juggling acts

Richmond Ballet keeps pirouetteing toward risk-free performances.

The Richmond Ballet’s Canal Street practise room was hectic in a sophisticated way on a soggy day in September. While offices and workstations were being upgraded and reorganised below, personnel were working in the costume shop while the dancers tested the freshly paved dance floor. The ballet was preparing to deliver a full season of dancing after working at a reduced capacity for a year.

In advance of “Glare’s” world premiere last month that addressed societal issues during the first of the Richmond Ballet’s four new Studio Series programmes, about 20 company members gathered under the watchful eye of Director and Ballet Master Igor Antonov to practise various sections of the choreographer and Associate Artistic Director Ma Cong’s work. Another couple mastered the nuances of a portion that required the lady to roll over the back of her kneeling partner while making it seem graceful, while three sets of partners practised a beautiful pas de deux. The movement expression served as a fitting metaphor for the company’s need to adapt throughout the epidemic.

As Richmond Ballet developed innovative methods for holding performances safely, other ballet companies observed. The dance group staged 96 performances last year using constrained, socially isolated seating, ticket scanning, and electronic playbills. The crowd was compelled to wear masks. There were no intermissions, thus the programmes were also shorter and the Ballet Barre was closed. At first, even the dancers wore masks that matched the colours of their outfits. The business is once again showing its faces now that everyone has had their vaccinations. However, the crowd won’t be revealed because the theatre opens with all available seats. Programs will run for around an hour without a break and the Ballet Barre will stay closed in order to minimise encounters.

The ballet has altered how it presents performances before, not simply because of pandemic limits. The Studio Series, which features smaller stages and shorter performances, was launched in 2001 as an alternative way to enjoy ballet. The most recent episode in this series, Studio Two, is slated for October 26–31. The passionate duet “Allegro Brillante” by renowned choreographer George Balanchine and a world premiere by Tom Mattingly are included in the programme. After graduating from the Virginia School of the Arts, Mattingly, a choreographer residing in Chicago, performed with Richmond Ballet. This will be his second work for Richmond Ballet to get a debut, and it presents a modern interpretation of classical themes influenced by Virginia’s natural beauty and set to piano sonatas by German composer Götz Stlind.

The Richmond Ballet will take a break from its small Studio Series later this season so that “The Nutcracker” may perform 10 shows at the Dominion Energy Center from December 11–23. After the seasonal classic, “Romeo and Juliet” will be presented at the Dominion Energy Center from February 18–20 with the Richmond Symphony.

A dynamic trio of female choreographers will present an evening of their works at Studio Three from March 22–27: The Ailey School and Maggie Flanigan acting conservatory alumna Jennifer Archibald, who was born in Canada, is renowned for her high-energy productions that fuse classical ballet with street, funk, lyrical, and jazz dance forms. Polish-born Katarzyna “Kate” Skarpetowska is a Juilliard School and New York City High School of Performing Arts alumna. She is a favourite among the dancers in the Richmond Ballet due to her emotionally challenging choreography. Dancer Nancy Paradis, whose home company is Richmond Ballet, has performed as a Madonna imposter on both coasts.

The last performance of the season will take place in Studio Four from May 10-15 and will feature “Echoing Past” by Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett and the world premiere of “What’s Going On” by Val Caniparoli, which links back to Ma Cong’s Studio One debut of “Glare.” Joanne Kong, a pianist, will perform Winslett’s examination of a woman’s path to music by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel. Caniparoli’s “What’s Going On,” initially slated for May 2020, will address societal themes like Cong’s “Glare.” It will feature 60-year-old protest songs by artists including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, and Marvin Gaye.

The organisation will undergo a substantial change in the 2021–22 season. A lot of [new] youthful talent is here. Cong argues that the group’s diversity and the corporate culture are two of its assets. Everyone is collaborating “from the bottom of their hearts, to reach the flame of the art,” as the song puts it.

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