A Review of Richmond Ballet at the Royal Opera House, London, June 16, 2012.

The Richmond Ballet performed to a sold-out audience, including the Governor of Virginia, in the Covent Garden opera house made famous by Margot Fonteyn.

Many had travelled from Richmond to witness what turned out to be a beautiful evening. This ensemble company deserves international attention and has caught the eye of the Royal Ballet School.

‘Valse Fantasie’ choreographed by Balanchine in 1967 opened the program. The diaphanous costumes in pink, rose and lilac by Susan Cologne shimmered in  a performance of musical sensitivity and technical artistry.This company immediately sent out a message that it intended to uphold the soft-edge of the European tradition-the tradition of the Royal Ballet, of Cechetti, of the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg- by its emphasis on lovely arms, careful pointe work and expressive line. Valerlie Tellmann’s dainty feet picked out the music.

‘After Eden’  was a moving ‘ pas de deux’  conceived by John Butler in 1965, an exploration of a lost paradise. The sculptured choreography evoked a solemn awakening into a world of an abandoned Eden, depicted by Richard Moore in shadows interrupted by pools of light.

Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino were both powerful and vulnerable, sometimes two bodies woven together as one (which also ominously recalled a certain serpent) and sometimes as separate individuals. The technique was demanding, the lifts were difficult, but the dramatic impact of the work never faltered. This company was performing well within its ability, and the audience began to be dazzled by its range of exciting choreographic choices.

After the Interval, ‘Erster Vals’ (First Waltz) took the stage to Klezroym music,  choreographed by Ma Cong in 2010. This was performed by Lauren Fagone and Thomas Garrett, Cecile Tuzil and Philip Skaggs, Valerie Tellmann and Ariel Rose , Shira Lanyi and Thomas Ragland to Yiddish songs. The shape of the arms and hands became a design motif using isolation of movement. The women were partnered through unusual lifts, as they seemed to be participating in an eastern- European ‘square dance’.

One of the dancers called to mind the famous (petite and raven-haired) Pauline Koner who peformed with the Jose Limon company from 1946-1960.The austere, sweeping costumes by Tamara Cobus were reminiscent of early encounters with Martha Graham in ‘Appalacian Spring’, premiered in 1944.

As the finale, ‘Swipe’ by Val Caniparol in 2011, to music by Gabriel Prokofiev ( the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev ) took to the stage. Movements from Gabriel’s  String Quartet No.2 are coupled with remixes of the original score. In ‘Swipe’, which consisted of “vii” sections of pure contemporary ballet,  differing combinations of dancers were used to express the changing moods of the music.  Maggie Small, Lauren Fagone and Cody Beaton gave solo performances, as well as dancing as a trio. Trevor Davis, Thomas Ragland, Fernando Sabino and Phillip Skaggs  in section ‘ v’, brought cheers from the audience, with a perfectly synchronized, brilliant response to rapid percussion.

The Richmond Ballet deserves an international reputation. The program was billed as ‘Made in the USA: Traditions and Innovations’. In borrowing from Balanchine, who first came to prominence under Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, they were borrowing  from the classical ballet traditions of Petipa, Bournonville, Fokine,Cechetti. Some of the ‘innovations’ seemed to look back to the early roots of modern dance in Graham and Limon. The  visual and sculptural work of John Butler expressed the focus on abstract shape and three dimensional rotation of form which pervades art today. Some American technique can look rather athletic, as if beauty were a concept no longer desirable in an age of technology. That a hardness in life must produce  a replica of itself in any new creation. To contradict this idea, the Richmond Ballet shows us that ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever’.

London, June 16, 2012. Published in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, read more here:  bit.ly/NLL4RF

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