RICHMOND BALLET 2021/22

STUDIO ONE: SEPTEMBER

RICHMOND BALLET 2021/22

STUDIO ONE, SEPTEMBER

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: September 14 – 24, live. September 23 – October 3, virtual.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets start at $25; Virtual Tickets are $25.

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

All audience members, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask covering both the nose and mouth at all times while in the Richmond Ballet building. Visit richmondballet.com/covid to view the company’s updated health and safety protocols.

REPERTORY:

Three Preludes

Choreography by Ben Stevenson, O.B.E.

Staged by Dawn Scannell

Music by Sergei Rachmaninoff          

            Ten Preludes for piano, Op. 23, No. 1 and Thirteen Preludes for piano, Op. 32, Nos. 9 & 10

Lighting Design by William Banks

Pianist: Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn

            World Premiere September 1969, Harkness Youth Dancers, NYC

            Richmond Ballet premiere May 10, 2000, Jepson Theatre, RVA

Pas de Deux from Vestiges

Choreography by Colin Connor

Music by Michael Nyman, The Garden is Becoming a Robe Room

Costume Design by Charles Schoonmaker

Lighting Design by Stacie Johnson

World Premiere May 10, 2000, Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre

Glare (World Premiere)

Choreography by Ma Cong

Music by Michael Nyman and David McAlmont from The Glare album

In Rai Don Giovanni; Secrets, Accusations and Charges; Going to America;

In Laos; The Glare

Costume Design by Monica Guerra

Lighting Design by Trad A. Burns

HOUSEKEEPING

Okay, first the housekeeping, as they say. During 2020/21, the Richmond Ballet delivered five productions, for a total of 96 shows, during a pandemic. With the help of their own medical task force, they returned to in-person classes with virtual options, limited the number of people in the building, and required everyone in the building to mask up. For performances, seating was limited from a maximum of about 250 to 50-75, and both audience and performers wore masks. In addition, the choreographers and dancers modified the choreography to increase the space between dancers, and only dancers who were married to each other or lived in the same household were allowed to partner. Programs ran about an hour, eliminating the necessity of having an intermission, and the popular Ballet Barre was closed to cut down on people mingling in public spaces. And it worked. There were no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission at the Richmond Ballet. Not only did the company weather the storm, in the words of company Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, “We are thriving.”

Emboldened by their pandemic success, the 2021/22 season opened up with no restrictions on seating. However, the audience must remain masked, and for the first Studio One series of performances, there is still no intermission or bar service. The dancers and staff are 100% fully vaccinated, and the masks have come off.

STUDIO ONE: OPENING NIGHT

Opening night at the Richmond Ballet’s Studio Series is a star-studded affair. The elite Choreographer’s Club members pay extra (more than double the standard subscription price) to show their support. In exchange, they get a post-performance Q&A with the guest choreographers and members of the cast and design team, followed by a reception where they get to mingle with the company. While the receptions are on hold until it is deemed safe, the Q&A is still allowed. The first program of the 2021/22 Studio One series opened Tuesday, September 14, with a stunning trio of works and a warm in-person welcome for Ma Cong. Cong, who premiered a new work, was installed as the company’s Associate Artistic Director in June of 2020 and has spent the last year working with the company via Zoom.

The evening opened with “Three Preludes,” choreographed by Ben Stevenson. It featured Izabella Tokev and Joe Seaton, one of nine new dancers. The sweet and innocent duet takes place in a ballet studio and, in fact, mirrors the structure of a ballet class. It begins at the barre, moves to the center floor, ends up traveling across the stage in sweeping phrases with Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn at the piano playing the romantic Rachmaninoff preludes. The intimate lighting made me feel like a voyeur peeking in on a private moment between two lovers.

In the first section, they explore mirroring and opposition as if learning one another’s bodies. Seaton’s arm and Tokev’s leg mimic the same movement on opposite sides of the barre. Once they move to the center, the barre is removed, and Tokev allows her partner to replace it. Finally, they make a grand entrance for a pas de deux set to a brighter tempo that supports more daring lifts and encourages Tokev to run, spin, and jump into Seaton’s awaiting arms. It was almost as if the two dancers were trying to cram all the closeness we missed for the past 18 months into this one short ballet. Some of the partnering required awkward positioning, and a few times, I saw what might have been a misstep, but everything worked out in the end.

Next came the pas de deux from Colin Connor’s “Vestiges.” There are no classic, straight lines in this powerful duet performed by Sarah Joan Smith and Jack Miller. They are both in their first season with Richmond Ballet (although Smith did dance with RBII before joining Kansas City Ballet in 2016). When Smith ran out at the beginning, dressed in an earth-toned crop top and flared shorts, she reminded me of the Puck character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Back arched, knees turned in, with Stacie Johnson’s lighting creating a fiery glow, and Michael Nyman’s score creating high drama with lots of emphasis on strings, it would have been easy for Smith to dominate this duet. But instead, it was a beautifully balanced collaboration powered by dynamic, spiraling interactions. Whereas the opening duet seemed to explore tender, growing love, this one was more about fiery passion.

The program closed with the premiere of Cong’s “Glare,” a work he said he had been holding in his pocket for four years, waiting for the right moment. “2021/22 is the right moment.” “Glare” was inspired by “The Glare,” an album with music by Michael Nyman (yes, the same Michael Nyman as in Connor’s work) and lyrics by David McAlmont. “The key point,” said Cong, “is to watch the music and listen to the dance.” “Glare,” speaks to recent events in history, all across the globe, but its ultimate message, in keeping with the Richmond Ballet’s mission, is uplifting.

At the beginning of the work, one dancer walks out casually and pulls the light switch of a hanging lamp. Various lights populate each section of the work, creating “the glare.” The ballet is performed by six dancers dressed in diverse patterns connected by a warm color palette. The men all wore shorts, but Monica Guerra mixed up the patterns, layers, and textures, giving each dancer an individual look and personality.

Just as the costumes were varied, Cong also varied the movement styles, blending ballet with folk dance, jazz, and hip hop movement in a beautiful jumble of organized chaos. The work is set to five songs from “The Glare” album. “In Roi Don Giovanni” is about sexually charged world leaders, while “Secrets, Accusations and Charges” seems to be about corruption and power. One of my favorite sections was “Going to America,” which features the entire cast mixing it up on stage to a song that is actually about Somalian pirates! “I’m going to America as a prisoner, as a number,” the vocalist croons. But one gets the idea that going to America escorted by the FBI and Navy Seals is preferable to the alternatives.

Couples slow dance in “In Laos” to lyrics that speak of drug mules and drug trafficking. The title song, “The Glare,” is a song about reality television. This final section has the dancers clustered downstage center staring into a light that emanates from somewhere over the audience, bringing the spectators into the midst of the action and reminding us that if we just sit quietly and observe, we are part of the problem.

It was great to be back in the theater, even with restrictions, but most of all, it was a pleasure to be in the theater watching this perfect program. Studio One set a high bar (or barre?) for the rest of the season.

NOTE: Virtual tickets are $25. For patrons who would prefer to watch from the comfort of home, the Richmond Ballet offers virtual access to Studio One. On Monday, September 27th, virtual ticket buyers will receive an email with information on how to access the performance recording, which will be available to stream through Sunday, October 3rd, 11:59 pm. Tickets can be purchased online at etix.com or by phone at (804) 344-0906 x224. Only one virtual ticket is required per household. The deadline to purchase virtual tickets is noon Friday, October 1st. Finally, please note that the Richmond Ballet may be unable to stream this program in its entirety due to music rights restrictions.

Photos by Sarah Ferguson/Richmond Ballet

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COMPANY | E

NEXT: WARMER. An evening of performance on climate change

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 West 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: June 25 & 26, 2021.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets: $20. Streaming Tickets: $8 to see NEXT: WARMER right from your home: https://dogtown.vhx.tv/pro…/company-e-presents-next-warmer

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

REPERTORY:

The Art of Looking Back. Choreography: Emese Nagy (Hungary). Music: Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms; Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree  and Winter Wonderland by Brenda Lee; Mandolin Concerto I  C Major by Antonio Vivaldi; A rich life with less stuff | The Minimalists  TEDxWhitefish

These Frames. Choreography: Robert Rubama (Brooklyn, NY, USA). Music: Organization: Foundation Foundation by Dylan Lambert; Frames by Robert Rubama

Current. Choreography: Maddie Hanson (Canada). Music: Midnight by Kyle Preston; Behind Every Decision by Yehezkel Raz; Dark Tension by Kyle Preston; Hibernation by Peter James Johnson

Y zero. Choreography: Ashley Lobo (India). Music: Original score by Chirag Agarwal & DWC

Passenger. Choreography: Rayven Leak (USA). Music: Original score by Clifton Brockington; additional music by Solange

Having sent out a call for entries on climate change, Company | E, under the artistic direction of Paul Gordon Emerson and Pilkington, selected works by Maddie Hanson (Canada), Ashley Lobo (India), Emese Nagy (Hungary), and Robert Rubama (USA). A fifth work, by Rayven Leak, marked the debut of the Liz Cherry Jones Memorial Commission, awarded to a current student or recent graduate, in collaboration with the Company’s partner, Howard University. All five works came under the umbrella of the title Next: Warmer, a concert of works exploring the theme of climate change and reducing the company’s own footprint in ways large and small.

Emese Nagy’s The Art of Looking Back was at once ridiculously awkward and surprisingly graceful. Dancer Horizon Miguel donned layers of clothing and flung his body around a confined space that was also home to a rotary phone, a mermaid fishtail, a belly button brush, and several boxes. Meanwhile, his partner, Kelsey Rohr, rummaged through piles of clothing and unidentifiable debris. They appeared to be a pair of hoarders reveling in – and being consumed by – years of uncontrolled consumerism.

[https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2236274489837111]

Robert Rubama’s quintet, These Frames, used abstract movement hung on a framework of architectural design in an ambient soundscape that was oddly soothing.  The opening solo made me think of a bird doing yoga. Rubama employed a transient center of gravity, with asymmetrical motifs and off-kilter spines that seemed physically and logically incapable of supporting the moving bodies that enveloped them. This may be his way of metaphorically addressing the larger issue of sustainable practices in architecture and construction and its impact on global carbon emissions.  I was particularly struck by a repeating motif in which the dancers placed their hands at their hip in a diamond shape and lifted them upwards. It was so simple yet so powerful to watch these earthen vessels learn to construct new earthen homes.

[https://m.facebook.com/watch/?v=1219141105185056&_rdr]

Maddie Hanson’s Current – first introduced to Richmond at the previous weeks RDF21 Weekend Two – was performed against a video background of earth, sky, and water. The dancers embodied an undulating spiraling body roll and moved as a unit, giving the impression of being part of a whole even when not touching. Our connection to the Earth and our relationship with water were the focus. Again, I felt that gravity was relative. It was fascinating how connected the various works – each by a different choreographer – appeared to be as the program progressed.

[https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1126442894518799]

Ashley Lobo’s Y zero examined our relationship to planet Earth and looked at the Earth as a living being. The women’s tunics were reminiscent of the ancient Greek peplos or the ancient Roman chiton, and the men’s garments reminded me of monk’s attire. Both drew the mind back in time and supported a sense of history as the dancers moved through this very grounded and immersive work. Lobo’s work seemed to be not so much about the movement as it was about the atmosphere it created.

[https://m.facebook.com/watch/?v=2895562947384103&_rdr]

The program closed with Passenger. Rayven Leak, a 2020 graduate of Howard University, crafted this movement collage of broken, boneless postures infused with hip hop and lyrical movement. A Rasta walk, smooth spins, and catwalks were all embraced by the dancers, who were wrapped in an original score by company resident artist Clifton Brockington, mixed with additional music by Solange.

It was deeply satisfying the way the five works by five different choreographers fit together into a seamless thematic movement. This is as it should be.

Photos from Company | E and Dogtown webpages. Video clips from Company | E website. Photo by Dave Parrish Photography.

ALL NEW RDF21: WEEKEND TWO!

DOGTOWN DANCE THEATRE PRESENTS THE 2021 RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL LIVE AND IN-PERSON

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 West 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: Week One: June 11-12, 2021. Week Two: June 18-19. Live and streamed on Dogtown STREAM.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets: $20 General; $10 Students. Virtual Access $39.99 annually (Free Trial currently in effect. https://www.dogtowndancetheatre.com/dogtownstream)

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

WEEK 2 REPERTORY:

Perceived Threat by Leah Glenn Dance Theatre (Williamsburg, VA). Choreography: Leah Glenn. Music: Max Richter.

Marathon by Trybe Dance Collective (a safe space for emerging artists). Choreography: Danielle Lyndsay. Asst. Jaedyn Cameron, Daneya Celestin, Kendall Parker, Chloe Ruffin, Mia Watkins. Music: “Marathon (In Roses)” by Gem Club.

Equinox a film by Jonah Haber

Vacancy by Baran Dance (Charlotte, NC). Choreography: Audrey Baran. Music: Nicholas Jaar.

Kalika Stuthi by Sri Sai Dance Academy. Choreography: Sarada Jammi. Music: Satyagopal Tumuluri.

A Mother’s Soliloquy a film by Cameron Kostopoulos. Directed & written by Cameron Kostopoulos. Music: Prateek Rajagopal.

One hundred years flicker; I kiss the Snow by Jenna Beardsley (Richmond, VA). Choreography: Jenna Beardsley. Videography: Taylor Bonadies. Music: “Flora” by Elysia Crampton ft. Jeremy Rojas & “When I Rule the World” by Liz

desasosiego. by Aina Lanas (Spain). Direction, Choreography & Writing: Aina Lanas.

Retentions by CLAVES UNIDOS (Richmond, VA). Choreography: Kevin LaMarr Jones with Alyssa Frye, Diamond Hudson & the performers.

Salad Days by Sara Hook. Choreography by Sara Hook. Music: “Anfangs wollt’ ich fast Verzagan (At First I Almost Despaired)” by Robert Schumann

Canis Major an award-winning film by Charli Brissey. Direction, Choreography & Animation: Charli Brissey.

CURRENT by Company | E (Washington, D.C.). Choreography: Maddie Hanson. Music: “Midnight” by Kyle Preston, “Behind Every Decision” by Yehezkel Raz, “Dark Tension: by Kyle Preston & “Hibernation” by Pete James Johnson.

The Richmond Dance Festival came back for a second week with all-new programming. Like the first week, the program consisted of a mix of live performances and dances created on and for video. There were some truly outstanding performances, but this time there seemed to be some unevenness in genres, execution, and programming.

Leah Glenn set the bar high with the opening work, Perceived Threat. Jamal Story started standing on one leg, with the other suspended in the air somewhere in the region of his ear while he turned. It brought to mind images of Fred Benjamin and Eleo Pomare, two icons of American modern dance for those of a certain age. The work itself, a duet Story performed with partner Kylie LeWallen, is contentious and gravity-defying, and marked by some of the strongest technique I’ve seen in quite some time.

Another highlight of the program was Sara Hook’s zany and breathless duet Salad Days. The title is taken from a Shakespearean reference to the “salad days” or heyday of youth. Throughout most of the dance, Rachel Rizzuto counted aloud from 1-10, varying the tempo and accent and sometimes counting to 12. Occasionally her voice waned, her partner wearied of the pace, only to rally and rejoin the game. For some reason, at one point, Rizzuto takes off her shirt and stands topless while her partner politely averts his eyes, but humor doesn’t always have to make sense to make us laugh. The program included six more live dances and four dance films.

The Trybe Dance Collective’s group work, Marathon, featured a troop of young dancers with tight buns and purple leotards.  Though it is constructed of basic studio moves – bridges, contractions hinges – it brought to mind Balanchine’s “Serenade,” as it, too, was created as a showcase for young dancers and an introduction to the choreographer’s technique for the audience.

In Audrey Baran’s Vacancy ritual, repetition, and meditative poses were set against a soundscape of words, music, conversation, and children’s voices. A program note included the question, “How do we navigate or occupy the space and time left behind after a loss, and should we?” I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from the riveting motion.

Ameya King performed the classical Indian piece, Kalika Stuthi, on Saturday (Manaswi Gonela danced the role on Friday), and I found it interesting that the song sounded familiar as it was written by the choreographer’s father, Satyagopal Tumuluri. (It reminded me of a song I heard on a segment of Rhoda Grauer’s 1993 Dancing video series, but I couldn’t find any music credits for the series.) King’s long bejeweled braid and ankle bells helped accentuate the polyrhythms as each and every part of her body danced: eyes, fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, torso, hips, legs, feet – each subdued to the discipline of her craft. It was possible for one unfamiliar with the genre to follow parts of the story, even if we had no knowledge of the demands of the technique.

The second half of the program began with Jenna Beardsley’s solo, One hundred years flicker; I kiss the Snow, featuring the specter-like figure of a gauze-covered dancer on stage and a grainy black and white film on the screen behind her.  The work ends with a bizarre juxtaposition of the waif-like figure – is it human or human-like; is it living or no longer living – moving to the empowering anthem “When I Rule the World.” The unusual title comes from a line in Scottish singer SOPHIE’s song, “Is It Cold in the Water?” – the same artist who produced “When I Rule the World” – and the work is dedicated to the mysterious artist who identified as a trans woman and tragically died after a fall from a balcony earlier this year.

Kevin LaMarr Jones’ Retentions featured a multi-generational cast of women and a toddler girl dancing to music fired with the passion of Spanish guitar. The little one tentatively ventured from her mother’s arms to explore the striding steps of the other women and took a few test strides of her own. One woman moved alone, slowly traversing the back of the space, emphasizing a sense of being along but together. Like much of Jones’ work, Retentions speaks of history and geography and cultural diffusion.

The program closed with Company | E’s CURRENT, a complex work that is at once overly long, ambiguous, and committed. A section that dealt with the acquisition of an air fryer was hilarious while hammering home its point about unnecessary consumption. But I will be covering this company more in-depth next week when they return for an entire evening of works from their WARMER series.

By far, my favorite of the films was Aina Lanas’ desasosiego (Restless). Lanas, described in the program as a “reference for urban/contemporary dance in Spain,” provided an immensely entertaining film featuring four women in deconstructed suits entertaining themselves – and their audience – by playing with and tasting lemons. At some point, their jackets and pants fall away, and there is even a moment of flamenco, of course. [https://vimeo.com/486618048]

Jonah Haber’s film, EQUINOX, featured a woman wearing a black dress walking in a geodesic dome. The work is filled with many structures and has a sci-fi feel. Cameron Kostopoulos’ film, A MOTHER’S SOLILOQUY, was a depressing tale of addiction. A crumbling room of mirrors and broken glass reflected a woman’s rapid deterioration, and I was outraged that this film closed out the first half of the program. Near the end of the second act, Charli Brissey’s award-winning animated film, CANIS MAJOR, explored a writer navigating through a severe case of writer’s block with the help of their dog. The writer contemplates the relationship between dancing and surviving the end of the world. [https://www.charlibrisseyisananimal.com/canis-major-2019]

All-in-all, Weekend Two was marked by diversity and variety, yet it lacked the visceral and artistic impact, the “wow” factor of Weekend One. 

RDF21:

DOGTOWN DANCE THEATRE PRESENTS THE 2021 RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL LIVE AND IN PERSON

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 West 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: Week One: June 11-12, 2021. Week Two: June 18-19. Live and streamed on Dogtown STREAM.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets: $20 General; $10 Students. Virtual Access $39.99 annually (Free Trial currently in effect. https://www.dogtowndancetheatre.com/dogtownstream)

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

WEEK 1 REPERTORY:

Affected | Karar Dance Company | Choreography by Kara Robertson | Music: Original Score by Ryan Davis | Costumes: Damian Bond

En el Vació (In the Vacuum) | Choreography by Eric Rivera | Music: “Una Palabra” by Carlos Varela and “Contrastes” (La Periferia feat. Renzo Baltyzzi) by Damian Verdun | Costume: Johan Stegmeir

when you are looking, what do you see? (FILM) | Dogwood Dance Company | Choreography by Joanna Chocklett with collaboration from performers | Music: “Epilogue” by Olafur Arnaulds

Collective Fortitude | RADAR | Choreography by Megan Rivero | Music: “Outro” by M83

Fiscal Relations (2018) | Choreography by Julianna Raimondo | Music: “Between Water and Wind” by Colin Stetson

Exhale (FILM) | Directed by Moniek van der Kallen

Tribal (Improvisational Belly Dance) | Ajna Tribal Belly Dance Troupe | Choreography & Performance by Stephanie Wagner, Missy Moore, Lois Milone, Alicia Hagy | Music: “Land Back” by A Tribe called Red, “Trøllabundin” by Eiver, “Pow Wow” by A Tribe Called Red

Personal Tea Ceremony | Human Landscape Dance | Choreography by Malcolm Shute | Music: “Meditation” by Jules Massenet

DRY ONE’S EYES (FILM) | Directed by Botis Seva & Ben Williams

Two’s Too Much | Choreography & Performance by Luisa Innisfree Martinez & Kayla Xavier | Music: “Put Your Head on my Shoulder” by Paul Anka & “Little Story” by Janusz Wojtarowicz, Motion Trio

Ulrichs 1867 (FILM) | Directed by Sven Niemeyer

Malong Dance and Fan Dance | Sayaw! Diversity | Choreography by Dhol Tuason | Music: Kapa Malong-Malong & Philippine tribal music dance

The Richmond Dance Festival is back, and the dance community has obviously been starving for live dance. Dogtown Dance Theatre welcomed a full house (that’s about 80-ish people), and masks are optional if you are fully vaccinated. People seemed comfortable with the mix of social distancing accented with elbow bumps and a few actual hugs. The joy of being back in the theater for a live performance enhanced a dynamic and diverse program consisting of 8 dances and 4 films. (There will be an entirely new program for the second week. See below for details.)

Highlights of the program included Ajna Tribal Belly Dance and Sayaw!, Eric Rivera’s solo, and the film by Seva and Williams.

It’s hard to believe that the smoothly synchronized poly-rhythmic movements of Ajna Tribal are improvised. The quartet of women mesmerized with heads, shoulders, hips, and hands all moving to different rhythms simultaneously. Two of them even did this while balancing curved swords (scimitars?) atop their heads. The finger cymbals, colorful costumes, and music used in this American Tribal Style belly dance seemed to represent a fusion of cultures: Middle Eastern, Asian, African, and more.  What a way to end the first act!

The final work, Malong Dance and Fan Dance, was no less impressive. Dhol Tuason presented two traditional Philippine dances. “Pagapir,” performed with glittering fans is a royal court dance of the Maranao people and from the Lake Lanao area, features elegant movements of the large fans while the women’s feet take tiny steps emphasizing their prominent family background and good manners. “Malong” is the name of the gorgeous tubes of fabric worn by the dancers and gracefully manipulated from skirt to shawl to mantle, alternately covering and revealing. As beautiful as the fans and fabric were the women who represented a wide range of ages from youth to elders, a gentle reminder that dance is for everyone.

Eric Rivera’s intense solo, En el Vació,was performed by Alisha Agrawal, in a fiery red dress that boldly reflected a flamenco influence. The work, which in English translates to In the Vacuum, incorporated horizontal rolls on a wide bench. It is described as an exploration of the sense of urgency surrounding the return to normalcy – something that has been on our minds recently. Do we cling to the past, or move ahead into an uncertain future? En el Vació does not answer these questions, but it certainly makes contemplating them more interesting. Rivera is a prolific choreographer, having spent 13 seasons with Ballet Hispanico of New York where he created or helped to create more than 20 original works.  He has also performed with Minnesota Ballet, Ballet Teatro Municipal de San Juan, P.R., and in the European tour of West Side Story.

The beautiful brown bodies and clear eyes of the women and girls in the film Dry One’s Eyes seem to be on a journey in search of identity. Close-ups of faces beautifully devoid of makeup, and one inexplicably masked in white powder (does it represent oppression or tradition?) are arranged in stark contrast to tortured and sometimes invasive movements and situations (as when gloved hands roughly explore one’s teeth) and the presence of a black Barbie doll is at once innocent and ominous. This is the sort of art that relies equally on the movement and the film – a delicately balanced and perfect marriage of mediums. Dance artist Botis Seva often uses hip hop and autobiographical experiences to propel his narratives and the results are compelling and cutting-edge.

While these were my personal favorites of the evening’s dozen offerings, the rest of the program was outstanding.

The program opened with Karar Dance Company’s duet, Affected. The work has extraordinary use of energy, from sustained and to lyrical to robotic and ritualistic. Karar presented their first evening length work, Circadian, and at Dogtown in 2019 – in the “before” times – and has presented work, including Affected in Philadelphia in collaboration with the NYC’s Vanessa Long Dance Company. Karar Dance Company is definitely a company to watch.

RADAR’s Collective Fortitude, first presented in 2016 as part of the company’s evening length work, beingHUMAN, employs majestic music and tense movement in an exploration of human connection and relating to others. Washington, D.C.-based Human Landscape Dance is contemporary company whose work often focuses on human struggle and relationships and each of their dances is framed by some sort of container (such as a box or an egg) or employs foundational props. Julianna Raimondo’s Fiscal Relations is populated with monstrous possessions, poses from classic hip hop album covers, and dancers wearing jackets, irregularly buttoned shirts, and lots of noise! Raimondo’s work reflects an eclectic background, having worked with DanceWorks Chicago, Matt Pardo, and Urban Bush Women, among others,

Personal Tea Ceremony, a beautifully intimate and gentle work performed by Alexander Short and Malcolm Shute, is an exploration of an experience Shute had while traveling in Japan. “I encountered a Japanese man who spoke as little English as I speak Japanese,” he said in a Dogtown spotlight, “and offered me a ride to a remote location. After I took my photos, he led me to a temple for a tea ceremony. The event forged a bond between us, despite our differences.” The leaves and petals on the floor and on the dancers’ shirts could represent tea leaves or the flora of the remote location where the tea ceremony took place.

Two’s Too Much, choreographed and performed by Luisa Innisfree Martinez and Kayla Xavier, was by far the most amusing work on the program. The piece involved two women, a rug, and a bottle of wine, and carries the brief but poignant descriptor, “What’s mine isn’t yours…” Like Personal Tea Ceremony, the work makes use of props and explores relationships, and delightfully displays Martinez’ focus on women’s characteristics and mannerisms and using tangible objects to disrupt space.

Other films shown included Dogwood Dance’s when you are looking, what do you see? – a mostly black and white interlude set in a wide field, it addresses the ways in which we categorize and compare, how we take in the world. Do we really look? Do we really see? It is a beautiful first film by Joanna Chocklett, a Richmond native and graduate of the JMU dance program.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Moniek van der Kallen’s Exhale is another emotionally impactful film that seems to be about drowning and rebirth – or some sort of resurrection. It is beautifully filmed, in and under water. Last, but certainly not least, was German dancer and filmmaker Sven Niemeyer’s documentary-like film, Ulrichs 1867. Raw and heart-wrenching, it deals with violence against the LGBTQ community.

A dozen pieces is a lot. I normally would call it overkill, but in this case Dogtown artistic director Jess Burgess outdid herself in selecting works that all stand out in their own right and that worked together to create a festive atmosphere for this first RDF21 program. But wait, there’s more. June 18 and 19, Weekend Two will have a whole new repertory:

Perceived Threat by Leah Glenn Dance Theatre (Williamsburg, VA)

Marathon by Trybe Dance Collective (a safe space for emerging artists)

Equinox a film by Jonah Haber

Vacancy by Baran Dance (Charlotte, NC)

Kalika Stuthi by Sri Sai Dance Academy

A Mother’s Soliloquy a film by Cameron Kostopoulos

One hundred years flicker; I kiss the Snow by Jenna Beardsley (Richmond, VA)

desasosiego. by Aina Lanas (Spain)

Retentions by CLAVES UNIDOS (Richmond, VA)

Salad Days by Sara Hook

Canis Major an award-winning film by Charli Brissey

CURRENT by Company | E (Washington, D.C.)

My only complaint: Since re-opening, the risers have not been set up, so if you’re sitting beyond the second row, it’s hard to see. Several people chose to stand at the back of the theater to see better.

RICHMOND BALLET: STUDIO SERIES/MAY

BALLET CLOSES SEASON WITH GUEST CHOREOGRAPHER

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: May 11-23, 2021, live and streamed.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets start at $25 [most performances sold out]; Virtual Tickets $20. [NOTE: On the evening of Sunday, May 23rd, 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. Virtual tickets for Studio Series: May must be purchased by 11:59 PM on Saturday, May 22nd.

(Please note that due to music rights restrictions, we may be unable to stream this program in its entirety.]

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

REPERTORY:

some kind of peace

Choreography by Levi Philip Marsman

Music by Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm

Costume Design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Christopher Devlin Hill

World Premiere: May 11, 2021, Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, Virginia

sweet bitter love

Choreography by Carmen de Lavallade

Music sung by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

Costume Design by Geoffrey Holder

Lighting Design by Chenault Spence

Costumes courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

World Premiere: December 7, 2000, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Center, New York

Richmond Ballet Premiere: May 7, 2019, Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, Virginia

excerpts from who cares?

Choreography by George Balanchine

Music by George Gershwin Adapted and Orchestrated by Hershy Kay

Staging by Jerri Kumery

Costume Reconstruction by Tamara Cobus after Original Design by Karinska

Original Lighting Design by Richard Moore

World Premiere: February 5, 1970, New York City Ballet, New York State Theater, New York, New York

Richmond Ballet Premiere: November 14, 1986, Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, Richmond, Virginia

            Concluding its ground-breaking pandemic season, The Richmond Ballet premiered a new work by its first and only guest choreographer of the year. Levi Philip Marsman, Artist-in-

Residence at the Boston Arts Academy, created Some Kind of Peace in response to the loneliness and isolation of 2020. It is a ballet about hope and connection, and the first two sections are fueled by a sense of anticipation and undergirded by the faint sound of a ticking clock. Much of the music comes from Ólafur Arnalds’ recent project of the same name, some kind of peace, and the rest was composed by Nils Frahm.

            The cast members all wear leotards in various shades of blue with darker blue sheer overlays. The women’s have slits that allow them to open partially before being shed entirely by the final section. I found the more awkward and less refined movement of the first half more interesting than the smoother, more lyrical phrases that evolved at the end. The social distance and quick stops of the ensemble in the “Personal Space” opening section and Khalyom Khojaev’s solo, “Panic,” which expresses the complexities of being home alone for an extended period of time, were directly influenced by the events of 2020.  One audience member summed up the work as being “impactful.”

Marsman’s work was followed by Carmen de Lavallade’s Sweet Bitter Love, conceived initially as a solo for the choreographer to a song by the same name sung by Roberta Flack. De Lavallade later added a song performed by Donny Hathaway, “For All We Know,” to incorporate the male perspective. This transformed the dance into a duet, and she then added and closed with a third song, also sung Flack, “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” Dramatically sustained movement and endless jazz hinges add visual interest to this tale of two lovers who were never meant to be. Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis met the challenge of this non-traditional duet. At times Beaton arched backward until she appeared to be folded in half, and the couple mastered movements initiated from a hip, an elbow, a wrist instead of from the core. But as visually striking as the movement vocabulary may be, the piece is tormentingly sad.

It was both a relief and somewhat jarring to move from two sober and introspective works to George Balanchine’s Who Cares? Balanchine choreographed this jazz ballet to 16 songs composed by George Gershwin between 1924 and 1931, and Richmond Ballet presented ten of them.  Bright and fun, the piece opened with the women dancing to “Somebody Loves Me,” followed by the men stepping up with “Bidin’ My Time.” There was a fun duet performed by Eri Nishihara and Ira White and some heel and toe action by Marty Davis before the ensemble finished up with “I’ve Got Rhythm.”

For the first time since returning to the stage last September, some of the dancers were allowed to take off their masks, thanks to vaccinations and the easing of some pandemic restrictions. Yes, it was wonderful to see some smiling faces, but I also felt what seemed like weariness or heaviness. Whether it was from the psychological impact of the first two dances or the physical strain of social distancing and dancing with masks for the past eight months, this program moved me, yet I left feeling oddly weighed down, connected yet concerned.

DOGTOWN PRESENTER’S SERIES: THE DANIEL NAGRIN CELEBRATION

Five Men, Six Dances:  A Concert of Solos by the Rebel of Modern Dance

A COVID-conscious Pandemic-appropriate Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: On Stage April 30 & May 1, 2021.  Streaming beginning May 7, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $20 General; $15 for Students (no tickets sold at the door as part of COVID-19 precautions).

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or www.dogtown.vhx.tv. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions.

I love watching the look on my undergraduate dance history students’ faces when I show them videos of dancers I watched and loved when I was their age — more than four decades ago. One that usually gets their attention is a video of solo dance artist Daniel Nagrin performing his signature work, “Strange Hero.” Created in 1948, the work is a caricature of and homage to the American gangster.

“Strange Hero” was the opening work of the Daniel Nagrin Celebration Concert at Dogtown Dance Theatre last weekend. Matt Pardo, an assistant professor of dance at James Madison University, performed the piece, dressed in all black, minus the tight-fitting, broad-shouldered blazer Nagrin often wore when performing it. Pardo seemed less menacing than I remember, but at the same time seemed to exhibit more technical control than Nagrin – if that is even physically possible. The dangling cigarette (unlit), the hand that mimics a gun, the syncopated stabbing motions, and the juxtaposition of smooth, sharp, and elongated movement phrases may be employed in reconstructing a dated stereotype but the solo is as compelling now as 73 years ago. “Strange Hero,” is, like many of Nagrin’s solo works, a deeply reflective character study that explores the human condition, and much, perhaps all, of his work reflects a love of rhythm, jazz music, and jazz dance. “Strange Hero” features music by Stan Keaton and Pete Rugolo, while “Man of Action” has music by John McCoy and Count Basie.

“Man of Action,” another work created in 1948, was performed by Shane O’Hara.  A professor of dance at JMU, O’Hara has worked closely with the Daniel Nagrin Foundation and has an intimate knowledge of Nagrin’s work. Dressed in a shirt, tie, slacks, dress shoes, overcoat, and hat, O’Hara adeptly demonstrated the humor and drama of Nagrin’s artistic vision. The work mines the simple beauty of walking, running, leaping, and skipping, but suddenly the dancer is suspended in the air, and you’re not sure how he got there. There is even a delightful resurrection of that old trick where someone pretends to walk down invisible stairs.

On a side note, O’Hara brought the Virginia Repertory Dance Company, a pre-professional ensemble made up of select JMU dance majors, to Dogtown a little more than a year ago. They were the last live company to perform there before the big shutdown. How appropriate that O’Hara would be instrumental in Dogtown’s return to live performances.

Another of Nagrin’s popular dances, “Spanish Dance” (1948), a nod to Flamenco, was performed by Donald Laney, a faculty member in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Western Illinois University and dance instructor at WV Governor’s School for the Arts. Chest thrust forward, arms lifted, Laney embodied the controlled power of the Flamenco dancer, in a black tank top and bare feet. Laney was the last dancer to learn “Spanish Dance” from Nagrin, who died in 2008 at age 91 after half a century in dance.

The second half of the program included some works that were new to me. Paul Dennis, a graduate of the Juilliard School and a former member of the José Limón Dance Company, performed “Indeterminate Figure” (1957). One of Nagrin’s works from that decade dedicated to finding self, “Indeterminate Figure” is filled with ambiguity and juxtaposition. For starters, the dancer wears a pair of silky pajamas that resemble military fatigues, and the sound score is filled with a variety of sounds from rain to exploding bombs, from footsteps to the sounds of a beating heart. The soloist sometimes dances gracefully with an invisible partner, sometimes moves as if scrambling to safety from the effects of a crumbling foundation. Nagrin’s evolving signature style is evident in the dance’s gestures and the use of core strength that smoothly lifts the dancer from a kneeling position and seamlessly returns him, all without using his hands.

“Path” (1965), performed by local artist and member of the RVA Dance Collective Desmin Taylor, is a rare minimalist work. Performed without music, the soloist traverses a diagonal path carrying a long wooden pole or beam perhaps 10 feet in length.  Step, step, cou-de-pied­, pas de bourree, pause, repeat. Step, step, cou-de-pied­, pas de bourree, pause, repeat. “Path” is simple and mesmerizing – the kind of piece where you find yourself exhaling at the end, not realizing you had been holding your breath.

On an interesting side note, I came across a contract housed in the Library of Congress that is signed by Bill T. Jones, but not Nagrin, granting Jones performing rights to this solo. Mysteriously, two conditions of this contract state that “the dancer will never divulge the inner meaning(s) of Path as confidentially represented to him by the Choreographer to anyone,” and “the Dancer will never divulge his personal thinking as to the meaning(s) of Path to anyone.” I don’t know whether Nagrin ever signed this contract, but Jones has choreographed several works for the Daniel Nagrin Dance Theater.

The Celebration concert closed with “Wordgame: A Cartoon” (1968), also performed by O’Hara, with a sound design by Nagrin. Created from the full-evening work “Peloponnesian War,” about the conflict between Sparta and Athens, “Wordgame” was made as a commentary on the Vietnam War. Dressed in a shirt, tie, and light gray suit, the dancer tosses cash and moves with passive-aggressive disdain against a background peppered with unintelligible text, dramatic organ chords, and pinball noises. As with many of his solos, the interpretation is left open to the viewer, but social commentary was not unique to Nagrin. He was married to and collaborated with Helen Tamaris, who was also known for her American-themed solo works, many of which addressed social issues like racism and war.

What a wonderful opportunity, a unique marriage of history and artistry, all in one neat hour-long package. It was both interesting and fulfilling to see a variety of male dancers – black, white, different ages, different sizes – performing these iconic works.

K Dance

The 22nd Annual YES! Dance Festival: A Virtual Screening Event

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: April 26-28, 2021 at the Firehouse; Remote stream April 29-May 13

Ticket Prices: $15

Info: (804) 355-2001, firehousetheatre.org, or https://firehousetheatre.org/e/yes-dance-festival/

Like just about everything else in life these past 13-14 months, K Dance company, under the direction of Kaye Weinstein Gary, pivoted into the new and produced the 22nd annual YES! Dance Festival as a virtual event. For those who wanted the experience of going to the theater, the program was available April 26-28 to live audiences of up to 10 people, followed by a post-performance conversation with Gary. Following the three large-screen showings, Gary and The Firehouse Theatre, her home base since becoming company-in-residence in 2019, also offered a remote stream of the program, available for two weeks.

For the past ten years the Yes! Dance Festival (formerly Yes, Virginia Dance) has hosted dancers and choreographers from Dance Magazine’s prestigious “25 to Watch” list, and this year was no different.

Boston Dance Theatre (BDT) (Boston, MA; Dance Magazine‘s “25 to Watch” January 2021) has been described as a company that has “appeal far beyond Boston’s city limits.” Their work, Surge Film Preview, was filmed on a sandy finger of land called Jeremy Point in Wellfleet in Cape Cod as part of the company’s Sea-Level Rise Project, a series of virtual events about the ocean, environmental activism, and a sustainable future. Accompanied by an urgent sound score, the five dancers shake, jerk, roll, and sometimes float or suspend just beneath the surface of the water. It is a beautiful and soul-stirring collaboration between choreographer Jessie Jeanne Stinnett, the dancers, oceanographer Larry J. Pratt, and the unidentified composer.

BDT also presented Shadows and Flame, a work originally commissioned for the Jewish Arts Collaborative for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ 2020 Hanukkah celebration. Envisioned as an exploration of light, shadow, and the dancing body, the opening scene, with five dancers lined up in a tight diagonal, and another section mid-way through where the dancers rise from the floor, remind me of those drawings that illustrate the evolution of mankind. Inspired by an 18th century Hanukkah oil lamp, the work has a grounded and ritualistic feel that is reminiscent of some of the works of Pilobolus – the unisex flash-toned tunics obscure the dancers’ individual identities and the dancers morph into and out of shapes, not emulating but rather embodying flames.

Paige Fraser (Chicago, IL, Dance Magazine‘s “25 to Watch” 2017 has performed in the YES! Dance Festival before. This time she offered a tiny solo, Silenced Cries, choreographed by Eric Bean, Jr., and set to “Le Jeune Fille et les Loups” (the maiden and the wolves) by Armand Amar. Set in a studio against a brick wall, the soft, spiraling lyrical phrases of Silenced Cries might well be one person’s response to the isolation and imposed loneliness of a year of pandemic restrictions. Fraser’s final gesture seems to be a plea for a time out. Fraser, a dancer with scoliosis (a sometimes disabling spinal curvature) is also founder of the Page Fraser Foundation, a safe space for dancers with (and without) disabilities.

slowdanger (Pittsburgh, PA, Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” 2018) described their work, for shadowing, as “created to embody the liminal space we are existing in, caught between two paralleling realities, a portal to the old world and a portal into shifted space.” Regretfully, the duo’s ethereal movement and original ambient soundscape was the one work of the evening that failed to move me or even leave much of an impression. I hope to have something more substantive to say after another visit by this group, consisting of Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, who apparently constructed their name from a combination of road signs.

Marcat Dance (Jaén, Spain, Dance Magazine‘s “25 to Watch” 2017) was also a repeat visitor. The group’s work, Adama, choreographed by Mario Bermudez Gil, is a breath-taking trio performed in a patch of dirt in a large field backed by mountains. It is no coincidence that Adama is the Hebrew word for earth. As the dancers jump, turn, and interact with childlike simplicity, the work visually and viscerally connects with the earth and the natural landscape.

The program’s most provocative work was undoubtedly Jabberwock presented by LED (Boise, ID, Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” 2020). Lauren Edson’s color-filled and zany choreography partnered with nonsensical lexicon of Lewis Carroll’s poem, “Jabberwocky” to delightfully explore “themes of good versus evil, resilience, autonomy and truth.” The electric colors – like hot pink shoes and a brilliant blue jumpsuit – power a dynamic blend of flavors and genres. Imagine a world where break dance meets the blues, Kurt Jooss’ “Green Table” shakes hands with disco and the asylum is the penthouse of the dungeon.

Perhaps the intimate and intricate marriage of movement and musical genres is no surprise to those familiar with LED, but for us new to the group, they are described as much about music as they are about dance, with much of the company’s music begin created by Edson’s husband, composer Andrew Stensaas.

And what YES! Dance Festival would be complete without a work by K Dance’s artistic director, Kaye Weinstein Gary. Dressed in short coveralls, Gary danced the role of Kitty in a quirky and charming short written by Irene Ziegler. The little girl, sent to the corner for some unknown infraction, discovers that her imagination is her super power. She becomes so enmeshed in her meditation with her chair that when she is finally released she decides to stay.

Making the best of a challenging situation forced some dancers and artists to stretch beyond their comfort zone, embracing technology and finding new ways to create – because that is what artists do. None of these works seemed to have suffered for the effort and the intimate audience at the Tuesday evening performance seemed happy to be there. Given that many dance festivals often feature works created for film, we didn’t feel cheated, but perhaps the next step will be a hybrid program including a mix of live and video dance. Then all will be right with the world.

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.

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