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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RICHMOND HOLIDAY TRADITION TURNS 20

THE LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA: The Legend of the Poinsettia Celebrates 20 Years

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performance Were: January 6-9, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20 Adults; $15 Students/Senior Citizens/Military; $10 Group Rates for 10 or more

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

The Latin Ballet of Virginia has been presenting The Legend of the Poinsettia for 20 years now, and I think we can officially declare this vibrant and colorful production a holiday tradition.

How long does it take for something to achieve the status of tradition? Merriam-Webster offers several definitions, including:

1a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior

1b : a belief or story. . . relating to the past. . .commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable

2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction

3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions

With a cast of past and current artists, Latin Ballet founder and Artistic Director Ana Ines King said the anniversary production of The Legend of the Poinsettia “is like going back to when we started.” Before King introduced this home-grown holiday classic to the Richmond community,  “few knew how Christmas was celebrated in Latin America,” said Marisol Cristina Betancourt  Sotolongo, a dancer and Education Program Assistant for the company. Sotolongo performed in the show’s debut at the Carpenter Center in January 2002. “I was four years old,” she recalls. “The Legend of the Poinsettia has become one of my favorite shows. It is kept fresh with new dancers, dances, and scenery.” The Poinsettia pays homage to King’s mother’s dance legacy in Columbia and honors the true spirit of giving through dance, music, and storytelling.

King is from Columbia as is guest artist Ginna Milena Pedraza, founder of Duncan Danza. Sotolongo’s family is Cuban. Guest artist Pedro Szalay, a co-founder of The Latin Ballet of Virginia and current Artistic Director of Southwest Virginia Ballet is from Venezuela. The dancers perform in authentic costumes from Manzanillo, Mérida, and Zacatecas, all in Mexico. The Legend of the Poinsettia encompasses the history of the poinsettia plant, the story of a little girl who discovers the true meaning of giving, and celebratory customs from Mexico, Columbia, Spain, the Dominican Republic (incorporating Cuban dance styles), and Venezuela.

In a beautiful duet, the dancers portraying Joseph and Mary perform a romantic dance that sheds new light on the famous couple’s relationship. Later, in a trio, the family featured in the story echo some of the movements from the duet.

Large ensembles of children, youth, and adults fill the stage with color and rhythm. They exude a high level of energy that often has the audience clapping along, and the one young man, with a mop of curly hair falling appealing over his forehead and glasses, promises to become a strong dancer and partner.

From pageantry to revelry, from the Three Kings clad in glittery finery to an abstract representation of the poinsettia, from Christmas songs – some performed live – to dynamic examples of folk dances (aguinaldos, gaitas, rumbas, and plenas), spiced with contemporary hip hop, capoeira, The Legend of the Poinsettia is engaging and joyous. Most of all, with its diverse cast and traditions, it is educational and inclusive. There is no need to worry about little ones not wanting to sit still – although one fleet-footed little audience member made a mad dash for the stage on Friday night; clapping, singing along, and call and response are the norm here. With children, youth, and adults sharing the stage, the movement is not always perfectly in sync, but it is always heart-warming.

PERFORMANCES

Performances January 6 – 9, 2022
The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen
2880 Mountain Road Glen Allen, VA 23060
Thursday, January 6 at 10:30am (Field Trips for schools)
Friday, January 7 at 10:30am (Field Trips for schools)
Friday, January 7 at 7:30pm
Saturday, January 8 at 3:00pm & 7:30pm
Sunday, January 9 at 3:00pm

Get a glimpse of The Legend of the Poinsettia here:

Note: Portions of this review were originally written for Richmond Magazine.

Photo Credits: Photos of past performances of The Legend of the Poinsettia from the LBV website

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THE NUTCRACKER: LIVE

TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF HOLIDAY CLASSIC

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: December 11-23, 2021

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

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

The Nutcracker
Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

with The Richmond Symphony,

Erin Freeman, Conductor

Production Conceived by Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell

Artistic Direction & Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Scenery & Prop Design by Charles Caldwell

Christmas Tree Design by Alain Vaës

Costume Design by David Heuvel

Lighting Design by Richard Moore

Associate Lighting Design by Jim French

It’s December 2021 and in three months we will mark a most unlikely anniversary – two full years of living with a global pandemic. After months of learning the differences between social distancing, quarantine, and isolation, live theater has settled into a new routine of live performances. First, there were limited-seating performances with virtual streaming options. The new standard is to allow fully-vaccinated people to attend live performances with few seating restrictions. Patrons must show proof of vaccination and remain masked. Oh, and in the larger venues, you can forget about visiting the bar; it’s closed until further notice. All of this takes some adjusting, but it’s worth it to be able to experience the singular joy of attending a live show.

The Richmond Ballet’s holiday standard, The Nutcracker, was not performed live last year due to the pandemic, but it’s back this year and opened on Saturday, with a few modifications that did nothing to diminish the excitement of joining young Clara on her journey to Confitenberg, the Land of Sweets. Small children and adults sat mesmerized from the moment the Richmond Symphony began the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky’s score until the elaborate curtain dropped after Clara woke up from her adventure.

This year’s production of The Nutcracker is special for two reasons: it is the first live production since the world shut down in March 2020, and this is the last year to see the familiar Nutcracker costumes and sets before they get a make-over for 2022. You can expect three acts and two intermissions (although you cannot take drinks or food to your seats), but I noticed that when the clock struck twelve times only six little mice appeared instead of twelve, and the most obvious change was the absence of Mother Ginger and the dozen little dancers that hide under her voluminous hoop skirt. And of course, with nine new members in this company this season, there are lots of new casting choices to experience.

Adhya Yaratha dances the coveted role of Clara, the recipient of the magical nutcracker doll. Yaratha, a student at The Steward School, was recently featured as a “Standout Spartan” in her school’s newsletter. She revealed that she has been dancing for 13 years and “for much of that time” dreamed of being cast as Clara. She danced with grace and confidence and made a delightful Clara.

Bladen Kidd held his own as Clara’s recalcitrant little brother, a band of boys on a series of humorously disruptive raids against the girls at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party. Carter Bush (RB Trainee) proved to be an attentive apprentice to his uncle, the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer (the recently retired Fernando Sabino returning as a guest) and a courteous Nutcracker Prince accompanying Clara on her adventures in the Kingdom of Sweets.

The predictability and tradition of The Nutcracker are part of its charm, and seemed especially important this year: they were signs of stability and normalcy. Whoever thought a magical growing Christmas tree and a swan sled could represent stability?

Sabrina Holland and Khaiyom Khojaev danced the “other” leading roles – you know, the adult ones – the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. They welcome Clara and her Prince to the Kingdom of Sweets and close Act Three with a grand pas de deux that epitomizes the lightness of the Romantic ballerina and the supportive role of the male dancer, with both attacking their technique with relish and flair.

All the favorite characters are there and there are plenty of roles for Richmond Ballet II, the Trainees, and the students of the School of the Richmond Ballet. The battle between the Mouse Army and the Regiment Soldiers features Jackson Calhoun (RB II) in the comedic role of the Mouse King. Principals Izabella Tokev and Joe Seaton deliver a picture perfect ice blue pas de deux as the Snow Queen and Snow King, attended by a corps of a dozen Snowflakes. Celeste Gaiera and Patrick Lennon, Marjorie Sherman and Jack Miller dance a Spanish jota with flair. Naomi Robinson and Ira White revive the sensual Snake and her Charmer, and Naomi Wilson dances the acrobatic role of Tea, accompanied by a group of Chinese dragon dancers.

Sarah Joan Smith and Colin Jacob (both first year company members) are the Shepherdess and Shepherd who shelter a half dozen little lambs who steal the show. They have masks added to their costumes this year which fit perfectly with their costumes. Paul Piner, Roland Jones, and Zacchaeus Page, all members of RB II, are the ever-popular Russian dancers with their very hip dancing bear (Piner), and Eri Nishihara dances the role of the bedazzled butterfly, surrounded by a dozen Candied Flowers.

The diverse and multi-generational cast is an apt reflection of the audience and represents the best of what this season represents. It’ so good to have The Nutcracker back onstage at The Carpenter Theatre this year; there is nothing like live theater to offer a magical escape from the everyday and mundane.

The Nutcracker Performance Schedule

Saturday, December 11th, 2021 @2:00pm and 7:00pm

Sunday, December 12th, 2021 @1:00pm and 4:30pm

Saturday, December 18th, 2021 @2:00pm and 7:00pm

Sunday, December 19th, 2021 @1:00pm and 4:30pm

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021 @7:00pm

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021 @2:00pm

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.Please note: Proof of a negative COVID test is not required for children under the age of 12.

Photos Credits: Sarah Ferguson

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MOVING MONOLOGUES

KDance Shorts, Eighth Edition

A Dance-Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: KDance, the Resident Dance Company at The Firehouse Theatre

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

Performances: November 7-9, 2021

Ticket Prices: $25

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

After eight years of presenting the annual Shorts program, Kaye Weinstein Gary still has new tricks up her sleeve. This year’s program, MOVING MONOLOGUES, was a collaboration between Gary (choreographer, director, performer), Adam Turck (actor), and Irene Ziegler (playwright). While previous Shorts programs have been marked by innovative storytelling combined with movement, this is the first time the stories were all connected.

What a treat it was to reconnect with Kitty, the potty-mouthed fourth-grader introduced by Gary in her most recent YES! Dance Festival (April 2021, https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/05/01/k-dance/). Here, Ziegler has written additional monologues that introduce Kitty’s mother, grandmother, and dad, all of whom are embodied by Gary and Turck, after a brief introductory warm-up set to Erik Satie’s Piano Works #7, Nocturne II. The “Prologue” also introduces the program’s main prop: a pair of crystal clear “ghost” chairs that magically reflect and refract the light and create stunning visual effects.

“Thank you, sensei, for showing me the way.”

-Kitty

“Kitty” has been enhanced to point to connections with the new monologues. Against a background of Ana Roxanne’s non-melodic, ambient soundscape (it sounds like what your mind would sound like if you could record the sound), Kitty moves through postures of dejection and defiance – until she discovers the “superpower” of her imagination. “I have a superpower. Holy shit!” Oh, I did mention she’s been sent to her room because of her vocabulary, didn’t I? Dressed in purple leggings and white coverall shorts, Gary delightfully embodies the spirit of the fourth-grader.

But it just keeps getting better. Next up is Adam Turck as Kitty’s dad, Rodney. Dressed in shorts and carrying a gym bag, Turck, drops the bag just as the beat drops, and it’s MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit. Turck, a real-life certified personal trainer, moves through the paces of a man-twerk, slaps himself on the butt, and begins to record a hilariously awkward online dating profile.

“The best you can hope for is to find someone

whose baggage doesn’t clash with yours.”

-Rodney

After a bit of shadow play with a fabric veil, we get to meet Martha, Rodney’s mother. It isn’t clear whether she is in the early stages of dementia, or just lonely. When she receives a package from an unseen delivery man (a potential fourth character for a potential sequel) she drags out their interaction as long as possible. “Can you see me?” Martha asks. “I thought I was made of vapor.” Martha smells like loneliness and goes on eBay at night to order hope. Oh, and that package? It contained the cremated remains of her late husband.

The final monologue in this iteration of Moving Monologues has Rodney talking to his dad’s ashes and returning to the lake house where he spent time with his family when his father was alive, and his mother didn’t feel invisible. Is it just coincidence that the current occupant of the house is named Manny – the same as the delivery guy? The door has been left open to continue this series, much like a serial novel in words and movement.

Ziegler’s script make no direct mention of the pandemic, but Martha’s need to know that she exists feels very much like post-traumatic pandemic syndrome (I don’t know if that’s a real thing or not, but there is such a thing as Pandemic-related PTSD). It’s actually quite remarkable to watch Gary transform from the hopefulness of Kitty to the giddy despair of Martha. She does both so well, adapting her posture and movement dynamics to the character. The words and the movements are measured out teasingly, revealing just enough to keep the narrative flowing, but not enough to answer all our questions. A post-show discussion revealed just how much latitude there was for personal interpretation.

There were so many layers in this short piece, and multiple perspectives played out simultaneously – the same story told by different characters who are all connected. There was a through line, but the sections were not necessarily linear or chronological. In fact, I would be curious to see what would happen if these same five scenes were performed in a different order.

As for the cast, Gary is a dancer who is extremely comfortable with speaking and acting, and it was great to see Turck, an actor, moving with such abandon. MOVING MONOLOGUES is not fully dance and not fully theater but a hybrid niche that Gary claims as her own. While the piece could be performed by a cast of four (Kitty, Martha, Rodney, and Manny – or the Ghost Chair), I think it’s highly effective and serves the multi-layered effect to have it performed by just two. It was such a delight to see and hear these stories on stage, in person. Sometimes less really is more.

MOVING MONOLOGUES

Written by: Irene Ziegler

Cast:

Kaye Weinstein Gary

Adam Turk

Production Team:

K Dance Artistic Director: Kaye Weinstein Gary

Lighting Designer/Scenic Consultation: Matthew Landwehr

Assistant Lighting Designer: Casey Walsted

Production Stage Manager: Ginnie Willard

Assistant Stage Manager: Jason Wineberger

Sound Designer/Production Manager: Todd Labelle

Sound Operator: Emily Vial

Webmaster/Social Media: Emily Gerber

Graphic Artist: Douglas Fuchs

Run Time:

About 45 minutes with no intermission

Performance schedule:

Sunday, November 7 @3:00PM

Monday & Tuesday, November 8 & 9 @7:30PM

​”Everyone who enters Firehouse must be fully vaccinated and wear a face mask.”

Tickets:

$25

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: {Your Name Here}

finding yourself in the movement

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Conciliation LAB @ The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: November 5-7 and 11-13, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $13

Info: www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance,   https://m.bpt.me/event/5281579

For their first home-based performance since February 2020, Starr Foster dance returned to The Basement (it was TheatreLab then, and Conciliation Lab now) with an innovative and timely choreographic work by Artistic Director Starrene Foster mysteriously titled {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement.

The trio is performed in an environment framed by four metal trees. Their branches are bare, and the floor is strewn with fall-colored leaves. When the audience walks in, the dancers are already onstage. They stand in a line, arms extended, holding hands. And they whisper. What they’re saying is never revealed. It could be a prayer. It could be confessions of past sins. It could be hope and dreams for the future. It could be the secret things you have not yet voiced to anyone else made manifest in this intimate public space.

I had been invited to a rehearsal of {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement a few days earlier, but here in this setting, with lights and an audience, it was an entirely new experience. And just two days earlier, I had seen a performance of Our Town, so perhaps the simplicity of that set and the everyday-ness of Thornton Wilder’s storytelling lingered and influenced how I saw {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement.

Or maybe it’s more obvious than that, because, after all, Foster did put you right in the title: {Your Name Here}. Julinda. Starr. Thomas. Albert. You. Yes, this work is about you. The everyday, ordinary you. The secret you. The post-pandemic. You. That’s why there are FOUR trees. One for each of the dancers. And the fourth one is for…you.

Trees. Trees represent life and growth. The tree of life. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Trees are symbols of wisdom, power, growth, and prosperity. In mythology, trees are home to spirits. They represent physical and spiritual nourishment and transformation. In winter, their branches are bare. In spring they burst forth with new life. In summer they bear fruit. In fall, they drop their leaves, and appear dead to the outside world, but inside, under the earth, where their roots dig deep, they are actively creating, preparing to repeat the cycle all over again. These trees are bare, and their leaves are scattered on the ground, the floor. This is where the dancers find themselves, where we find ourselves.

Foster has a new, pared down company of four women. The opening night cast consisted of Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, and Lydia Ross. Each has a moment or two to shine in this 37-minute long work, performed without intermission. Each of the three performs Foster’s choreography in Foster’s unique style – a contemporary genre that reflects stylistic and technical aspects of ballet, modern, post-modern pedestrianism, contact improvisation, and whatever else as needed – but each dancer also brings their own personality. Beaumont has a strong, powerful core wrapped up in a wide-eyed vulnerability, sort of like those iron gym weights that have a rubber outershell to keep you from hurting yourself too badly when you inevitably drop them. Ross’ perfect lines and cat-like softness so beautifully mask the technical expertise that power her hypnotic movement. Pavón is languid, unhurried. She is the one who takes an extended nap in the garden while Beaumont and Ross, continue on the journey, sometimes holding hands or leaning on one another.

The dancers move the trees from a straight line into a cozy, protective grove, then into a wandering tree line. Sometimes they lean into the branches, touching, stroking, gently fingering and shedding a handful of scattered leaves. Sometimes Beaumont and Pavón curl themselves around their trees, and at one point one of the three even dragged her tree along. They even tip over the trees and lie awkwardly but content beneath its branches. Sometimes life’s trials lead us back home, back to the place where we feel loved, nourished, renewed. Sometimes we have to plod along, carrying all our baggage with us for a while. Where do you see yourself in this scenario?

Foster first conceived of the idea – and the trees – then found the music of Sebastian Selke and Daniel Selke. The Berlin-born duo known as CEEYS plays piano and cello and the pieces Foster selected (“Eichenthal 302,” “Waende,” “Circa,” “Winter Sleep,” and “Strelka”) have repetitive motifs that support and expand the movement phrases Foster created. The lighting design bu Austin Harber is subtle, and much less dark than Foster has been known to favor. And if this seems like a lot of words for one 37-minute long work, well, that’s because so much is packed into

{Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement and the open invitation to insert yourself and your story into this choreographic journey is so immersive. {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement is just what we need at this time.

{Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement

Choreography by Starrene Foster

Cast

Fran Beaumont (Nov. 5, 7, 12, 13@5PM)

Anna Branch (Nov 6, 11, 13@8PM)

Ana Pavón

Lydia Ross

Music Composed and Performed by CEEYS

Sebastian Selke and Daniel Selke

“Eichtenthal 302,” “Waende,” “Circa,” “Winter Sleep,” and “Strelka”

Lighting Design by Austin Harber

———-

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

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

RICHMOND BALLET: STUDIO TWO

Pairing a Balanchine Classic with a World Premiere by Tom Mattingly

RICHMOND BALLET 2021/22

STUDIO TWO, OCTOBER

A Dance Review with Historic Notes by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: October 26-31, live. November 8-14, virtual.

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

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

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.Please note: Proof of a negative COVID test is not required for children under the age of 12.

THE STUDIO TWO PROGRAM:

Allegro Brillante
Choreography by George Balanchine
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Staging by Jerri Kumery

Costumes by Karinska

Lighting Design by Catherine Girardi

Jahreszeiten, a World Premiere

Choreographyby Tom Mattingly
Music by Dr. Goetz Oestlind

Costume design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Catherine Girardi

Original Artwork by Court Watson
Pianist: Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn

STUDIO TWO: OPENING NIGHT

As is customary with the Richmond Ballet Studio Series performances, a classic is often paired with a new work. The pairing of George Balanchine’s joyous Allegro Brillante with Tom Mattingly’s new Jahreszeiten (German for seasons) proved to be a particularly auspicious coupling.

Allegro Brilliante, created was by Mr. Balanchine in 1956 for Maria Tallchief (to whom he was married from 1946-1951) and Nicholas Magallanes. He once described this joyful, kick-up-your-heels celebration in ballet as, “everything I know about classical ballet in thirteen minutes.” Considering who said that, that’s a lot of ballet knowledge packed into a short ballet.

Simple yet elegant, Allegro Brilliante, set to Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 3,” is notable for its courtliness without the distraction of excessive embellishment and the floor patterns of the four supporting couples as they interact with and support the lead dancers, Eri Nishihara and Colin Jacob. Jacob was introduced after the program as one of the nine members new to the company this year. It’s far too soon to ascertain who will become regularly paired, but this couple delivered a performance that was satisfyingly balanced between technique and energy.

The curtain opened on four couples spiraling counterclockwise around a brightly lit stage: Kaeley Anderson, Courtney Collier, Celeste Gaiera, Sara Joan Smith, Roland Jones, Khayom Khojaev, Paul Piner, and Roland Wagstaff. The constantly shifting patterns and interweaving interactions are a perfect match for the music and give the impression that there are more dancers onstage than there actually are. Company artistic director indicated it’s been fifteen years since Richmond Ballet last performed Allegro Brillante. I feel honored to have been able to catch it this time around.

If the name Tom Mattingly sounds familiar to some, it’s because he first came to Richmond Ballet as a 17-year-old trainee where, he says, he learned to be an adult, and a professional. Mattingly returned to Richmond to present a work in the 2018 New Works Festival, Mattingly subsequently turned that into a full length work. Jahreszeiten is his second world premiere set on Richmond Ballet.

A visual treat, Court Watson’s original paintings representing four seasons highlights the flora, fauna, and landmarks of Virginia. Instead of designing backdrops, Watson had the paintings projected in super high definition resolution on the back wall, in contrast to the unadorned elegance of Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante. Mattingly’s interweaving patterns of movement and constantly reformatted groupings of dancers are a perfect contemporary complement to Balanchine’s work.

Watson created a watercolor of flowering dogwood branches (Spring), a painting of cardinals (Summer), one of fall leaves, and a final one of first snow of winter falling softly over a bridge. Emily Morgan designed hand-painted costumes in neutral colors that would pick up the light to reflect the changing seasons, and Catherine Girardi designed lighting that united all the visual elements. But that’s not all.

Jahreszeiten, which even Stoner Winslett had to struggle to pronounce, is a true collaboration. In searching the internet for music, Mattingly came across Dr. Goetz Oestlind’s work and was surprised to learn that Oestlind is a living contemporary composer who was more than happy to grant Mattingly the right to use six piano sonatas for this work. Not only was Tuesday night the premiere of Mattingly’s ballet, it was also the American premiere of Oestlind’s music and the first time it had been performed by another other than the composer himself. The pianist, Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn (son of Richmond Ballet’s ballet master, Malcolm Burn and Jasmine Grace, a faculty member at the School of the Richmond Ballet), felt that he should be as committed as the dancers. “I should dance with the music as well,” he said, so he performed the challenging sonatas live onstage without benefit of sheet music. That’s right, he spent weeks memorizing the score.

Mattingly’s choreography ranged from full group movements that reflected the growth and activity of spring to a lingering, unhurried solo for the sultry days of summer. Playful, competitive posturing complemented the release of fall, and romantic duets and dramatic lighting signaled the vagaries of winter. The World Premiere cast included Sabrina Holland, Naomi Robinson, Marjorie Sherman, Izabella Tokev, and Naomi Wilson, as well as Enrico Hipolito, Patrick Lennon, Jack Miller, Zacchaeus Page, and Ira White.

Speaking of his work – on video and live onstage after the premiere – Mattingly spoke of his process as collaboration versus control. He also recalled, “When I was a small child I wanted to be Robert Joffrey.” Now, as the newly appointed Artistic Director of Ballet Des Moines, he wants to be a moving force in ballet, both creatively and administratively.

NOTE: Virtual tickets are $25. For patrons who would prefer to watch from the comfort of home, we are pleased to offer virtual access to Studio Two. On Monday, November 8th, virtual ticket buyers will receive an email with information on how to access the performance recording, which will be available to stream through Sunday, November 14th. Tickets can be purchased online at etix.com or by phone at 804.344.0906 x224. The deadline to purchase virtual tickets is 12:00pm Friday, November 12th.

Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson. All rights reserved.

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