Studio 4 and Review of e-MOTION-al Journey With Richmond Ballet

Celeste Gaiera in Echoing Past by Stoner Winslett. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

Richmond, VA – My ballet exploration started on Black Friday 2016 when I had the opportunity to capture a wonderful ballerina dancing in NYC’s Central Park. I was taken aback by her grace and beauty.. Interestingly enough, nearly five years later (to the month anyhow) I spoke with Richmond Ballet, expressing my interest in learning a little about the art and introducing it to our readers. I must admit, I was shocked when they said yes (ballet, metal, rock, country, and contemporary, The link? You, the readers, judge).

Clara and the prince in the swan carriage from Nutcracker 2021. Photo Credit, Dave Pearson

Up until their Studio 4 performance the week of 5/10/2022, my Richmond Ballet experience had been more traditional. I started with the ballet EVERYONE knows and loves, The Nutcracker and followed up with Romeo and Juliet. I knew the stories quite well, as they have been told in many different ways for many many years. 

Elopement and a prayer, Romeo and Juliet by Richmond Ballet. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

I did not know what to expect with the contemporary themes to be portrayed in the Studio 4 presentation of Stoner Winslett’s, “Echoing Past” and the premiere of Val Caniparoli’s, “What’s Going On?” Because I knew the stories behind the previous productions, my focus had been on seeing how the tales were told through motion and music while doing my best to capture the movement in a way that let me tell my story to the readers. With Studio 4, I did not have the luxury of knowing most of the stories, so much of the focus had to be on seeing the story unfold and capturing it in a way that told the story as I, the naïve observer, saw it.

I feel the need to add a couple disclaimers. First, my insights are as I saw it and may differ to some degree from the intent of the choreographers. Also, because there is limited space to write, and because the dancers and production staff did such an over the top performance, I feel the need to give the highest praise to the entire production. Every one of the dancers stood out in their own way and I honestly felt as though, while some had more pronounced roles than others, they were all vital to the story. Bravo to the choreographers, company, production staff, and management.

Echoing Past Photo Gallery 

“Echoing Past” was a creation by Richmond Ballet’s Stoner Winslett. It depicts a woman’s (Celeste Gaiera) journey through life and is a series reflections, rejections, circumstances  with acceptance and conflict. Eri Nishihara with Khaiyom Khojaev; Sabrina Holland; and Naomi Robinson with Colin Jacob and Ira White, each portray a different aspect of her life. Throughout you feel the emotion as she peers upon the reflections of who she was, what she has become and the path to get there. I did obtain an added insight as I talked with a ballet first timer at the performance. I was told, ‘I had never seen live ballet before, I thought  I was supposed to focus on the dance (beauty, grace, and power). Within a few minutes, I found myself riveted by the story.’ To me that is the epitome of praise for a successful production.

The second production of the night was the world premiere of “What’s Going On” by Val Caniparoli, who has worked a great deal with Richmond Ballet throughout his career. This piece was unique in that it was not a story, but it was an interpretation of the events that have created controversy and angst in headlines and protest over the past 60 years. It was laced with emotion inciting headlines, songs to reflect the feelings at the time, and powerful dance that put the exclamation point on the production. We came away with a sense that conflict, death, and pain are what makes us, to a large degree, who we are and makes us want to fight for change. Issues highlighted included war, disease, civil rights, environmental issues, homophobia, gender equality, racism, and political corruption. The songs of protest and injustice, along with the dance and projected headlines were not feel good moments, instead, at least in my mind, conveyed a feeling that no matter what we do, there will always be conflict and controversy.

What’s Going On Photo Gallery

What’s Going On
Colin Jacob, Ronald Wagstaff, Naomi Robinson with Full Company

Little Wheel Spin and Spin
Sabrina Holland, Joe Seaton

Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)
Celeste Gaiera, Khaiyom Khojaev, Eri Nishihara, Ronald Wagstaffwith Full Company

Fortunate Son
Enrico Hipolito, Colin Jacob, Joe Seaton

Everybody Knows
Naomi Wilson and Ira White, Naomi Robinson and Jack Miller with Full Company

Colin Jacob, Khaiyom Khojaev

Where Have All The Flowers Gone
Izabella Tokev with Joe Seaton, Ira White

Things Have Changed
Jack Miller with Full Company

As the night concluded, the first time ballet patron told me that the closeness of the company was obvious, stating that a unit that was not close could not possibly pull off such a wonderful performance. Reflecting back on my interaction with Richmond Ballet, she was spot on.

The focus of my ballet journey has changed considerably in a few short months. When I approached Richmond Ballet about an article in a modern music magazine I was unsure how they would take it. It was a journey into uncharted territory for them and definitely for us. I can only imagine what they thought when they were approached by someone who could barely pronounce ballet and wrote for a magazine that had a large audience of rockers and metal heads. I am so grateful they accepted the request, as the journey thus far has been unbelievable and I believe the relationship I have developed is a pure reflection of who they are as an organization, especially when it comes to teamwork and collaboration.

Eri Nishihara, Ronald Wagstaff, Celeste Gaiera, Khaiyom Khojaev rehearson for What’s Going On by Val Caniparoli. ‘ Photo Credit: Dave Pearson

I cannot thank Valerie enough. She has been there to always answer my questions and guide me through the ballet world. After my introduction to ballet with the Nutcracker, Valerie invited me to observe an early rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet. I was taken aback by the response I received by the dancers, as many greeted my with open arms (even though we had not formally met). I recall seeing Khaiyom’s smile as he walked up to me and started talking like an old friend. It was a wonderful welcome and I know I was involved with a special organization.

The access to rehearsals has been awesome. I had the perception that the production was all about the dance and the technical. I was very wrong. Sure, the technical is important (as I discover when my photos are reviewed), but the attitude seems to be such that they know the technical, therefore, they focus heavily on the acting. I have yet to hear a disagreement (I am sure there are some) on the floor. Instead, they work as a team to help and support each other tell the story. The dancers are not afraid to provide feedback to the choreography team or to each other. They listen, try, and adapt. Being allowed behind the curtain has been very rewarding and has really helped me appreciate their organization that much more.

A lighter moment at the rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet with Eri Nishihara and Jack Miller. Photo credit: Dave Pearson

Early in my evolution they provided access to a couple dancers (Izabella Tokev and Sabrina Holland) as well as their managing director, Brett Bonda. They were so open and gave me wonderful insights into what made ballet a great artform. More importantly, it told me so much about Richmond Ballet as an organization. In their mind, ballet was not for those who could pronounce ballet, it was for everyone and part of their job was to get the word out (and I was a more than happy to assist). 

With the conclusion of the 21/22 season, I can take a breather and reflect on my experiences with Richmond Ballet. I have met some wonderful people and hope to have the opportunity to continue to learn and grow with them. I feel I have gained more insight than I could have ever imagined in the art and yearn for more. I am very excited as I look forward to their recently announced 22/23 season and hope I can continue to learn and provide insights to DBM readers. The 22/23 season includes:

September 20-25, 2022
Scarred Bouquets (Skarpetowska/Brahms)
World Premiere by Ma Cong

November 1-6, 2022
In the Night (Robbins/Chopin)
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, a world premiere (Archibald/various artists)

THE NUTCRACKER with Richmond Symphony
December 9-23, 2022

FIREBIRD with SERENADE with Richmond Symphony
February 17-19, 2023
Firebird (Cong/Stravinsky)
Serenade (Balanchine/Tchaikovsky)

March 21-26, 2023
New Works Festival
Choreography by Norbert De La Cruz III, Nancy Paradis, Claudia Schreier, Yury Yanowsky

May 9-14, 2023
Ershter Vals (Cong/KlezRoym)
World Premiere by Nicolo Fonte

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