The Richmond Ballet started their 2017-2018 performance season with the Studio One production, and it featured some of the most stunning choreography happening in ballet today. With three pieces and a run time of about an hour, the performance featured the choreography of George Balanchine, Butler, and Ma Cong. Studio One effectively captured exactly what the Richmond Ballet brings to Richmond: unparalleled quality and talent.
The night began with a shorter ballet from George Balanchine, “Tarantella.” Featuring only two dancers, Balanchine sought any and all ways to break conventional ballet when he choreographed the piece in 1964, and the two dancers caught his technique almost quintessentially. Instead of long connected movements, referred to as legato, “Tarantella” made use of the petit allegro style of ballet that Balanchine is known for. Though progressive at the time of inception, his style has become commonplace in traditional ballet. For such a quick flex-footed, high-energy ballet, the performers executed flawlessly. My only criticism is that the audience was not truly able to appreciate the piece I believe because the above information is not privy to the average ballet patron, therefore the piece could have been forgotten in magnitude to the other two performances.
This led to the second phenomenal piece of the night, “Portrait of Billie.” In tribute to the illustrious Billie Holiday, “Portrait of Billie” told a sensual story through dance in a glimpse of the famous singer’s life, choreographed by John Butler in 1960. The score of the performance was entirely the work of Holiday, but the soloist portraying her, Maggie Small, stole the spotlight and several people’s attention for this rendition. In passionate pas de deux, Small and her partner Matt Szentes displayed visceral, aggressive jerks and contrasted them with desperation in tangling their bodies, all while fighting for a white flower. Simply put, Small is a top-notch ballerina and this piece showed her capacity and diversity.
Studio One concluded with the world premiere of “Winter’s Angels,” an original repertory work choreographed by the iconic Ma Cong in only eight days. I’ll say it again: this immaculate piece of modern ballet took eight days to learn to the level that I saw, this level that left me searching for words on just how to describe its experience. It featured in-house lighting and scenery by MK Stewart, which made the ever two-dimensional space of dance into three. These eight company dancers performed the most stunning that I have seen to date. Emerging and moving with score from not only the wings, but the new pillars adding to the transition of winter. Also with heavy pas de deux, the lifts executed were designed to take away one’s breath. And, it did. Bravo Richmond Ballet.
The Richmond Ballet’s next performance will be its second annual Trio in the beginning of November at the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Arts Center.
Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson