Studio Series: September, Richmond Ballet’s first in-person performance since the pandemic began, demonstrated the new normal for live dance performances, and displayed some world-class talent.
As gathering restrictions begin to ease by law, one local dance institution risked an in-person performance for the first time since March. Richmond Ballet held “Studio Series: September” in their studio theatre from September 15-27, and it established the new norms for live art. The ballet announced at the end of August that their dancers will be rounding out the year with three Studio Series performances. Typically held throughout the company’s regular season, the three shows this season are taking place in September, October, and November.
Personally, while I’m glad that Richmond Ballet is taking precautions for the good of their audience, I can’t help but feel saddened. Most of the audience seating was closed to maintain proper distance between patrons, meaning only about six seats per row were available for purchase. My seat in Row I was positioned directly in front of center stage and a trickle of showgoers were in my peripheral view. Before the show began, a small, projected video played that revealed masked dancers, asking the audience to leave their masks on during the performance.
“Studio Series: September” began with excerpts from the popular ballet/opera, “Gloria.” You may remember this specific piece appearing alongside Richmond Ballet’s name, as it was the company’s last year at the season’s opening; prima ballerina Maggie Small retired at the conclusion of its 2019 run. This 2020 quarantine concert featured distanced dancers across the breadth of the stage. Dancers performed a stripped-down version of this classic, allowing only couples who live together to perform close-quarters partnering. This worked because a notable number of Richmond Ballet dancers are married to one another.
A couple of numbers performed were new pieces, either choreographed by company dancers or by the company’s new Associate Artistic Director, Ma Cong. Cong, who accepted the position during the pandemic, choreographed his piece for the show entirely virtually; a first for Richmond Ballet. My favorite moment of the night came from dancer Matthew Fralin’s piece “To This Day,” a solo executed at the time by Thel Moore III. The choice for the dancer’s back to face the audience during much of the run exemplified the literal distance felt within the empty seating. He shook his raised hands back-and-forth, violently, with an umbrella on the floor close by.
One soloist, Elena Bello, performed a dark and mournful farewell. Bello’s role in “Solas” served as the ballerina’s last role with Richmond Ballet as she retired from the company at the conclusion of “Studio Series: September.” As long as I’ve reviewed and reported on dance in the river city, Bello has been there, in the studios, perfecting her technique for us all. Merde!
For Richmond Ballet’s upcoming October and November performances, tickets are already on sale at Richmond Ballet’s website. “Studio Series: October” runs Oct. 13-25. All shows are also viewable by live stream with the purchase of a virtual ticket.
Top Photo by Sarah Ferguson