RICHMOND BALLET: STUDIO THREE

Richmond Ballet Studio Three: Three Beautiful Dances

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: May 7-12, 2019

Ticket Prices: $26-$46

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

The Richmond Ballet concludes its current Studio Series with a program of three beautiful ballets, each different in style, look, and feeling.

Ron Cunningham, who spent 30 years as director of the Sacramento Ballet (along with his wife, Carinne Binda) choreographed Summerset in 1981. (The couple transitioned to Emeritus status with the Sacramento Ballet in 2018.) Summerset was first performed by the Boston Ballet in 1981 and the Richmond Ballet introduced it on the stage of the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts in 1988.

Performed by three couples, led by Sabrina Holland and Mate Szentes, with Lauren Archer and Thel Moore, III and Abi Goldstein and Anthony Oates, the ballet features contemporary choreography with classic lines and vocabulary. Said to have been inspired by the royal wedding – not, not that one, but the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana – Summerset is mostly flirtatious and light, but there were some moments that seemed out of character, as when Archer was pulled across the floor while in a full split or when the three women all landed in a split and were pulled up by their partners. That particular movement and posture seemed overly gymnastic and less, well, royal, and took me out of the lyrical fantasy and romantic mood created by the otherwise winning combination of Cunningham’s choreography with Edward Elgar’s music. The most beautiful moment, for me, was an incredibly gentle and sustained phrase where Szentes slowly lowered Holland from his shoulder to the floor, as if she were the most precious woman on earth and he did not want to shatter her, and the very thought of her feet touching the floor was troublesome.

The lovely and ageless 2017 Kennedy Center Honor award winner Carmen de Lavallade returned to set Sweet Bitter Love on the company, having first worked with Richmond Ballet on Portrait of Billie in the fall of 2017. Initially created as a solo for herself, Sweet Bitter Love (2000) developed, over time, into a duet, set to two songs sung by Roberta Flack (“Until It’s Time For You To Go” and “Sweet Bitter Love”) and one sung by Donny Hathaway (“For All We Know”). It’s the kind of music you listen to when you are home alone, with the lights dimmed, and a glass of wine nearby.

Performed by my favorite dance couple, Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino, Sweet Bitter Love presents both the woman’s and the man’s perspective of a love affair that must end – seemingly before it has even had time to really begin. From Sabino’s hinged jazz turns to Small’s sustained movements and poignant moments of stillness, the work pulled on the acting skills of the two dancers as much as their dance technique. There are heartrending moments as when Sabino backs away from Small, who is kneeling with her back to him. While backing away, he shakes his hands in helpless frustration. Later, as she mourns the loss of love, arms stretched over head and then reaching empty arms in front, we see him briefly in an upstage corner, buttoning his jacket as he takes one last glance. The costumes for Sweet Bitter Love were designed by de Lavallade’s husband, the late Geoffrey Holder, and Chenault Spence lighting lovingly echoed the blues of Smalls’ gown and caught the delicate sparks of glitter in her hair, gown, and shoes. The overall effect – music, movement, costumes – is breathtaking.

The program closed with Symphonic Dances (world premiere, May 7, 2019), created by the London-born choreographer Rex Wheeler, who also created Lenten Rose for the Richmond Ballet in 2015. Bringing the program full circle, Wheeler also has a history of creating works for the Sacramento Ballet.

Symphonic Dances, performed by six couples, is a work in two parts set to the first and third sections of Sergei Rachmaninov’s music of the same name, which he composed in 1940. Interestingly, Rachmaninov is believed to have discussed the possibility of Russian choreographer Michel Fokine creating a ballet set to this work, but Fokine’s death in 1942 prevented any collaboration on this work between the two artists.

In the first part, the dancers wear lavender and fuchsia, the partnering is more traditional, and the lighting more muted. In the second part, the dancers wear bold red and blue (more of a turquoise blue, perhaps), and the lighting, likewise, shifts into bold washes of red, purple, and blue that seems to reflect the boldness of the music in this section, as well, which has rhythmic drums and clashing cymbals. The colors and movements are in harmony with the shifting tones of the music, creating a total environment of sound, color, and movement as the dancers move both gracefully and energetically through Wheeler’s three-dimensional shifting patterns.

It was a wise decision to place intermission between Sweet Bitter Love and Symphonic Dances. Pretty as Symphonic Dances appeared, and as good as it sounded, it was somewhat of a difficult transition to move from the drama of de Lavallade’s love ballad to the more contemporary interactions of Wheeler’s work.

The Studio Three performance run through Mother’s Day (hint, hint), with the remaining performances on Friday and Saturday at 6:30pm and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 2:00pm and 4:00pm.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguso

RB Studio 3.1
Abi Goldstein and Anthony Oates, Sabrina Holland and Mate Szentes, Lauren Archer and Thel Moore, III in Summerset
RB Studio 3.5
Abi Goldstein and Anthony Oates, Sabrina Holland and Mate Szentes, Lauren Archer and Thel Moore, III
RB Studio 311
Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino in
RB Studio 310
Fernando Sabino and Maggie Small in Sweet Bitter Love
RB Studio 3.9
Abi Goldstein and Thel Moore, III
RB Studio 3.8
Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis
RB Studio 3.7
Cody Beaton and the men of Symphonic Dances
RB Studio 3.6
Abi Goldstein and Thel Moore, III
RB Studio 3.4
Eri Nishihara and Mate Szentes in
RB Studio 3.3
Eri Nishihara
RB Studio 3.0
Mate Szentes, Eri Nishihaqra and the company in Symphonic Dances

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6th RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL: Week 2 of 3

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2019: Entanglements – Week Two

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 26-27, May 3-4 & May 10-11 @ 7PM + Next Generation May 4 @ 2:30PM

Ticket Prices: $20 General; $15 Students

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or https://rdf2019.brownpapertickets.com/

I couldn’t attend the first weekend of the 6th Annual Richmond Dance Festival presented by Dogtown Dance Theatre. After seeing Weekend Two I feel even worse about missing the first weekend.

The program featured 8 dances and 3 dance films which showcased works by local choreographers (Len Foyle of Snap Soup Dance, Kara Robertson of Karar Dance Company, Boris Karabashev of RVA Salsa Bachata Foundation, LaWanda Raines of RVA Dance Collective, and Shannon Hester of Pole Pressure), and choreographers from the DMV region (Natalie Boegel; and Paul Emerson Gordon of Company | E,  and Robbie Priore of Prioredance, both of Washington, D.C.­). The dance films hailed from the USA and abroad (Holly Wilder, Wilton, CT; Mateo Galindo Torres, Toronto, Canada; and Maria Piva, London, England). It may look overwhelming when spelled out like this, but all 11 works were spaced out in a well-paced program that ran just a bit over two hours, including one intermission.

It was a diverse program, but I had several personal favorites. The film Weightless, directed by German Prieto with Mateo Galindo Torres and Falciony Patiño, and choreography by Torres and Patiño broke all the physical laws. After a while, I stopped trying to figure out which way was up, and whether the dancers were pushing off from or suspended over a wall, the ceiling, or the floor and disembodied body parts drifted into our field of vision or a dancer twisted impossibly on the back of his wrist while suspended seemingly in midair. This beautifully made film created a whole new dimension of movement.

Another film, The Field, by Holly Wilder movingly showed a woman freeing herself from the ties that bound her. Her Inner Monologue, The Past, her Body Image, and her Support System were literally and figuratively woven into her hair with yards of rope held by others who gave voice to the voices in her head, until, using a pair of golden shears, she cut herself free. With each cut, a voice was silenced, leaving her free – in a large field. This piece was so simple, yet so powerful, and ultimately so relatable.

Another piece I could relate to was LaWanda S. Raines’ precautionary tale, Inappropriate Miss. Six dancers, four of whom emerged from beneath a giant white billow, moved as they spoke words of caution that many young girls are taught: don’t tell all your business; don’t tell the truth; don’t talk to strangers; sit with your legs closed; and most of all, don’t try to save nobody! The trouble is, many of these cautions are inhibiting and Raines did an excellent job giving voice to the duality of growing up female. Even more poignantly, one of the dancers was her own 16-year-old daughter, and one was male.

The program also included Paul Gordon Emerson’s duet Entangled, set to Ella Fitzgerald’s Summertime. The lyrical duet included some of the heat of a tango, an effect that was enhanced by a touch of acoustic guitar. Natalie Boegel’s Loud Right was accompanied by the dancers making murmurs, clicks, and raspberries (you know, that thing you do with your tongue on babies’ tummies), graduating to screeches, claps, and even spanking. At one point, they ask, “Do you wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?”

Len Foyle and Jonathan Starr had the duo in Just Who Are You to Tell Me So? approach the stage from behind the audience. Their simple movements of walking, skipping, and jumping were accented with gestures from a simple turn of the head to one dancer poking the other with her foot – all done with poker faces that made it feel less supernatural and just a tad humorous. The red splotches of Katy Pumphrey’s projections for Kara Robertson’s The In-Between reminded me of splatters of menstrual blood while the dancers’ actions of walking, running, gathering, watching and waiting took on classical lines, ending with a formal procession.

Perhaps most unusual or unexpected were RVA Salsa Bachata Foundation Team’s performance of I Want You Back, with three couples dancing to Tony Succar’s cover of the song of the same name, from album The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson, and Schannon Hester’s Shore Leave, a beautifully athletic work performed on two poles.

Maria Piva’s film, Respira, featured four women wearing masks attached to long hoses, and the program closed with an excerpt from Robert J. Priore’s Casita, a contemporary dance using a folk dance vocabulary infused with humor and costumed in black lace.

So often, when there are this many works on a single program, they all start to run together, creating a blurry memory. Not so with this program; each work was distinct and memorable on its own terms, and each choreographer’s voice was unique and legible, if that word can be applied to choreography. This program runs one more time, Saturday, May 4 at 7:00pm, and there is a new program for the third and final weekend, May 10 & 11. Also, on Saturday, May 4 at 2:00 in the afternoon, more than 164 youth from RVA, Harrisonburg, and my hometown of Brooklyn will perform in the second annual Next Generation program. Dogtown Dance Theatre’s Artistic & Executive Director, Jess C. Burgess, believes Richmond has all it needs to be a “dance destination city.”

 

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: See individual photos.

RDF

RDF Snap Soup
Snap Soup Dance, Richmond
RDF Salsa Bachata Foundatiob
RVA Salsa Bachata Foundation Team, Richmond
RDF Karar Dance
Karar Dance Company, Richmond
RDF Maria Piva
Director: Maria Piva, London

RDF2

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17th ANNUAL MID-ATLANTIC CHOREOGRAPHERS SHOWCASE: Selected for Diversity

17th ANNUAL MID-ATLANTIC CHOREOGRAPHERS SHOWCASE

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performances: March 30 at 5:00 and 8:00 pm and March 31 at 2:00 pm

Ticket Prices: $15

Info: (804) 304-1523, www.showwclix.com, or www.starrfosterdance.org

For 17 years, Starr Foster has curated the Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase of internationally recognized choreographers – and one university student.

This year’s program included works by Megan Payne (Charlotte, NC), Sadie Weinberg of LITVAK Dance (San Diego, CA), Mariah Eastman (a Seattle, WA native who graduated from the VCU Dance program), Zachary Frazee (Rochester, NY), Lauren Lambert (a University of Richmond senior majoring in Psychology with minors in Dance and Healthcare Studies), and Starr Foster (Richmond, VA).

Payne was the only choreographer to have two works on the program with one of them a dance on film, “rib.” The title immediately made me think of biblical themes, of Eve, and the work, in fact, is an exploration of the female experience. Set in a dark, damp, windowless room, the trio is lit primarily by a single, bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. It reminds me of the light in an interrogation room on a television detective show. Rather than an outward focus on line and technique, the movement is internally focused and motivated. The dancers move as a group, suggesting the three women may be components of a whole – a sort of trinity – and the two most striking movements, for me, were when they faced a blank wall, searching it with their hands, and when one violently swung her hair.

Payne also presented a live work, “Bleached Dreams.” This duet is an exploration of how our bodies experience grief and seemed mysterious and somewhat alien as it began with the two women bent over, backsides to the audience – a position they held for quite some time. Much of the movement took place on the floor, such as a head-to-head crawl, with one dancer moving forward while the other moved backward – picture conjoined twins, with the dominant twin controlling the direction of travel. The lighting and sound contributed to the alienated, shadowy effect.

Speaking of lighting, Lauren Lambert’s work, “Eudaimonia,” described in a quote from Dr. Colin Zimbleman (likely one of the psychologists Lambert encountered in her major) as “a chance to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world,” included some beautiful lighting effects – a “cyclorama lighting design concept” by Shanna Gerlach. Golden streaks occasionally flashed in the background, creating an other-worldly effect, and I liked the simplicity of the rotating circle of women moving as if supported by water, washed in a golden pool of light. “Eudaimonia,” by the way, translates from the Greek as happiness or prosperity.

I enjoyed the evocatively lit opening and period costumes of “considering the difference between stillness and waiting” by Sadie Weinberg and dancers of LITVAKdance. Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s controversial 1897 play, “La Ronde,” the duo moved through interesting partner variations – but without the sexually provocative nature of the work that inspired it. Mariah Eastman’s solo, “Efforts of Contemplation,” displayed a quiet intensity powered by detailed, articulated movement phrases, while Zachary Frazee’s “Remain in My Heart” had six dancers in primary colors transitioning through a variety of interactions. The satisfyingly diverse program closed with “Stray,” a work by Starr Foster which, despite its title, demonstrated the smooth, organic quality of Foster’s movement vocabulary and the mesmerizing mastery of her ensemble.

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: accompany each photo.

17th.Mariah Eastman_Kyle Netzeband Credit
Mariah Eastman. Photo by Kyle Netzeband.
17th-Frazee Feet Dance_Demian Spindler Credit
Frazee Feet Dance. Photo by Demian Spindler.
17th-Lauren Lambert_Eibhlin Villalta credit
Lauren Lambert. Photo by Eibhlin Villalta.
17th-LITVAKdance_Manuel Rotenberg
LITVAKdance. Photo by Manuel Rotenberg.
17th-Megan Payne
Megan Payne Dance. Photo by Taylor Jones.
17th-Starr Foster Dance_Doug Hayes Credit
Starr Foster Dance. Photo by Doug Hayes.

 

SHORTS 2019: Small Plays with Dance Make Big Impact

K DANCE PRESENTS SHORTS: Short Plays & Contemporary Dance

A Dance & Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: March 28-30, 2019 at 7:30pm & March 30 at 4:00pm

Ticket Prices: $25 general; $15 for RAPT (RVA Theatre Alliance) & Students

Info: (804) 270-4944 or firehousetheatre.org

K Dance’s 2019 production of Shorts, five short plays interwoven with choreography by Kaye Weinstein Gary, challenged performers to express themselves through words and dance and treated the audience to a delightfully diverse evening of performances. Now in its seventh year, the Shorts brand appears to have been refined and enhanced in terms of timing (the program ran just under 90 minutes, including intermission), talent (there were some new faces and bodies onstage and off), and technical aspects (the lighting, sound design, and costuming seemed particularly creative).

Jacqueline Jones directed two of the small plays. “Chicks (Biology Etc. Day 3)” written by Grace McKeany featured Dean Knight as Miss Mary Margaret Phallon (I’m surprised he wasn’t Sister Mary Margaret) as a Kindergarten teacher giving life lessons on wholly inappropriate topics, such as sex and adult deception. The lesson relied on word play that resulted in double entendre and other age-inappropriate pronouncements. Knight, by the way, looked the part in what I’ll call light drag – a simple dress and conservative wig.

Jones also directed one of the more serious scenarios of the program. “Just Before the Drop” written by David-Matthew Barnes, featured Kaye Weinstein Gary and Andrew Etheridge in a weird and strangely touching story about a wife who first meets her husband’s male lover right after the husband has jumped to his death from the roof of a building. The encounter occurs on the roof top after the police and ambulance and nosy neighbors have left, and between the delicate steps of a deadly dance discuss which of them will keep their loved one’s shoes.

Luke Schares and Patrick Rooney contributed perhaps the funniest moments of evening as a pair of cockroach brothers who, along with a lone critic, were the only survivors of an apocalypse that apparently occurred in and around a struggling theater. Surrounded by trash and a gigantic candy bar wrapper, the two wore hilariously accurate cockroach costumes – complete with extra legs and arching antenna – designed by Kylie Clark. Reminiscent of the adults in “Peanuts” cartoons who are represented only be a saxophone sound, the critic was represented by a piggish grunt. (“They were not looking in your direction,” a friend reassured me after the show.) This humorous tale by Jacquelyn Reingold bears the improbable title of “Joe and Stew’s Theatre of Brotherly Love and Financial Success.”

But wait, there’s more. The lovely and lithe Mara Elizbeth Barrett and Tim Herrman warily negotiated the roles of a couple attempting to reunite after some sort of unspecified absence or separation. Andrew Etheredge directed the piece which effortlessly integrated contemporary dance movements into the fabric of the story and speaking of fabric, he also designed the actor/dancers’ patterned bodysuits. This was the one play that left me with unanswered questions. Why did they break up? Why did he come back? Without some background information or additional context, “In Transit,” written by Steve McMahon, was decidedly unfulfilling.

Thankfully, this was not the final play. That honor was saved for “The Closet,” by Aoise Stratford. “The Closet” gave us an inside look at abandoned toys. Etheredge, a gruff-voiced toy dinosaur named Bernard was the senior resident of the closet, along with Twinkles, a simple-minded and somewhat annoying “Tubby” toy names Twinkles, played by Katherine Wright with a vertical red pony tail. (You might want to Google “tubby toys” to get the full effect.) These two abandoned toys were joined by a reluctant Bart Sponge (Round Trousers), played by Dean Knight in a button down shirt and khaki shorts with suspenders. Like every good movie villain, he pleaded his innocence until Bernard/Etheredge pulled a confession out of him – thanks to his cigarette fueled gravelly voice, no doubt.

Even though Shorts is a dance theater experience, like most Richmond dance programs it has a short run (no pun intended) of just a few days, so if you’d like to see it – and I think you should – don’t hesitate but purchase your tickets and go – just do it!

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

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

 

RICHMOND BALLET STUDIO TWO: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Richmond Ballet Studio Two: The Moor’s Pavane & Figure in the Distance

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: March 26-31 @ 6:30pm Tuesday-Saturday; 8:30pm Friday & Saturday; 2:00pm & 4:00pm Sunday

Ticket Prices: Start at $25

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

On Tuesday night Richmond Ballet’s artistic director, Stoner Winslett, reminisced on the theme “Looking Back, Looking Forward.” As an example of looking back, she gave us Ira White, once a “cute fourth grader” participating in the Minds in Motion outreach program at Mary Munford Elementary School. On Tuesday night, White danced the role of The Moor in José Limόn’s legendary ballet, “The Moor’s Pavane” choreographed in 1949. For looking forward, she brought us the Chicago-based choreographer Tom Mattingly and his new collaborative ballet, “Figure in the Distance,” based on a sketch he presented for the Richmond Ballet’s 2018 New Works Festival. Mattingly choreographed one of his early works for the Richmond Ballet trainees.

Mexican-born José Limόn (1908-1972) remains one of my favorite choreographers of all time, and “The Moor’s Pavane: Variations on the Theme of Othello” is probably his most well-known work. Set to music by Henry Purcell, the stately framework of the pavane – a courtly dance – contains and restrains the passion of the tragedy of Othello. On Tuesday The Moor was danced by Ira White, His Friend/Iago was Trevor Davis, Iago’s Wife was Lauren Archer, and The Moor’s Wife/Desdemona was danced by Sabrina Holland. On alternate programs, the roles are filled by Fernando Sabino, Matthew Frain, Maggie Small, and Cody Beaton. “Follow the hanky,” Winslett advised; that is the secret to uncovering the deception that results in Desdemona’s unfortunate death.

This is one ballet that does not set the women on pedestals. As the quartet moves through the figures of the pavane, they maintain a distant, courtly demeanor, but we see the women grasped tightly by an upper arm, pushed or pulled, and ultimately the Moor’s wife is killed. White and Davis were often at odds, sometimes even combative. Archer and Holland were treated like trophy wives, commodities more than true loves. The rich – and most likely heavy – costumes are constructed after the original design by Pauline Lawrence, with full, layered skirts for the women with puffy, detached sleeves (showing lots of bare shoulder), and princely robes or tunics for the men.

But even with all its historic status, “The Moor’s Pavane” was not the highlight of the evening. Rather, that honor goes to Tom Mattingly’s “Figure in the Distance,” a work inspired by the artwork of Taylor A. Moore – work Mattingly first encountered on Instagram. An even dozen dancers move through a succession of phrases and configurations. Some of the group phrases brought me to the edge of my seat, including a line of dancers that rippled from front to back, and a moment when the men lifted the women straight up in front of them, one by one. I was also intrigued by a couple walking offstage: the woman walking backwards while her partner mirrored her, walking forward. There was just something somewhat frightening or menacing about that, in contrast to another pair of dancers who shared a gentle caress. There was such a range of emotions, all backed by a series of paintings by Taylor A. Moore. First there was a blue painting of what appeared to be a lake with faint figures in the background. Most striking was a red painting with bold strokes that suggested both a forest and figures hidden in the trees. Another had the shape of a cat’s eye, but the slit of the eye could have been the opening to a cave, and a final had only faint brush strokes except on the far right where there was a large. . .limb? But all the bold, unidentifiable brush strokes could be interpreted as figures, hence, “Figure in the Distance.”

Emily Morgan designed the dark red body suits worn by both the men and the women. The fabric was richly yet subtly patterned, with sheer sleeves and back panels so that, at first glance, it seemed one dancer had a tattoo on her shoulder, and then I noticed more shapes and colors. It turns out that Morgan hand painted sections of the fabric to coordinate with the paintings. The work was set to the multi-layered music of Philip Glass: “Violin Concerto No. 1,” “Piano Etude No. 2” and “String Quartet No. 2” (also known as “Company”), and “Primacy of a Number.”

The lighting was designed by Catherine Girardi who has worked as assistant lighting designer for the Ballet’s “Nutcracker” performances. This was her first original design on her own for the Richmond Ballet.

What made this a collaboration more so than many other ballets is the communication that occurred between the artists (choreographer, painter, costumer designer and lighting designer) during the creative process. Mattingly was given three works to work with the company. Mattingly’s impetus was Moore’s paintings and Morgan had to dress the moving bodies in garments whose brush strokes would reflect the paintings at appropriate times, with Girardi’s lighting. All worked together to suggest what Mattingly conceived of as “an idealized version of yourself,” making the audience, in a sense, collaborators after the fact. “Figure in the Distance” is a beautiful work that is highly satisfying on many sensory levels.

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 to follow.

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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.

Concert Ballet

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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