Go Do This: Richmond Ballet’s Studio One

Richmond Ballet dancers Cody Beaton, Thomas Ragland, Fernando Sabino and Maggie Small in The Moor’s Pavane. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson

You know what I love about fall? Watching musclely people sweat so I don’t have to! Am I right, fellow sloths?

What it is

It’s important to emphatically note that this is Richmond Ballet’s Studio Series. That is, it’s in a smaller, black-box-esque theater, and the program consists of two to four (in this case, two) short ballets that are not necessarily the kind of storyline, tutu-based thing that you’re thinking it will be.

I mean, there might be some tutus sometimes and even a story here and there, but the Studio Series tends to draw from a vast timeline of ballet and modern dance, often including something so very contemporary that it was just choreographed, like, yesterday. No, seriously! Often, Richmond Ballet will commission a new work from a choreographer who will come to RVA from New York or wherever and start working with the dancers a couple of weeks before showtime, sometimes tweaking the work right up until the big day.

This time around, the world premiere is by choreographer Melissa Barak with music by Michael Nyman.

But first…Elizabethan gowns

I dunno, maybe they’re not Elizabethan, but my main takeaway from The Moor’s Pavane, the first ballet of the evening, was, “How luxurious are those dang costumes I CAN’T STOP STARING AT THEM I WANT TO TOUCH ALL THE VELVET gimme the velvet. Velvet.” Pauline Lawrence came up with the original costume design for this 1949 José Limón ballet, which takes the vague plot of Othello and turns it into an allegory for ALL OF HUMANITY.

You’ve got your loving relationship, your frenemies, your green-eyed monster, your insecurity, your handkerchief fetishes, and your murderous strangle-hands. That’s humanity for you!

At the Wednesday night performance, I was treated to Valerie Tellmann-Henning as the Treacherous Friend’s Wife. She’s an expressive lady, and watching her run the gamut from mischievous to mean-spirited to duplicitous to regretful was pretty stirring. Her husband, Kirk Henning, played the Moor himself—which, guys, come on. A White Moor? He danced beautifully but I’m not sure now is the right time to cast a White dude as a character typically portrayed as Black. (In other performances, Thomas Ragland—who is Black—plays Othello). (And turns out [Othello isn’t always Black anyway—sometimes he is “tawny,” which makes me feel weird).

Sabrina Holland as the Moor’s Wife was sweet to watch as always, and Matt Frain as the Treacherous Friend (or as I like to call him, the Treacherous Friend’s Husband) played a convincing serpent.

Company dancers Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes in Melissa Barak's new work, Stepping Beyond the Guards. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
Company dancers Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes in Melissa Barak’s new work, Stepping Beyond the Guards. Richmond Ballet 2016. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Next up: A rainbow of fun

Melissa Barak’s new work reminded me of—and bear with me, this is really specific—looking up at the waves of fabric meant to represent Nessie while you’re waiting in line at the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens.


The colors of those banners, aligned in a gradient fashion, are similar to the costumes of the company (not the ones pictured above), and there’s a part in this sometimes-surreal piece that is actually supposed to bring sea creatures to mind.

Plus, waiting for a roller coaster is exhilarating, and when you’re on that roller coaster you might even feel weightless like a tiny dancer.

After the intensity of Othello and Co. and all their Terrible Human Impulses, it felt cleansing to open yourself up to the bubbly joy of this piece. Mate Szentes is so strong in both acting capabilities and movement, and when you combine him with Cody Beaton, who can basically do anything, the result is truly a sight to see.

By my calculations, I’ve been a regular at Richmond Ballet’s studio series for seven or eight seasons, and I’ve never left it feeling so cheerful. Moved, yes. Amazed, certainly. Weeping, sure, and I’m not the only one. But this time just felt like I’d eaten a satisfying healthy meal followed by a little trip down Rainbow Sherbet Road. I am INTO that kind of diet.

Who’s behind it

Richmond Ballet, which is the official state ballet of Virginia, AND is starting this season under the favorable auspices of a brand-new rebrand!

Check out that new logo, plus some really stunning publicity photographs for the season that incorporate Richmond street art.

There are a couple of new people in the company, but nobody quite got a chance to shine this time around except the principals. That’s OK, guys, your time will come.

Where it is

So this particular iteration of the Studio Series goes like this, because I know you have “I’m New to This Ballet Thing” anxiety:

  1. Get to the Richmond Ballet on Canal Street (407 E. Canal Street, to be exact), park on the street or in the lot, be greeted by a younger non-company dancer, make your way upstairs, find your seat.
  2. Watch a 30-minute dance very close to your eyeballs.
  3. Clap.
  4. Go stretch your legs during a 15-minute intermission. Look woefully at them as you consider how they’ll never be as sleek as those of a dancer.
  5. Buy an alcoholic drink and take a look at your legs again. Looking a little bit better now, am I wrong?
  6. Get back to your seat, people are looking at you!
  7. Watch a short film that features an interview with choreographer Melissa Barak, who explains her inspiration for the dance you are about to see.
  8. Watch a 25+ minute dance very close to your eyeballs.
  9. Clap a lot.
  10. Leave 1 hour and 45 minutes after you arrived.

When it is

Studio One runs through Sunday, September 25th with two shows on Saturday and Sunday. Check out the schedule and buy tickets online.

How much it costs

$41. Here’s that link again!

Other things to note

If you can’t get to this one, there are two other Studios in the Series throughout the year. You may view them here, and I recommend you do.

What exactly it is we are trying to do, here

Great news, guys!

Presenting This Dang City, an internet location that features articles about Richmond, Virginia, including, but not limited to, the following subjects:

  • Transit: What’s It All About and Why You Should Care
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Our past

My pal Ross Catrow and I used to work together to run an online magazine called RVANews. It was magical and wonderful and we got to yell at each other every day, but we also had to do a fair amount of stuff we didn’t want to do—coverage that didn’t interest us and explaining that things are jokes.

Our present

Now, we’ve got different jobs that we are happily focusing most of our considerable energy on. But it’s hard to stop ourselves from babbling about Richmond stuff, so we figured why not get it down on internet-paper.

This isn’t RVANews 2: Cruise Control. This isn’t an independent news source. We don’t make money, we don’t care about getting a scoop, we’re biased all over the place, and you can feel free to read or not read. Get excited, y’all!

What to expect

Postings at irregular intervals about Richmond-specific issues and events in a voice and tone that’s easy to read without being boring. We’ll probably pull in some guest posters every once in awhile, because we sure do know a lot of good ones.