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In Aqua Motion with Richmond Ballet

In Aqua Motion with Richmond Ballet

For Katarzyna Skarpetowska's third Richmond Ballet commission (in three years), she chose a first: choreographing for dancers en pointe. Like Polaris in 2015 and Scarred Bouquets in 2017, Akwarium will premiere at the company's studio home. Following its May 8th debut, the company will take the work to Salt Lake City, Utah as part of Ballet West's National Choreographic Festival. In the canon of her work on the company, the work(s) progressed from the ground up. Polaris included significant floor work, Scarred Bouquets displayed lush, flowy elements, and Akwarium incorporated maximum levels of movement range. I spoke with Skarpetowska on Friday, April 26th after observing rehearsal with the company.

The influence of her experience with David Parsons and Lar Lubovitch distinguished her vocabulary. Like Parsons (via Paul Taylor), she moved dancers in harmonious pathways at racing speed. From Lubovitch, (via Graham and Sokolow) she captured the softness and romance of relationships between bodies. When asked about choreographing en pointe, she said it added "fluidity for promenade and partner work, creating more freedom and speed."

Three weeks into the allotted four weeks of rehearsal, Skarpetowska dedicated her focus on partnering sections. Elena Bello, Sabrina Holland, Matthew Frain, and Anthony Oates worked on a quartet section which divided into couplings. Skarpetowska directed the dancers gently, with sharp attention to every movement. Maintaining rehearsal flow, she darted in and out of the dancers, considering every view point.

She said she wanted to "celebrate the dancers' ability to sculpt images." She prefaced notes asking, "what feels organic to you?" Sensitive to one's natural rhythm, Skarpetowska stood quietly beside a dancer, hand on his or her arm finding unison of breath before making an adjustment. A dancer's dancer, when asked about how the work is connected to her greater body of choreography, she said her "focus is on what comes naturally; I never want the dancers to stop themselves."

Inspired by the atmosphere and environment of an aquarium, Skarpetowska sent dancers in and out of focus. This magnification dynamic considered her questions of how "relationships come together, dissolve, and rebound; and, how everything is connected." The score included both ambient sound (by Robert Henke) and Bach's French Suite No. 5 Allemande. She had the "music in mind for awhile, and the underwater sounds supported this work."

While working with Frain and Holland on a lift, Skarpetowska gave anatomically-specific suggestions, "match shoulder blades to roll across the back." Adamantly, she insisted she'd rather "dancers feel secure" than strain to meet an aesthetic. Bello and Oates weaved in and out of Frain and Holland in spiraling sequences. The quartet folded into the corps, from which trios emerged and re-entered the group through various flocking patterns. At one point, the full cast separated into male/female pairs. The women maintained a gentle bourree in place with loose spinal articulation, for a bobbing effect. The bourree occurred at multiple points throughout the piece for a rippling motif.

Well in the throes of rehearsal, dancers began to take charge of the movement, at varying levels of confidence. While most dancers still appeared to be taking cues from reflections in the mirror, Bello took her cues from her fellow dancers around her. This focus on relationship rather than reflection allowed Bello to adjust more quickly and layer her emphasis. Like Skarpetowska, Bello's awareness of the group in relationship elevated every single step.

Katarzyna Skarpetowska in rehearsal with Richmond Ballet dancers courtesy of Richmond Ballet. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

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From This Author Melia Kraus-har