leigh Adams, Fran Beaumont, Anna Branch, and Molly Huey. The six guest performers, Sophia Berger, Charlotte Bray, Shannon Comerford, Elena Dimitri, Keeley Hernandez, and Mosca Mavrophilipos-Flint were a perfect fit, blending easily with Foster’s core dancers and providing the needed enhancement for the stories. To my surprise and delight, I discovered that one of them had been a student of mine when I taught elementary school.

Previous performances of Starr Foster Dance took place in the intimate space of TheatreLab’s black box space, The Basement, but Page to Stage II (the sequel to a 2015 production) was performed at The Firehouse Theatre. The Firehouse seats about 4 times the number of people who fit into The Basement (sadly, TheatreLab shuttered operations at the end of the 2022 season) – and every performance was sold out! This is great for Foster and company, but it also speaks to a growing hunger for contemporary dance in RVA.

Several works on the program stood out above the others for various reasons. The opening work, Spirits, inspired by Patricia Smith’s story of the same name, explores the intentions of spirits, ancestors, and the associations we make with them. Accompanied by strings and the sounds of flowing water, the dancers, dressed in soft pats and matching tops with hems died to look muddied, move like water sprites. They seem to rise and return to a watery grave, evoking images of fictional willies (e.g., the Willis in the ballet Giselle represent the spirits of women left at the alter) as well as the spirits of all whose dreams were cut short before they were fulfilled. The nine dancers seem to float, rise up, and at the end return to their watery grave, still reaching for life – theirs? Or ours?

My absolute favorite was Dear Me. A solo, the work was performed on Friday night by Fran Beaumont. I loved Beaumont’s energy, the lackadaisical way she kicked her leg up to the side and over her head, the motif of running backwards, and even her simple, dark jumpsuit. Funny, assertive, and sassy, the solo, set to a dynamic funk rock score by DJ Williams and Shots Fired, reminded me of the jazzy and dramatic solos of the late American modern dancer, Daniel Nagrin. (If you are not familiar with him, dig back into dance history and find a video of him performing Strange Hero or Man of Action (1948).

FeeJee Mermaid is funny and creepy and deliciously weird. Set to an original score that is reminiscent of circus music and a narration of Clay McLeod Chapman’s fictitious lecture on how to make a FeeJee Mermaid. Some people are terrified of the circus, clowns, and sideshows. FeeJee Mermaid does nothing to allay these fears. Based on a real-life hoax perpetrated by P.T. Barnum and others, Chapman’s work – and Foster’s kinesthetic interpretation – is an instruction manual on how to construct a horrible taxidermist’s nightmare: a fake mermaid created by attaching the torso of an ape to the bottom half of a large fish. Foster’s quartet of dancers, clad in flesh-toned leotards dyed in a fish-scale pattern do not actually construct a FeeJee Mermaid, but their circus antics, and Daniel Deckelman’s music are sufficiently creepy to leave a lasting impression. Oh, and one of the remaining examples of a “real” FeeJee Mermaid has been in residence at Harvard’s Peabody Museum since 1897. Look it up – if you dare.

About Us is a story by Mary Lou Hall that tells of a mother who left her family (physically and/or mentally) in order to save herself. In Foster’s dance, Molly Huey (on Friday night) was supported and surrounded by a quartet of dancers who seemed to represent the various versions of her inner self. Huey danced, often with her eyes closed, moving her hands in a repetitive gesture that seemed designed to clear away the cobwebs that both clouded her vision and restricted her movements. It is a very intimate dance, one that breaks the usual rules by focusing inward rather than outward. The supporting dancers move in a very unexpected way, deliberately not drawing attention to themselves, trying not to stand out, but instead focusing on the main character – and the main character is. . .you/us.

I could find something special about each of the dances in this series. The dark dresses of Sisterhood echo the darkness of the theme that seems to be a prelude to a true-crime story about two sisters whose lives are unhealthily entwined. The women in Sky Burial interact with one another like two people feeding each other with long-handled spoons. Then there is the poignancy and steely sharpness of the pointing finger in Things That Fit Tight Around the Ribs. Like many good books, and all poems, Stage to Page II should be seen again and should definitely be discussed. What did YOU see? What did YOU feel? What did YOU take away? This is Starr Foster Dance at its finest.

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

———-

Photo Credits: Douglas Hayes.

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LEAH GLENN DANCE THEATRE

An Homage to the Little Rock Nine & Eight Other Dances

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, Richmond, VA 23224

Performances: June 4, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20

Info: (804) 230-8780 LGDTdance.com

In June 2021 I attended “The Making of Nine” at Dogtown Dance Theatre. An artist’s talk with choreographer Leah Glenn, visual artist Steve Prince, poet Dr. Hermine Pinson, and historian Dr. Jamel Donner, “The Making of Nine” offered a fascinating insight into the creative process and historical background of a multi-media work-in-progress that celebrates the nine African-American students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957.

Nine was co-commissioned by the Carver Community Cultural Center in San Antonio, TX, in partnership with Xavier University and the National Performance Network’s Creation and Development Fund and the show premiered Saturday, May 28 at the Carver. When I learned that the finished work – or at least the latest iteration of this dynamic and developing work – would be presented for only one performance at Dogtown on June 4 I rearranged my schedule to make sure I did not miss it. The previous year’s artists’ talk had impressed me that this was a work that needed to be seen.

The closing work on a program of nine works, Nine is a fusion of dance, poetry, music, visual arts (in set design, costumes, props, and associated prints), and history that reflects on the institutions of racism, education, and American society.

Nine begins with a humming, a moan, a procession of nine dancers and eight larger-than-life sized banners (the ninth banner appears after a significant solo) each featuring a stylized portrait of one of the nine. The dancers are clad in Prince’s beautiful black and white costumes (apparently hand-painted), each marked somewhere with the letters AOG on a small shield, and some are adorned with adinkra symbols. The AOG is a reference to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, a reminder to put on the whole Armor of God – something that was necessary to protect the nine young scholars in their hostile educational and social environment. The adinkra symbols include the bird that faces forward while looking back – a reminder to “go back and get it” or learn from the past. The symbols are a visual representation of ancestral wisdom and traditional proverbs. In contrast, the costumes of the dancers representing the white students bear anti-black slogans (two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate) and anti-Semitic symbols (swastikas).

The movement begins with the cadence of a work song, also an appropriate historical reference, as is the hand-clapping and thigh-slapping that serves as both accompaniment and choreography – a reference to the hambone or patting juba that developed during a time when drums were confiscated from African people in the Americans to prevent them from communicating with one another. Wow – all of this, and the dance has barely started. Nine is rich in historic references, and the integration of the multi-media elements is so multi-layered it cannot be comprehended in a single viewing. Nine is, in a way, a compact mini-series of the history of this specific group of young people at a specific point in time (1957) in a specific geographic location (Little Rock, AR).

Video footage from The History Makers archive provides some important historical background, but this is a work that I believe needs extensive program notes, or better yet, a pre-show introduction followed by a post-show discussion. It’s far too important to be treated as simply a dance, and far to complex to be denied the formality of community.

The program also included the urban Aloft, in which dancers run and balance to a background of traffic sounds and a rapid-fire Spanish-language speaker, sometimes assuming protective postures and other times appearing to teeter on a tightrope. There was the percussive and ritualistic Fault Lines, a jazz trio set to the music of Trombone Shorty called From the Corners of the Room, and Claiming Race, an encounter between two briefcase carrying men wearing suits and ties. Hush, which I believe was inspired by Glenn’s son, is a powerfully intense work that features a mourner’s bench and the soulful music of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Letter to the Editor, is based on an actual event in which Glenn’s father, head of one of the few Black families in the town where he resided, wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper in response to the locality’s resistance to integration. I am not sure what Glenn was thinking of when she created Furious Flowers but what I saw was a form of death that was in reality a planting, followed by a rebirth representing growth and hope, and I wish I had a bit of background for the duet Perceived Threat. The melancholy music, water sounds, and whispering, and the sudden and mysterious appearance of the male dancer’s partner from behind (or inside?) the box he was sitting on made me wonder exactly what – or who – the threat was.

The entire program offered plenty of food for thought. The closing image, of nine school desks lined up, the writing arms covered with portraits of the actual Little Rock students – was a stark reminder that we are still connected to the past, and hiding or re-writing history does not make it go away.

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

———-

Photo Credits: LGDT Website & Instagram page; Photos Courtesy of Skip Rowland .

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STARR FOSTER DANCE PRESENTS:

18th Annual Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase: Celebrating Pride

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: June 4 & 5, 2022

Ticket Prices: $15

Info: www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance

2022 CHOREOGRAPHERS

AB Contemporary Dance / Alyah Baker; Raleigh, NC

Ankita; Brooklyn, NY

Luisa Innisfree Martinez; Richmond, VA

Megan Mazarick; Philadelphia, PA

Next Reflex Dance Collective / Roxann Morgan Rowley; Fairfax, VA

Starr Foster Dance/Starrene Foster; Richmond, VA

Wow. From first to last, the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Choreographers was riveting. The six works by six choreographers from Brooklyn, NY to Raleigh, NC each embraced LGTBQIA+ themes or concepts related to gender or sexuality. Each was performed in the round – actually, in a defined square, with the audience intimately situated on all sides. For those old enough to know what I’m talking about, it reminded me of my undergraduate days watching dance at NYC’s Judson Church. (If you’re not of a certain age, I don’t know, maybe a cypher or a rave might describe the vibe.)

One of the most striking pieces was Fools+Kings, a premiere choreographed and performed by Alyah Baker in collaboration with Lee Edwards and Kahlila Brown. Accompanied by smooth jazz performed by Nat King Cole and Orchestra and CeeLo Green, the trio graced us with liquid combinations of movement and incredibly soft landings. Sometimes the arresting choreography consisted of just a gaze, a burning stare. Dressed in black vests and pants, with three low stools as mobile props, the dancers kept the movement simple, yet their virtuosity was undeniable.

Inspired by the life and legacy of composer Billy Strayhorn, Fools+Kings was escribed in the program as an exploration of “themes of connection and heartbreak through the lens of Black Queer aesthetics and embodiment.” I was particularly struck by Lee Edwards who – I swear – reminded me of a compact, femme version of Bill T. Jones. Anyone who knows me knows that Bill T. Jones is one of my favorite dancers of all time, so I do not say this lightly. Fools+Kings built up a complex structure balanced on hot and cool jazz and Afro beats and then, BAM! – without warning or preparation, it ended with a full stop. Wow. I cannot wait to see more from this group.

Backtracking to the opening, the program began with a solo, old swan, by Megan Mazarick. Dressed in a tailored suit, Mazarick delivered portions of a deconstructed lecture while executing a fusion of post-modern, classic break-dance type moves, the robot, and even a bit of disco in a humor-infused cycle of melting and resurrecting. This is the work that took me back to Judson Church. I take notes in the dark, and for this piece my page was inscribed with a large heart. While old swan may be a reference to ballet classics like Swan Lake and all the fairy tale magic that goes along with the romantic era, it may also be a sly play on the symbolism of swans representing grace, love, trust, beauty, and loyalty. The final scene of the swan “coming home to roost” reminded me of that old saying about chickens coming home to roost – meaning that the evil things you do will come back to bite you in the butt (i.e., karma). Of course, Mazarick may not have intended any of these concepts, but I felt free – even invited – to explore all of them in this wonderful solo.

Another work that resonated was an excerpt from a dance called Penumbra, choreographed by Ankita Sharma and performed by Sharma and Darryl Filmore. Penumbra is dark, very dark. I have sometimes teased Starr Foster, saying that her works are so dark, but I was referring to the lighting. Penumbra  is psychologically dark, and that’s an even more terrifying kind of dark. By definition, a penumbra is a region of shadow or partial illumination, resulting from an obstruction or partial obstruction.

This section of the artist’s evening-length work is called “Aftercare,” and the work explores the question, “What does it feel like to say the dark things that remain inside out loud?” Based on the dancers’ shared experiences with trauma, the two begin on opposite sides of a small table, somehow, remarkably, performing similar movements with strikingly different dynamics. The force and counterforce reminds me of the life and death encounters being negotiated by the old men convened around Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table but her it takes only two, not a dozen, to create this howling, apocalyptic effect!

When they arise from the floor, the gentler of the two seems to transform into the dominate, or abusive partner, and the sharper mover becomes fearful and guarded. A shift to demonic red lighting carries them away. Notably, this was the only group that did not take a bow – to do so would have broken the spell and diminished the power of this work.

I was glad I tarried long enough to see Sharma and Filmore emerge from backstage to greet their friends and audience members with smiles. It was relief to see they were able to drop the heavy personas they had adopted and leave them on the stage.

The program also included Circular, a duet by Roxanne Morgan Rowley, performed by Rowley and Sara Goldman, that explores the circularity of relationships between two women; and Luisa Innisfree Martinez’s hilarious Trope in a Box. Performed in, on, and under an open sided crate, Martinez’ solo uses comedy and strong, acrobatic movement phrases to examine and deconstruct themes and tropes of femininity. The program concluded with Starr Foster’s new work, Stripped, a trio that explores identity. The three women become entangled, connect, collapse, support one another, and finally seem to reach a place of calm, peace, and acceptance.

Foster has produced the Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase for 18 years, and hasn’t run out of ideas yet. This was, by far, the best Showcase yet: powerful new work, a diverse collection of choreographers and dancers, a relevant theme, and a variety of perspectives. Thank you, all of you, for a wonderful experience.

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

———-

Photo Credits: See individual photo captions

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INFORMAL

A Showing of Dance in its Purest Form

An informal dance review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Gottwald Playhouse at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace St., Richmond, VA 23219

Performances: June 4, 2022 at 2pm and 7pm

Ticket Prices: $18

Info: http://www.karardancecompany.com/events

THE PROGRAM

Pass (Premiere)

Choreography: Kara Robertson

Dancers: Hailey Clevenger and Lexi Firestone

Music: “This” by Modeselektor and Thom Yorke

Choreographic Demonstration

Game: Mad Libs Summer Vacation

Dead Weight (Premiere)

Choreography: Kara Robertson

Dancers: Taylor Black, Hailey Clevenger, Caitlin Espinueva

Music: “Fibre de Verre” by Paris Combo

Standstill (2016)

Choreography: Kara Robertson

Dancers: Taylor Black and Caitlin Espinueva

Music: “Sukkara ehizatu” by Robo

Choreographic Demonstration

Part 2

Wave and Flight (Premiere)

Choreography by Kara Robertson

Dancers: Taylor Black, Hailey Clevenger, Caitlin Espinueva, and Lexi Firestone

Music: “Hanging D (Cello Octet Amsterdam Version)” by Joep Beving and Cello Octet Amsterdam and “A New Satiesfaction” by Stephen Koncz

For their first in-person production in two and a half years, KARAR Dance Company chose to go INFORMAL. That was both the title and philosophy of the program of new and recent works: no costumes, no lights, no intermission, and a chance for audience participation before and after the performance. This made for a delightful Saturday afternoon that provided insight onto Kara Robertson’s creative process.

PASS, a work-in-progress, is built on a vision of people on a busy urban street being passed by an indifferent crowd. PASS could also be a metaphor for people letting life pass them by, passing up opportunities. The two dancers begin with a lot of floor work, incorporating a sort of  racer’s starting position. Sometimes moving in unison, sometimes moving in opposition, mirrored images, and punctuating their movement with powerful statements of stillness, one could imagine the for now invisible crowd passing by, the dancers focused or zoned out.

Robertson accepted questions and suggestions from the audience immediately after.

Dead Weight, a quartet, is a template for late elaboration. It starts in silence and – when lights are added – will end in a fade-out. Two dancers begin on the floor while a third enters with the fourth on her back – a dead weight. The music adds a familiar-sounding melody but the vocals are in French and translate to something about fiberglass, lightning, and love. All of which, adds an air of romance and mystery to the little conflicts, the shoves, like the inevitable banter of sisters, perhaps, and again, those wonderful moments of silence or stillness that I am beginning to think are a signature of Robertson’s work,

Standstill, originally performed as a male-female duet, and later as a solo, was presented as a duo for two women. The music, a blend of cello, vocals that sound like Spanish and Arabic, and a cacophony of percussion and horns is a fusion of contemporary and classical – another Robertson signature.

The INFORMAL program conclude with Wave and Flight – a work Robertson plans to teach to those enrolled in her upcoming summer workshop (see the KARAR website for more information) begins with a run and semi-fall, forming what Robertson refers to as “hills.” Jumps in the air, legs tucked, low sweeping turns and rolls on the floor prepare the dancers for their eventual “flight.” The music accompanying this work consists of strings, solemn yet soaring and a bit agitated. The music supports Robertson’s vision as she plays with variations in tempo and kinetic polyrhythms. Wave and Flight has a bit of a storybook feel; the dancers interact more directly than in the previous works, there are lifts and carries and airy leaps and turns that are complemented by the sunshine and butterflies in the music.

The Choreographic Demonstrations revealed Robertson’s creative process using a basket of words generated by the audience and a Mad-Libs format the dancers created movement in the first demonstration, and Robertson began to place them on stage. In the second part of the demonstration, Robertson deconstructed the movements, made minute adjustments in position, direction, and the like, and the dancers and audience began to see the formation of a new work-in-progress.

The stress-free and interactive format of INFORMAL was just what the Richmond dance community needed at this time.

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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UPROOTED DANCE: The Ascension Project

Dogtown Presenter’s Series 2022

A dance review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23223

Performances: May 20-21, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students & Military

Info: (804) 230-8780 or https://www.dogtowndancetheatre.com

THE PROGRAM

The Ascension Project: An Indie-Rock Dance Opera

Choreography: Kiera Hart-Mendoza & Uproot Dance Cast Members

Music: Sufjan Stevens, Ascension Album

Director: Keira Hart-Mendoza

Assistant Director: Carrie Monger

UpRooted Dance Cast Members: Rachael Appoid, Ashayla Byrd, Raeanna Grey, Brittney Leasure, Carrie Monger, and Julianna Raimondo

Community Member Dancers in Act II: Lexie Hays, David Monger, Lea Monger, Maria Carmina Parong, Honey Lyn Savage, Dhol Tuason, Belle Villanueva

Original Projection Art and Design: Nitsan Scharf

Celestial Headpiece Design: Margie Jervis

Lighting Design: Kaylin Corbin

Scenic Design: Ken Hays

This may seem like a strange start, but stick with me. I promise it will make sense. I have memories of people skipping church when they knew the senior pastor was away. They apparently attended church for a personality, rather than to worship God. Some people just don’t like the unknown and unless the guest speaker was a well-known personality, many showed no interest. This is the thought that ran through my mind when I attended The Ascension Project by Uprooted Dance at the Dogtown Presenter’s Series on Friday, April 20. My partner and I seemed to be the only attendees in the approximately 150-seat theater who were not staff members or family or friends of the performers. There were fewer than 20 people in the seats.

Now, I was not familiar with Uprooted Dance, a Metro D.C. – area based company that is committed to presenting interdisciplinary collaborative work that tells thought-provoking stories and community engagement. That is exactly why I wanted to see them. What a great opportunity to see a new-to-me company without having to travel several hours and spend money on gas. Well, that’s my take on the situation, but I know that’s not going to fill empty seats, so without further ado – or diversion – here’s my take on The Ascension Project.

The Ascension Project was inspired by the events of the past two years: the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, social justice, the flattening of personal space as represented on a Zoom screen. Arranged – remember, this is a dance opera – into a prelude and three short acts, The Ascension Project is a journey through time and space that begins with isolation in small spaces, explores identity, trauma, and loss, and concludes with a transcendent journey. So, what does this look like?

The “Prelude,” described in the Director’s notes as “a bright, bold, big dance number” has the company of six dancers performing warm up movements in brightly colored casual clothes against a wall of brightly colored projections that include videos of the dancers performing the “Prelude.” For all the clever moments, including the dancers passing and sharing up close with the audience signs bearing messages such as “I missed you,” “Can you see me,” “Sit back and relax,” and “Enjoy the show,” and an attempt to create a satirical replica of a Zoom dance class experience, the sum total of all the components of the “Prelude” was remarkably subdued.

The dancers spend most of Act 1, the “Dream Sequence” on the floor in uncomfortable positions, rolling and restless as the background of colorful mandalas spins and regenerates at a sometimes dizzying pace. In one mesmerizing section the dancers log roll upstage, walk back downstage, and repeat the sequence, each time at a faster pace until finally they are running. Black and white projections and earth-toned costumes segue into colorful blooming flowers for the ”Circle of Life” section where the dancers move in a clockwise rotation, briefly holding hands and wrapping their arms around one another, ending the nightmare of illness, death, war, and famine.

The focus – and tone – shifts again in Act 2, “America,” when the company members are joined by members of the Sayaw! Philippine cultural dance group and community dancers, including a lone man and two little girls.  The focus of “America” is culture and identity and features a power fist pump, a cultural dance, taking a knee, and saluting the flag (background) with a hand over the heart.

Finally, Act 3, “Blast Off,” contemplates what the future holds. The dancers start off as astronauts, in silver suits and a cleverly designed spaceship – a blend of physical and video components – that takes them to future new worlds where race and politics and nationality no longer exist, no longer separate and segregate. After experiencing weightlessness – and planting their flag – the dancers become transformed into celestial beings with lighted constellations headdresses. The lighting and dark costumes obscure their individuality, such as race, hair, skin color, creating a minimalist effect that harkens ack to the beginning.

Make no mistake, like most operas, this one needs a synopsis to help an unfamiliar audience navigate the strange  new terrain. Extensive program notes were provided in the printed program but before each new section, Artistic Director Kiera Hart-Mendoza provided a verbal map to guide the uninitiated.

Honestly, The Ascension Project has the look and feel of a work-in-progress. Sometimes, it’s good to get in on an emerging work and follow its development. I suspect this is very much the case with The Ascension Project,” as its name implies. The Ascension Project is an interesting and evolving work that did not quite reach its full potential, but hopefully will continue to evolve and reach an appropriate and appreciative audience.

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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FREE FALL

An evening of dance works by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam & Malcolm Shute
A dance review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23223
Performances: April 15-17, 2022
Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students
Info: (804) 230-8780 or https://www.dogtowndancethetre.com

THE PROGRAM
A Day in the Life of My Brain
Choreography: Shane O’Hara
Music: John Zorn
Costume Design: Kathleen Conery
Performer: Shane O’Hara
Cascade
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with the dancers
Dancers: Susan Donham, Roxann Morgan Rowley, Alexander Short, Malcolm Shute
Music: “Adagio in G Minor” composed by Albonini, recorded by Miguel Del Oro Orchestra
A Cloud of Probability (2022)
Choreography: Scott Putman
Dancers: Sophia Berger, Erin Dutton, Sydney Goldston, Abby Hardy, Celine Lewis, Makayla Woolner
Music: “Tower,” “Dirt,” “Hero Brother” by Sarah Neufeld
Costumes: Damion Bond
Personal Space
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with Katie Sopoci Drake
Dancers: Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute
Music: Malcolm Shute
Travelblog…The Grand Tour (2009)
Choreography: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose, and Ryan Corriston
Music: Sound score by Mitchell Mercurio
Text: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose
Performers: Ryan Corriston, Shane O’Hara

A weekend of dance by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam, and Malcolm Shute at Dogtown Dance Theatre had the feeling of a James Madison University dance faculty/alumni reunion combined with a going away party for outgoing Dogtown Artistic Executive Director Jess Burgess.

The diverse selection of dance works ranged from the comedic to the meditative. O’Hara opened the program with “A Day in the Life of My Brain” and closed it with “Travelblog…The Grand Tour.” The former is a kaleidoscope of gestures – humorous, percussive, and precise. A soundscape of buzzes, squeaks, and screeches – ranging from funny to irritating – complement O’Hara’s Elizabethan neck ruff (clown collar) and kinetic shenanigans. For example, O’Hara rises from the floor and attempts to assume a dignified stance, only to appear to be attacked by a swarm of invisible bugs.
In “Travelblog,” O’Hara starts off as a tour guide narrating a London excursion, only to wander off on a tangent – which is exactly what he warns his charges not to do. Equal parts dance, mime, and dialogue, “Travelblog” is a zany tour de force. O’Hara and partner Ryan Corriston are dressed in conservative gray suits and high top Converse All Stars. Corrison, at one point, passes his umbrella to an audience member for safe-keeping, as the two embark upon a journey that includes a riotous litany of TSA airport vocabulary that is anchored by the ubiquitous “three-ounce” rule. There is a marvelous moment of apparent weightlessness and O’Hara’s encounter with a “bad knee” ends in audience participation. O’Hara inexplicably dies centerstage, so Corrison retrieves his umbrella and calmly sits on O’Hara’s apparently lifeless body. And scene!
Bookending O’Hara’s comedic offerings were two vastly different works by Malcolm Shute – “Cascade” and “Personal Space.” In “Cascade” the dancers began piled atop one another and moved as a unit. They separated briefly, but not for long, drawn back by an invisible, magnetic pull. When they peel off and roll at the end it doesn’t feel like an act of freedom; it seems more sad than liberating. The dancers’ black tops and pants have a paint splattered pattern and Albonini’s “Adagio in G Minor” contribute to a vaguely familiar, and simultaneously funereal atmosphere.
“Personal Space” is an expansive exploration of a confined space. The two dancers, Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute, collaborated on the symbiotic meditation. They gently fit together, back to back, but as Shute’s textured and eclectic score ratchets up into what sounds like an antique movie film reel whose lose end is flipping over again and again, Shute’s transitions become more challenging. At one point he is cantilevered over Drake, legs suspended in the air, seemingly supported solely by his core. Throughout the piece, neither dancer’s feet ever touch the floor. The one odd moment – was it a technical decision or a technical faux pas? – occurred near the end when the rear curtain that had been unobtrusively open throughout the duet suddenly closed. I found this distracting and an unwelcome intrusion into the meditative flow of the dance.
In the middle of the program, closing out the first act, was Scott Putnam’s “A Cloud of Probability.” Damion Bonds’ colorful costumes suggested characters from epic tales as the six dancers traced mesmerizing circles and spirals. The spirals were often accompanied by an upward look with the head and eyes following. The piece was set against a background of Sarah Neufeld’s violin compositions. Neufeld’s work has been described as minimalist and post-modern classical, but in “A Cloud of Probability” I would characterize it as futuristic folk music that enhanced the subtle intensity and energy of the work.
Saturday night’s program included an emotional tribute to Jess Burgess, the outgoing Artistic and Executive Director of Dogtown Dance Theatre. Burgess came to Dogtown as a volunteer in 2010 when the space opened its doors and served in a volunteer capacity before coming on as director in 2015. Burgess will be moving to South Carolina to become the CEO for the Greenville Center for Creative Arts.

No photos available at the time of publication.

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STARR FOSTER DANCE:

Two Weekend Festival of Dance

What if, in one moment, you had changed your mind during your journey. And if so, how would that change affect the final outcome? – Introduction to Starr Foster’s Crave

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The ConciliationLAB – The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: April 1-3 and April 7-9, 2022

Ticket Prices: $10-$15

Info: www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance

THE PROGRAM

Program A

Crave (2019)

Choreographed by Starrene Foster

Original Music by Billy Curry

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

North Stage Performers: Fran Beaumont & Ana Pavón

South Stage Performers: Anna Branch & Lydia Ross

Program B

The Apology (2022)

Choreographed by Starrene Foster

Original Music by Daniel Deckelman

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

Performed by Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, Keeley Hernández, and Lydia Ross

Bridge (Reworking of 2014 work)

Choreographed by Starrene Foster

Music by Camille Saint-Saëns: “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso”

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

Performed by Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, Keeley Hernández, and Lydia Ross

Over the course of two consecutive weekends Star Foster Dance presented a revival, a recent work, and a premiere in two separate programs at The Basement.

First up was Crave, a work unique for its staging. On entering the space, audience members receive a slip of paper with the word “North” or “South,” designating which side of the space to sit for the first half of the program. After intermission, the audience shifts to the other side.    

On each side, separated by a black curtain or screen, a pair of dancers explores a series of movements using the same choreography but different motivations fueled by the idea, What if? What if you changed your mind and followed a different path along your journey?

Crave premiered at The Basement three years ago, and I’ve had the opportunity to see it twice, once starting on the “North” side, and once starting on the “South” side. Amazingly, it is quite a different experience on each side and further, it is a different experience depending on which side you start on. A friend who saw the work for the first time voiced the opinion that the “South” side where we began seemed more aggressive or forceful, while others thought the opposite. I thought the interactions of one pair of dancers lingered more thoughtfully than their counterparts on the opposite side of the curtain. Seeing the piece more than once encourages the viewer to focus on the dancers’ use of weight and force, timing and accents. Whatever your personal take-away, Crave is undeniably immersive and engages the audience with both simplicity of movement and complexity of motive.

For the second weekend of performances Starr Foster Dance broke out the beautiful new work, The Apology, with an original score by Daniel Deckelman. A quartet performed by Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, Keeley Hernández, and Lydia Ross, The Apology is populated with large, expansive movement juxtaposed with delicate, precise phrases, as when Lydia Ross seems to pluck invisible hairs from the air. The dancers hug, lift, and support one another as we feel the tension in the music build up steadily and reach a crescendo and repeat in waves, interspersed with gentle palpitations and gently tinkling bell-like vibrations. The wave-like permutations fostered thoughts on the meaning of “apology.” There’s an admission of error, accompanied by an expression of regret, or a written or spoken defense, or even a poor or inadequate example, or some nuanced version of any of these. The dancers, clad in shades of red, might be seen to replicate the shades of passion –- or the letting of blood — that precede, accompany, or follow an apology.

Finally, there was Bridge, a humorous quartet that sets the four women around a card table   and watches how their friendship explodes or deteriorates. They attack the dance/the game with the ferocity of the dignitaries around Kurt Jooss’ Green Table. I don’t know if Foster was aware of a 2004 New York Times article about how men and women play bridge differently, but this is a hard-hitting, anything goes game. Forget the poker face; these four ladies, in their demure 1950s-style house dresses, grimace and give out the sly side eye; their faces are animated and don’t leave anything to the imagination.

The work is set to French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” a work for violin and orchestra that often sounds like a dramatic waltz. The four dancers bang the table, slide under the table, lay across the table, walk, slide, and toss their chairs, and eventually build up to assaulting one another in various and sundry creative and mind-boggling ways – the viewer will never look at bridge or any other card game the same way, but they will look forward eagerly to the next Starr Foster Dance performance of Bridge.

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. Rehearsal photo (dancers at the Bridge table) by Charlotte Bray.

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STUDIO THREE: IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD

Three For Three: Richmond Ballet Studio Three Presents Works by Three Women Choreographers

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: The Richmond Ballet, Canal Street Studios, 407 East Canal Street, RVA 23219

Performances: March 22-27, 2022

Ticket Prices: $26-$46. (Choreographer’s Club: $66-$101)

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

Updated COVID-19 Protocols, see below.

THE PROGRAM
LIFELINE         

Choreography by Sarah Ferguson

Music by VOCES8 and Zapp4

Costume Design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

Choreography by Jennifer Archibald

Music by Jacob Banks, Ray Charles, Frank DeVol. And Leon Russell

Costume Design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

KALEIDOSCOPIC ETUDES

Choreography by Katarzyna Skarpetowska

Music by Philip Glass

Costume and Scenic Design by Fritz Masten

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

As soon as I learned that Richmond Ballet’s Spring 2022 Studio Three production would be a program of works by women choreographers I was filled with eager anticipation. The program that was delivered did not disappoint. A combination of the Ballet’s New Works Festival and the Studio Series, the program featured two new works – by Sarah Ferguson (a VCU Dance grad who serves as a Richmond Ballet administrator and photographer) and Jenifer Archibald (a prolific Canadian-born choreographer with an extensive background that includes hip hop and theater) – and a commissioned work by Katarzyna (Kate) Skarpetowska a native of Poland and Juilliard graduate, who lists her residence as Petersburg, Russia and New York City. Skarpetowska premiered her work Polaris for the Richmond Ballet’s New Works Festivalin 2015.

The three works were widely diversified and each was glorious in its own way.

The Richmond Ballet New Works festival has supported the development of and presented 89 new works since its inception in 2008. Each choreographer is offered 25 hours of studio time with selected company members and presents their work at the New Works studio performance. Many of these short works  go on to be developed from five- to ten-minute ensembles to full 20-minute ballets.

Ferguson, familiar to many as a company administrator in a variety of roles and to others as the company’s resident photographer, revived her interest in choreography during the days of the pandemic. She says that she now choreographs like a photographer, and her new work, “Lifeline,” has a juicy, languid quality. The dancers are often directly connected to one another, reaching, pulling, and stretching like an evolving organism. During the opening night post performance discussion, images of starfish and even armadillos were evoked to describe the organic and tidal movement that at times resembled the animated sculptural qualities of MOMIX or Pilobolus. The pod, the entity, the emerging and evolving unit, consisting of nine dancers in inky dresses and pants led by Sarah Joan Smith and Enrico Hipolito, were beautifully lit to create illusion of floating. The first of three works on the evening’s program, “Lifeline” received a standing ovation.

The color and flair of Archibald’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” initially gave me a fleeting flashback of the high school dance scene in West Side Story but Archibald drew her inspiration from the film starring Sir Sidney Poitier and her own experience of growing up with interracial parents. Archibald likes to explore storytelling that is not grounded in Eurocentric narration and likes having a diverse cast of dancers to explore a range of human experiences. Her vocabulary seamlessly merges classical ballet with hip hop and jazz. Her women softly leap, are caught horizontally and lay out as if landing on a soft pillow instead of on two arms precariously molded over thin air. Then a swiping motion that could be playfully affectionate – or not – forces the receiving partner to duck. Timing is everything, and Archibald’s timing veers towards the daring and unexpected. For those familiar with modern dance history, her use of the ensemble is reminiscent of the exhilarating way Talley Beatty filled a stage with bodies and energy. If all goes as planned, Archibald is expected to return in November to lengthen “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” into a full-length (i.e., 20-25 minute) ballet.

The second half of the Studio Three evening was given over to Skarpetowska’s beautifully lit and colorfully costumed “Kaleidoscopic Etudes.” Set to five Philip Glass etudes for piano and string quartet. Ferguson stressed that she choreographs like a photographer, but Skarpetowska’s new work is visually stunning with the floor and background representing two different versions of a kaleidoscope and the dancers’ playful attire carrying out the same color scheme of pink, lime green, and blue. Like an optical kaleidoscope, Skarpetowska’s movement and Glass’ music continually adjust and readjust, reflecting complex and constantly changing ephemeral patterns that seem on the brink of evoking a memory or telling a story. Sabrina Holland and Joe Seaton were featured in this work that is fueled by an exciting and slightly dangerous tension that teases with unexpected punctuation and then just as suddenly, it’s gone.

Studio Three Performance Schedule

Tuesday, March 22 @6:30PM (Choreographer’s Club)

Wednesday, March 23 @6:30PM

Thursday, March 24 @6:30PM

Friday, March 25 @6:30PM

Saturday, March 26 @5:00PM

Saturday, March 26@8:00PM

Sunday, March 27@1:30PM

Sunday, March 27@4:00PM (Final Program)

UPDATED COVID-19 Protocols (As of March 2022): Please note that we are seating at 100% capacity this season. Beginning with Studio Three in March, we will no longer require patrons to wear masks or to show proof of vaccination/negative COVID test in order to attend a performance.

MASKS: In light of the latest CDC guidelines and Central Virginia’s current “Low/Medium Community Level” status, masks are optional at these performances.

BALLET BARRE: The Ballet Barre (cashless) will be open for our spring Studio performances. Beer, wine, and soft drinks will be available for purchase pre-show as well as during intermission.

CHOREOGRAPHER’S CLUB: In addition to the exclusive Q&A session with the artists, designers, and dancers, we will host a modified post-show reception. More details will be found in your House Notes email.

WELLNESS CHECK: Patrons who do not feel well leading up to a performance are asked to stay home. If you have tested positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, please call our Box Office at 804.344.0906 x224 so that we may discuss ticket options.


Photo Credits: All photos by Sarah Ferguson.

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ROMEO & JULIET

The Richmond Ballet’s ROMEO & JULIET: Shakespeare’s Family Feud on Pointe

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: February 18-20, 2022

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets $25-$125

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

Romeo & Juliet
Choreography by Malcolm Burn

Music by Sergei Prokofiev

Performed by The Richmond Symphony,

Erin Freeman, Conductor

Scenery & Prop Design by Charles Caldwell

Costume Design by Allan Lees

Lighting Design by MK Stewart

It’s that time of year again. February. Some of us still have Valentine’s Day candy and flowers on our desks. It’s Romeo & Juliet season.

I’ve often mentioned to staff at the Richmond Ballet that my biggest – my only – problem with Romeo & Juliet,a ballet that is always performed around Valentine’s Day, is that it is one of the world’s greatest love stories, but the lovers end up dead at the end. Sigh. I think Romeo & Juliet has a higher body count than many action-adventure plots. But it also has some of the greatest – and largest – hats ever to appear on stage (kudos to costume designer Allan Lees).

On a serious note, Romeo & Juliet, running nearly three hours including two twenty-minute intermissions, is an immersive theatrical experience. There’s young love, friendship, family loyalty, classical ballet, folk dancing, comedy, drama, a fabulous score, and more.

This large-scale ballet, created by Richmond Ballet’s long-time Artistic Associate Malcolm Burn premiered August 1977 and was first performed by the Richmond Ballet in February 1995. The ballet includes a huge cast that highlights the students of the School of Richmond Ballet, the Richmond Ballet Trainees, and the Richmond Ballet II company. I found many of the supporting roles provided some of the most interesting and delightful moments of the evening.

Trainee Gabrielle Goodson was cast as the figure of Fate. A non-dancing role, Fate would appear before a death occurred. I never managed to see Goodson move, but suddenly she would appear or shift to a new position on stage. The black-robed and hooded figure was even more ominous because of the silence, stillness, and unimposing stature.

A trio of Harlots (Celeste Gaiera, Sarah Joan Smith, and Izabella Tokev) provided several amusing interludes, with their dancing (sassy romps through the crowd scenes and seductive moments with the men of the town – all of the men) as well as with their costumes (off the shoulder frocks and outrageous wigs that reminded me of a combination of Marge Simpson and the wigs worn by the step-sisters in the Cinderella ballet).

Among other supporting figures that made a big impact was Susan Israel Massey as Juliet’s Nurse. A character role that did not require much dancing, Massey was delightful: loving and loyal to Juliet, daring and subversive in her support of her young charge, and humorous in the marketplace scene.

Ma Cong, the company’s Associate Artistic Director, who took on his role in June 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, was cast in the role of Lord Capulet, Juliet’s stern and unyielding (abusive might not be too strong a word) father. If I am not mistaken, this was his first onstage appearance with the Richmond Ballet.

Ira White was thrilling in the role of Tybalt, Juliet’s passionate and short-tempered first cousin. White engaged in a lot of swordplay with the gentlemen of the rival House of Montague – Romeo and his sidekicks Benvolio (Colin Jacob) and Balthasar (Zacchaeus Page). The fight scenes lit up the stage with a perfect balance of athleticism and art.

As for the title roles, Sabrina Holland danced the role of Juliet, and Khaiyom Khojaev was her Romeo, roles that require equal parts dancing, acting, and mime. There are no long dance scenes in Romeo & Juliet, and no grand pas de deux, so viewers must soak up every brief encounter, every precious stolen duet between the young lovers. The brevity of each encounter, each step, each lift makes their partnership all the more endearing. Personally, in his group scenes I would have liked to have seen Khojaev adopt some of the feistiness required of White. Tybalt certainly had confidence to spare. But in his solo turns Khojaev’s Romeo soared flawlessly.

Paris (Joe Seaton) the contender favored by Juliet’s parents (Ma Cong and Lauren Fagone), is given short shrift. Juliet flicks away his hand every time he tries to touch her. The poor guy is never even in the running. The tension and family dynamics in the scenes with Juliet, her parents, her nurse, and Paris is palpable and presages the unhappy ending that is sure to come.

Overall, Romeo & Juliet is a family-friendly ballet, and one that can be enjoyed by people who say they do not “understand” ballet. And if you don’t recall the details of Romeo and Juliet from high school, there is a handy scene-by-scene synopsis in the digital program. And the familiar score, played live by the Richmond Symphony, can easily stand alone.

I enjoy the intimate Richmond Ballet Studio Performances that are scheduled four times each season, but there is nothing like a full-scale, evening-length ballet and Romeo & Juliet is a personal and audience favorite, judging by the size, diverse composition, and positive reactions of Friday’s opening night house. At the time of this writing, there are two remaining opportunities to see this run of the Richmond Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet.

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

Romeo & Juliet Performance Schedule

Friday, February 18 @7:00PM

Saturday, February 19 @7:00PM

Sunday, February 20 @2:00PPM

COVID-19 Protocols: Upon entering the theatre, all audience members ages 12 and above are required to show printed or digital proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or of a professionally-administered negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance. Patrons ages 18 and above will also need to show a photo ID. All patrons ages 2 and above will continue to be required to wear masks. Eating and drinking are allowed only in designated areas of the lobby.


Photos of the Richmond Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet. Photos by Sarah Ferguson. All rights reserved.


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