CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: It’s a Circus Out There

CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA:  43rd Annual Winter Repertory Gala

A Dance Review & Some Random Thoughts by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 8 – March 3, 2019

Ticket Prices: $18 for adults; $15 for seniors and students (with valid ID); and $12 for children

Info: (804) 798-0945 or www.concertballet.com

It has been awhile – at least two years, maybe three – since I’ve seen a performance by the Concert Ballet of Virginia. This company, which describes itself a “collection of unsalaried Virginians. . .operating within the framework of a full-scale professional dance company” occupies a unique position. Based on a mission to reach large, diverse audiences, the performing company itself is a form of outreach, offering performing opportunities to many who want to experience ballet without the commitment of a full-time professional career. Many performances take place in schools, bringing storybook ballets and dance exploration to students of all levels.

The company also offers two annual gala programs at The Woman’s Club Auditorium on East Franklin St. The recent 43rd Annual Winter Gala, held February 24, included live music by The Concert Ballet Orchestra and two new works, The Banks of Green Willow, choreographed by Concert Ballet dancers Allie Davis and Will Taylor and Circus, a collaborative story ballet created by three Concert Ballet dancers – Toni Lathan, Allie Davis, and Valerie Shcherbakova –to Norman Dello Joio’s “Satiric Dances.”

The Banks of Green Willow, set to music arranged by Richard Schwartz (Symphonic Winds and The Concert Ballet Orchestra), tells the story of an elegant couple in evening dress returning home through a park after enjoying an evening at the ballet. The rich black and green costumes work well with what appears to be a Victorian-era set, featuring gas lamps and a park bench. Concert Ballet dancers Allie Davis and Will Taylor choreographed the piece, keeping the choreography sweet, uncomplicated, and effective for the scene they created.

Circus is a colorful finale piece that includes dancers of all ages and abilities. There are acrobats and tumblers, a snake charmer, tigers, monkeys, a strong man, and more, all under the big top. Company director Scott Boyer takes on the role of an evil Magician, who appears to be vying with the troupe’s Snake Charmer for the affections of the circus’ Tightrope Walker – who looks like the ballerina atop a classic music box.

The program also included works from the Concert Ballet repertory, including an East Indian inspired Sleeping Beauty ballet, Naila, for the junior dancers with stylized movements, a very red-themed and festive Fledermaus, choreographed by Scott Boyer to music by Johann Strauss, and a revival of the company’s “Emperor Waltz.” If I am economical with details, it is because the programs were mis-printed, and The Concert Ballet Orchestra conductor, Iris Schwartz, announced the music and dance selections – without benefit of a microphone.

One thing this company does very well is backdrops and sets. The Fledermaus set included three gigantic chandeliers against the all-red backdrop; The Emperor Waltz featured Greek goddess dresses with Grecian pillars and candelabra – some with real lights – and Naila had some very pretty Alladin-esque costumes.

Another thing they do well is provide live music. Between dances, the orchestra offered a variety of selections from patriotic marches to Gilbert and Sullivan to Big Band.

At the Woman’s Club, there are a couple dozen tables where audience members can sit cabaret-style and order desserts and coffee prior to the start of the program, and during intermission. Most of the audience members appeared to be family and friends of the performers. The program is family friendly, and there were many toddlers in attendance – most of whom were surprisingly attentive! At least one dad ignored the pre-show announcement not to take photographs or make video recordings, and no one seemed to mind.

I chatted with a young woman seated near me – we weren’t seated at a table but sat on chairs in two rows at the rear of the room.  (There were also seats in the balcony – the program was well attended. It was, in fact, a full house.) She didn’t have family or friends in the cast but had seen the program listed on Facebook and decided to come as she’s trying to sample more of the culture that Richmond has to offer. While I enjoyed the music and admired the sets and costumes, I had some major private thoughts about the caliber of the dancing: flexed feet; uneven lines; unsteady balances; dancers looking at other dancers for cues, and more. But my companion for the day had no such reservations and indicated that she plans to come to the next performance as well. I think that is just the sort of outreach education The Concert Ballet of Virginia aims for. Some of the characteristics I consider signs of professionalism might be deterrents to someone who is new to dance, or who wants to be entertained, but not. . .challenged. Perhaps she will come again. Perhaps she will also want to sample some of the contemporary dance and other local offerings. Did I witness the birth of a new audience member – a potential patron of the arts? I hope I see her again.

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

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Photo Credits: There were no photographs available at the time of publication.

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RICHMOND BALLET’S “CINDERELLA”: Happily Ever After

Richmond Ballet’s CINDERELLA: Humor & Romance Unite

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 14-16 @ 7:00pm; February 16 @2:00pm; and February 17 @1:00pm

Ticket Prices: Start at $25

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

Magic. Magic with a generous dose of humor. The Richmond Ballet’s 2019 production of Malcolm Burn’s Cinderella is the sort of magical ballet that makes little girls want to become ballerinas. (Not trying to be sexist here, just speaking from personal experience or memory.)

Set on the grand Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre stage, with storybook scenery, elaborate costumes, and props by Peter Farmer, lighting by MK Stewart, and additional costume design by Tamara Cobus, Burn’s choreography soars into fairyland and carries the audience willingly along for the journey. Sergei Prokofiev’s romantic score is played beautifully by the Richmond Symphony, conducted by Erin Freeman.

Cinderella, her bullying stepsisters and unsympathetic stepmother, her kind but defeated father, the fairy godmother and the fairies of the seasons, the magical mice and the charming Prince are all here in this traditional fairy tale. But it’s been awhile, and I didn’t remember just how amusing this ballet is! (On opening night there was one woman in the audience who had an infectious laugh – for the first act. By acts two and three, she had progressed to laughing uncontrollably, often at the most inappropriate times.)

The physical comedy of Elena Bella (a stepsister) and Trevor Davis (The Jester) are personal highlights of the ballet. Bello is a petite powerhouse with stunning technique and a penchant for comedy, which she also demonstrated as Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Davis also managed to perfect a blend of technique and comedy.

And, of course, the delicious comicality (yes, that’s a real word) of having the second stepsister played by a man, Matthew Frain, goes without saying. I was excited when I saw him appear in toe shoes, and yes, he did manage to get in a few steps on pointe. And while his role requires him to perform in an over-the-top klutzy style, he worked diligently with company members to prepare. [See a video clip of him preparing for his role with his “sister” Elena Bello: https://www.richmond.com/studio/entertainment/dancer-matthew-frain-as-cinderella-s-step-sister/video_9f728237-58fc-5a45-a063-ff64851d227a.html].

Among the more traditional roles, Cody Beaton is Cinderella and Fernando Sabino is her Prince. Their pas de deux is lush, unhurried, and beautiful. Their unlikely love story – the stuff of fairy tales – is helped along by the Fairy Godmother (Lauren Archer) and the fairies of the Seasons. Melissa Robinson is the Spring Fairy; Izabella Tokev is Summer; Abi Goldstein is Winter; and Eri Nishihara is Autumn. Nishihara took my breath away with her effortless flexibility; it seemed that each time she lifted her leg it floated to the back of her head.

Burn gives attention to the smallest detail. Even minor characters are given memorable representations, such as Mate Szentes as the pretentious Dancing Master and Khaiyom Khojaev as The Violinist with super-exaggerated gestures. I adore the Chimes: the twelve hooded figures who signal Cinderella’s curfew turn their heads on signal revealing glowing red “eyes.” Each season fairy is accompanied by a trio of student apprentices, and the guests at the Prince’s ball are all given authentic gestures and organic movement patterns that make the entire scene flow like a dream.

Humor, romance, fairy tale enchantment. What a beautiful offering for the Valentine weekend. I so much prefer Cinderella to Romeo and Juliet for the Valentine week, as I personally find that classic tale too depressing for a romantic date. Cinderella is a story ballet that allows you to fully escape into fantasy for approximately two and a half hours (three acts, two intermissions) – maybe even longer if you plan your evening right. . .

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

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Photo Credits:

Richmond Ballet in Cinderella by Malcolm Burn. Richmond Ballet 2019. All Rights Reserved. Photos by Sarah Ferguson.

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: CRAVE…what if?

STARR FOSTER DANCE: Crave – a New Work

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 1-3: Friday @8PM; Saturday @3:00, 5:00 & 8:00 PM; Sunday @1:00 PM & 3:00 PM

Ticket Prices: $12

Info: (804) 304-1523, https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4033169

Starrene Foster’s new work, Crave, poses the question, “What if, in one moment, you had changed your mind during your journey. And if so, how would that change affect the final outcome?” The ways in which she responds to this prompt are intriguing, thought-provoking, and sensual.

On entering The Basement performance space, there is a small exhibit by four participating artists. Douglas Hayes (the company’s art director) showed a pair of digital duotone prints showing the same model, in the same pose and lighting, but one was taken in 2003 and the other in 2019. Wolfgang Jasper’s charcoal drawing, “Frictionless Pivot” and digital print “Communal Madness” show the same elements, but one has been digitally reconfigured. Beth B. Jasper’s “Negotiation,” created with pen and ink on rice paper started as two separate drawings but ended as two panels, with the initial shape in one flipped over. And Fiona Ross’ “Staves #25C” and “Staves #28C” follow specific rules of placement that lead to different outcomes. A brief study of the artwork will prove helpful when watching Crave.

Our programs were marked with a letter “N” or “S,” indicating whether we were to start out seated on the North Stage or South Stage of the performance space.  There are about twenty seats on each side, and a wall – I mean a curtain – separates the two sides. During the 10-minute intermission, the audience members change sides.

We started on the North Stage, where Kierstin Kratzer and Mattie Rogers danced with a quiet intensity that sometimes pulled me to the edge of my seat. Billy Curry’s original score was a soundscape of trains, industrial noises, and rhythmic music. Foster, who frequently uses dark lighting, did not disappoint, but there were bright lights overhead that created a not unpleasant, somehow softened glare. We could see the dancer’s faces, but not their features. We knew they were looking at each other, but we couldn’t see their eyes. They were dressed in monochromatic slightly loose, softly flowing tunics and pants that became part of the choreography.

Kratzer and Rogers sometimes flowed together organically, sometimes challenged one another, lifting, pushing, pulling; one would occasionally head butt the other in the belly, and one stood vibrating as if receiving an electric shock from her partner’s fingers. The flow and variety of movement was mesmerizing, and before you knew it, it was intermission.

Changing to the South Stage, we saw Caitlin Cunningham and Kelsey Gagnon dancing, and like Wolfgang Jasper’s drawings, the elements were the same as those used by Kratzer and Rogers, but reconfigured. They were dressed identically to the other duo. They started from a similar position. There was that kick and high leg swing. That’s the same grab of the toe. There’s the vibratory movement – but different. It was all familiar, but all new. There was the sound of the train and yes, that upbeat rhythm. But there was a sense of déjà vu, a time shift or a manipulation of time and space.

One had a sense that the other duo was happening on the other side of the curtain, but try as I might, I never actually heard them. Having the audience move is rare, but it has been done before. It’s not always possible and the flexible and intimate space of The Basement was ideal for this elemental manipulation. It enhanced the sense that time and space had shifted. The cast members change, too. For some performances, Fran Beaumont and Cristina Peters will dance on the North Stage, while Shelby Gratz and Erick Hooten dance on the South Stage. With a running time of just about 45 minutes including intermission, Crave packs a lot of punch in a small space in a short time. There are only 6 performances over a 3-day period, so if you can this piece is worth seeing. Try really hard. I love the way Foster has manipulated all the elements – including her 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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Photo Credits: Starr Foster Dance by Douglas Hayes.

THE LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA: 18 Years Strong

THE LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA: LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA 2019

A Dance Review and Related Thoughts by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performance Were: January 10-13, 2019

Ticket Prices Were: $10 – $20

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

This won’t be the first time I’ve said that The Latin Ballet of Virginia’s annual production of The Legend of the Poinsettia has become, for many, a new or alternative holiday tradition. But this year I had the pleasure of introducing the production to ten people, children and adults, who had never before seen it. Everyone I had a chance to speak to during intermission or after the show was enthralled by the variety and range of the dancing, the colorful costumes, and the energy of the music and dancing. One mother said she had a hard time following the story, which is told in Spanish and English, mostly Spanish, but I suggested she read her program later – it explains pretty much everything, much like the synopsis of an opera.

This year the fickle Richmond winter weather caused some concern, with a wintry mix of snow, sleet, and rain predicted around the time of the two Saturday performances and the Sunday matinee. The company generously offered to allow people who had made reservations for Sunday afternoon to exchange their tickets for one of the two Saturday performances. The Saturday matinee seemed to be a full house, and snow flurries were swirling around the parking lot of the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen as we made our way out after the show and the cast prepared for the evening show.  As of this writing, the weather seemed to be kind enough to allow the Sunday matinee to go on as planned.

The Legend of the Poinsettia tells the story of Little Maria (with Rebeca Dora Barragán and Emery Velasquez alternating in the role), who, after the sudden death of her mother, with whom she was weaving a colorful blanket, finds herself in need of a gift to present to the Baby Jesus on Epiphany Day. January 6 is Three King’s Day or Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos, which celebrates the 12th day of Christmas and the legend of the three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Christ Child. So, for those who did not take down their Christmas trees on January 1, just say you were waiting to celebrate Epiphany! It is also the story of “the true spirit of giving,” as well as a cultural history of how the poinsettia came to be a symbol of Christmas.

The Legend of the Poinsettia is a family-friendly, multi-cultural, multi-generational festival featuring the dances, music, and costumes of Mexico (the origin of the legend and of the poinsettia plant, with Micas de Aguinalda or Christmas Masses and nine days of posadas leading up to Christmas, with reenactments of the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph), Colombia (King’s birthplace, which also celebrates the nine nights before Christmas with las novenas including songs, prayers, and nativity scenes), Venezuela (the home of the gaitas or festive songs that blend the Spanish and African cultures), the Dominican Republic (home of the bachata, a mixture of Cuban bolero and son), Puerto Rico (home of the Christmas parrandas or musical festivities) and Spain (home of flamenco and the Christmas novenas). A blend of solemn candle lighting and prayers with festive singing and dancing is the common thread that ties together the many cultures and traditions, concluding with the miracle of the poinsettia plant, represented by dancers in red and green.

This year’s cast included new and familiar faces. Young Marisol Betancourt Sotolongo has appeared in all eighteen productions. Antonio Hidalgo Paz, of Spain, and artistic director of Flamenco Vivo, has become a staple figure, partnering King in a flamenco duet and taking on the role of Papa. Frances Wessells, Professor Emerita of VCUDance appeared in her recurring role as Abuelita/the grandmother. She was greeted with cheers of “go Frances, go Frances,” in deference to her still performing at the age of 99! One of my students was most impressed by the energy or “hype” of the men: Roberto Whitaker, Jay Williams, Glen Lewis, Nicolás Guillen Betancourt Sotolongo, and DeShon Rollins.

There are daytime school productions and a weekend of family shows, but if you missed them all, keep your eyes open for next year’s production. It’s a must see.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Photos from Latin Ballet Facebook page.

YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Nationally Acclaimed Dance on a Local Stage

20TH ANNUAL YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Presented by K Dance

A Dance-Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: November 30 & December 1, 2018

Ticket Prices: $25; $15 Students & RVATA Members

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

This year marks the 20th anniversary of artistic director Kaye Weinstein Gary’s Yes! Dance Festival. The festival has brought 150 national and international artists to Richmond and enriched the small but resilient local dance community. This year’s program was quite remarkable for its scope and diversity, with performances by Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago, Illinois; Sandra Lacy from Maryland; Pas de Monkéy from Ohio; slowdanger (Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Courtney D. Jones/CDJ Dance from Houston, Texas; and Carrots Carrying Water (Logan McGill and Ching Ching Wong) from Salt Lake City, Utah; as well as an offering from the host company, K Dance of Richmond, Virginia.

Pas de Monkéy proved to be a surprising departure from previous years’ guest artists and stood out from others on this year’s program as well due to the hip hop infused genre and subject matter that touched on political hot topics. “Lose It All” was the first dance on the program, following an opening video of excerpts from previous festivals. Kweku Bransah choreographed and performed the solo that held the audience spellbound with his isolations, flowing transitions, and breathtaking muscular control. Bransah pops, waves, breakdances, and glides and his movements also reflect a foundation of pantomime that carries a story of lost love.

Bransah returned in the second half of the program to perform Robin Prichard’s “The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson).”  Set to the music of The Whites, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Sweet Honey in the Rock and the voice of a grieving mother, “The Art of Making Dances” is overflowing with negative social, political, and racial symbolism. Bransah begins the solo with a noose around his neck, one gigantic clown shoe and one bare foot, and an oversized boutonniere, dancing to the lyrics, “Keep on the sunny side of life.” He looks like a caricature of an American minstrel, a representation that was already an unflattering caricature of black people.

Freed from the noose, Bransah speaks, asking, “How can dance be meaningful when people are getting shot in the streets?” A mother’s voice grieves, a youth cries, and song lyrics urge the dancer to “smile.” This intriguing solo blends hip hop with ballet, turning the dancer upside down to perform pas de bourée while standing on his head, and leaves the audience with the question, “How do you take actions that matter?”

Another highlight of the program was “Let’s Be Honest,” performed by Logan McGill and Ching Ching Wong from the Salt Lake City-based company with the fascinating name of Carrots Carrying Water. A world premiere, the duet featured a couple dealing with and avoiding their emotions. They started in business attire, she in a pencil-skirted suit and heels (worn with socks) and he in a light-toned suit, but the stage was soon strewn with their clothes and shoes as the two engaged in a tension-filled test of wills. The way the two connected – whether touching or not – was intimate and palpable.

Not all was tense or political. Lucky Plush Productions out of Chicago presented a delightfully refreshing trio, “Cinderbox 2.0 Remix” choreographed by founder and artistic director Julia Rhoads, that reshapes parts of an evening length work based on reality culture experiences. The three dancers, Michel Rodriguez Cintra, Elizabeth Luse, and Meghann Wilkinson dance in unison, upstage one another, and take turns sitting on metal folding chairs and one another – all while sipping from a shared bottle of Fiji water. Their dialogue incorporates moments from earlier dances on the program, including the feathers from Sandra Lacy’s “Giving Up the Ghost,” and the teapot table from K Dance’s short play, “Helen Keller visits Martha Graham’s Dance Studio.”

Written by Stephan Kaplan and directed by Jacqueline Jones, “Helen Keller visits Martha Graham’s Dance Studio” is the program’s second premiere. Based on real life, the short scene introduces the audience to an intimate moment in which Helen Keller (Maggie Roop) visits the studio of her friend choreographer Martha Graham (Kaye Weinstein Gary) Kelly Kennedy fills the role of Polly Thompson, Keller’s interpreter and companion. Not only was this friendship news to me, a student of dance history, but the piece also made an impression because of a unique teapot shaped table created especially for this work by Juliet Wiebe.

The program also included Sandra Lacy’s spiral-filled and feather-finished solo, “Giving Up the Ghost,” Courtney D. Jones’ intense solo about life in solitary confinement, “Hell is a Very small Place,” and slowdanger’s sci-fi thriller, “hybrid memory | reflector,” choreographed and performed by Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson. Kudos to Kaye Weinstein Gary for an all-around excellent program and for bringing international and nationally known artists to our local stages. Among this year’s guest artists, Courtney D. Jones, Ching Ching Wong, Julia Rhoads, and slowdanger have been included on Dance Magazine’s prestigious 25 to Watch list. All are well worth watching.

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

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Photo Credits: individual photos as labeled

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Kweku Bransah. Photo by Dale Dong.
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Robin Prichard. Photo by Chris Golden.
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Sandra Lacy. Photo by Marlayna Demond.
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Courtney Jones. Photo Credit: dabfoto creative, University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts
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slowdanger. Photo by Umi Akiyoshi.

 

RICHMOND BALLET: A Requiem Into the Night

RICHMOND BALLET:  Studio One

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, 407 E. Canal St. RVA 23219

Performances: November 6-11, 2018

Ticket Prices: $26-46

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

The Richmond Ballet Studio Series is unique and alluring for the intimacy of the space and the presentation of two or three works in an atmosphere that encourages reflection. The current Studio One production continues this tradition. On Tuesday, the Richmond Ballet presented Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, a company premiere of Robbins’ 1970 work for the New York City Ballet, and the world premiere of Nicole Haskins’ Requiem, inspired by the music of Gabriel Fauré.

In the Night is composed of three pas de deux featuring three couples of different temperaments, possibly different ages, at different stages of their relationships.  On Wednesday night, the couples were Melissa Robinson and Marty Davis, Eri Nishihara and Khalyom Khojaev, and Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino. Robinson and Davis embodied youthful elegance, she in a softly flowing purple dress, he is a blue-gray waistcoat and ascot. Their movements were sustained, romantic, controlled, yet effortless. Nishihara and Khojaev had a more mature posture, and the earth tones of their costumes added weight. At the same time, their movements were more fanciful, with bigger, bolder jumps and lifts. Finally, Small and Sabino presented a more passionate duo. Her black dress with red underskirt suggested a smoldering temperament, and his darker gray jacket was smoky, matching the teasing sensuality verging on conflict – sort of like classical ballet with a tango temperament. The final section of the beautiful Chopin nocturnes, played live onstage by pianist Joanne Kong, brought all three couple together. In one beautiful moment they briefly acknowledged one another before dancing off.

In her video reflections, Haskins described Fauré’s Requiem as “a lullaby for death, not dark or sad.” The women’s flowing skirts, designed by Emily Morgan, were designed to make the movement linger, like the memories of loved ones. The work opens with lights like memorial candles and the women, seated with their skirts pooled around them, also look like candles. The stage is kept dim, and groups of dancers are bathed in the amber glow of the lights. The dancers’ formations are fascinating and delightfully unpredictable: clusters, solos, duos, small groups, diagonal facings, patterns that flow and change organically. While Haskins assured us the work was not dark or sad, it did seem to go on just a little too long.

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

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Photo Credits:

Rehearsal Photos from Richmond Ballet Facebook posts & Photos by Sarah Ferguson

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Sabrina Holland and Fernando Sabino in In The Night by Jerome Robbins. Richmond Ballet 2018. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Abi Goldstein and Thel Moore III in In The Night by Jerome Robbins. Richmond Ballet 2018. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Dancers of Richmond Ballet in Requiem by Nicole Haskins. Richmond Ballet 2018. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Dancers of Richmond Ballet in Requiem by Nicole Haskins. Richmond Ballet 2018. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Richmond Ballet dancers rehearsing “Requiem”
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Choreographer Nicole Haskins with Richmond Ballet dancers Abi Goldstein and Mate Szentes
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Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes rehearsing “Requiem”
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Richmond Ballet dancers rehearsing “Requiem”

ANANYA DANCE THEATRE: People Powered Dances of Transformation

ANANYA DANCE THEATRE: How Do We Show Up For Each Other?

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Virginia Commonwealth University School Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performances: October 26 & 27, 2018

Ticket Prices: $20 Adults; $15 Students

Info: (804) 828-2020 or http://arts.vcu.edu/dance/

 

Ananya Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Ananya Chatterjea, presents dance within a social, feminist/womanist, human context. Entertaining is only a part of what they do. There were no spectators in the Grace Street Theater on Saturday night when I attended Shaatranga: Women Weaving Worlds. Oh, there were plenty of people in the audience, but Chatterjea and her troupe of seven powerful women did not allow us to sit and be entertained.

Several times the house lights came up and those who may have been under the impression they had come to see a show were asked to take a stand, to raise a fist, to clap and stomp our feet. We participated in an invocation of breath and watching a dance performance may never be the same. Stand up (one woman did). Raise your first (most did). Clap your hands. Stomp your feet. Chant: Public fury; public joy; public love; public dance!

Shaatranga, which means “seven colors” in Bānglā, is the culmination of a quintet of works exploring work women do. The dance was created in four movements and runs 95 minutes with no intermission and is based on research, history, and cultural connections. The two main themes are ancient Indian Ocean trade routes that connected Asia, Africa, and South America, and the shared practices of indigo-dyeing. Visually, an abstract navigation star represents the compass that “enables us to remain on the path of a complexly woven notion of justice.” At the beginning of the work, the navigation star is broken but by the end it has been healed. The sections of the dance bear names like “Voyage,” “Shipwreck,” and “Desolation.” There are “Rituals of Mourning” and “Dancing to Heal.”

Chatterjea’s movement vocabulary uses classical Indian dance as a foundation and there are layers contemporary dance woven throughout. There is yoga, martial arts, rage and joy. The movement that stood out most to me is a spiral that starts from deep inside the core then winds its way up and out. There is also spoken word, ritual, and sound: grunts, screams, the sound of helicopter rotors as the women’s hands reach up, the sound of feet slapping and stomping, the sound of drums, and even, I think, the faint sound of birds and monkeys chattering.

At the beginning, there was a curtain hung asymmetrically so that it reminded me simultaneously of a simple curtain or covering, a woman’s veil, and a ship’s sail. Later, the black curtains opened just a bit to reveal a portion of white wall bathed in red light with Chatterjea splattered on the wall, feet up, arms splayed out on the floor. There is beauty, hunger, pain, distortion, and there is power.

Projections and simple design elements created an all-encompassing world that kept me on the edge of my seat for most of the evening. There were rolling waves and animated billows of indigo that morphed into hands, and there were ceiling-to-floor ribbons of indigo, interwoven like the lives of the women represented, remembered, and honored. Throughout, the women wore loose-fitting dark blue pants (a knee-length Indian salwar, similar to Victorian knickers or bloomers) but changed their tops for each movement (peplum tunics, athletic leotards, high necked tops) in shades of blue, sometimes with splashed of color, but always indigo. Musical composition, vocals, sound design, poetry, costume, lighting, scenic design, animations and projections all united in a seamless manifestation of Chatterjea’s concept.

Often, a program is unnecessary, except to identify the names of the dances. In this case, the program was an essential guide to the work, filled with background, history, poetry, definitions, and questions: How do we show up for each other? This company, this work must be seen. Writing about it does not do it justice.

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

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Photo Credits:

Company photos and photos from the company website.

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