BWW Review: Richmond Ballet At The Joyce

BWW Review: Richmond Ballet At The Joyce

Five years after their original NYC debut, the Richmond Ballet has returned to The Joyce Theater. The show is broken into two programs, each consisting of six commissioned works. I was able to catch Program A, which features Artistic Director Stoner Winslett's "Ancient Airs and Dances," Jessica Lang's "To Familiar Spaces In Dream," and Mauricio Wainrot's "Voyages." Each piece is separated by a short intermission, giving the audience a chance to refresh and reengage between each very different piece.

The first work, Stoner Winslett's "Ancient Airs and Dances" is a classic ballet piece. As the founding Artistic Director of the Richmond Ballet, Winslett led the company during its successful
debut at the Joyce in 2005, followed by an equally successful collaborative effort at the Joyce in 2007. Danced by couples in whimsical medieval outfits, the choreography evokes soft images of a warm romantic day in spring. According to the playbill the piece is inspired by the music, a collection of three suites of 17th and 18th-century Italian and French lute songs orchestrated by Respighi in the early 20th century. And although the music is quite sweet, something seems lost in the recording, and whatever inspiration Winslett may have felt gets a bit diluted by the time it reaches the audience. The dancers themselves are lovely; the girls are all very pretty and move sweetly as the men hold enormous smiles and act as graceful support. The overwhelming theme seems to be that of love and joy, but without much passion or heartache. My favorite work was danced by Maggie Small and Jesse Bechard in one of the only scenarios that focused on longing as opposed to simple sweet love and compatibility. On a whole "Ancient Airs and Dances" comes across as rather tame, but is a charming and enjoyable beginning to a show that evolves into something far more abstract.

After the first intermission the show moves on to "To Familiar Spaces in Dream," a work choreographed by Jessica Lang. Some of Lang's many credits include choreographing for the America Ballet Theatre, Ailey II, and New York City's Ballet Institute. Her works are performed
throughout the US and has toured abroad in Europe, Asia, Central America, and South Africa. For "To Familiar Spaces in Dream" the lights come up on a set (designed by Lang) that consists of a series of white pillars and boxes. The dancers, also clad in white, stand frozen amongst the pieces, conjuring up memories of those "Obsession" ads for Calvin Klein perfume. Once the piece begins it is apparent that the focus is fully on the movement of the dancer's bodies. Their teeny tiny white costumes leave no muscle unseen, and it is hypnotic to witness every inch of skin stretching with every jump and bend. If the dancers' strength and flexibility wasn't enough to capture your eye, their creative use of the set will serve to entrance you. The dancers move with the pillars and boxes, using them as platforms and dance partners, as well as heavy burdens to bear across the stage. The women slip between these tall thin barriers, fading in and out of the scene in abrupt and secretive fashions. In this way the set itself is a major presence of the show, offering support or dominating the space. Lang puts her male dancers to work, giving them the added burden of spinning, moving, and supporting the set as other dancers climb, lean, and bounce off of the pieces; each man pulling his weight with unbelievable precision, grace and skill. The accompanying music has a sort of "Eyes Wide Shut" feel; staccato piano is used to set the main tone, giving an added level of attention to the corresponding action. The piece is haunting and beautiful, with the feel of an interpretive art piece, each motion placed with equal emotion and purpose.

The last work is called "Voyages" and is choreographed by Mauricio Wainrot. Wainrot was born in Buenos Aires and has a history of Latin artistic direction and dance. His work has been very popular in the last decade; thirty companies have premiered his choreography in the last twelve years. The music in "Voyages" is a huge part of the piece, kicking off before the movement begins, bathing the audience with the deep and unusual hum of throat singing. Wainrot uses Chava Alberstein, Kronos Quartet and Throat Singers of Tuva, as well as traditional music of Bulgaria, Byelorussia and Kurdistan. You can sense Wainrot's background in his movements, as the dancers move in more sensual and flowing manners than in the previous two ballet pieces. Several of the
all male dances stick out as the strongest pieces, as Wainrot has the dancers supporting one another in a way that is usually reserved for male-female parings. It is wonderful to see the strength and possibilities when two males are matched. "Voyages" brings a sense of fun and a release from the tension of restrained movement; the costumes reflect this attitude with mismatched colors and various designs. The female dancers' hair styles are all different, and some let their long hair down in a cloud that further enhances the freedom of the movement. Wainrot also plays with the light in a way that the other two choreographers did not; the dancers step in and out of the glow, sliding between shadows and warm orange auras. The group dances
range from stomping African movements to Middle Eastern hip swaying, playing with the audience in a way that makes you want to get up and join in.

The Richmond Ballet's 2010 stint at the Joyce will no doubt be ruled a success. By using three different choreographers in three very different pieces the audience is treated to a variety of techniques, music, and styles. The lengths are perfect and the reasonable price is well worth a night of creative dance and beautiful movement. The work is also ideal for those who are new to more modern forms of ballet, as you are given so much to appreciate in the dancers' well-executed movements; you will be instantly mystified and totally won over.

Performances are Tuesday & Wednesday 7:30pm; Thursday - Saturday 8:00pm; Sunday 7:30pm and matinees 2:00pm Saturday & Sunday. There will be a Dance Chat following the program on Wednesday and a family matinee on Saturday. Tickets are: $49, $35, $19 & $10 (Prices subject to change based on demand) and for Joyce members $37 & $26; through JoyceCharge (212) 242-0800 and www.joyce.org.

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