The Richmond Ballet's focus on dance extends well beyond such formal, stylized dances as "Romeo and Juliet" "Don Quixote" and "Swan Lake." The organization boasts a Studio Theatre series in its expansive Canal Street facility that offers innovative dance that often tends toward more abstract thoughts and themes, dance that flows between contemporary and classical movement. It's a super series that allows the company's professional dancers to showcase their full and diverse talents.
The current Studio Two series opened Wednesday and featured two works, Mexican-born Edgar Zendejas' "Realms of Amber" and Richmond's artistic director Stoner Winslett's "Echoing Past."
"Echoing Past" is a rework of her 1996 creation and focuses on the remembrances ofvarying stages of one woman's life which, once remembered, fade away.The memories are represented by dancers who move in and out of this mental scrapbook lending themselves to lessons about life lived and yet to live.
It's an elegant dance that's set to elegant portions of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel's piano piece, "Das Jahr" ("The Year").The score's sweeping and perfectly shaped lines suggested mixed emotions and thoughts of melancholy, turmoil, reflection, and hope, all of which were creatively reflected in a beautiful and thoughtful dance that culminated in a sense of wistfulness as the lone woman reflected on both the past and future. It was an interesting concept that worked successfully.
Dancing the woman was Lauren Fagone, soon to retire from professional dance with the company, whose gracefulness was matched with a dramatic physical presence that nurtured the work's themes. The piano selections, played behind an upstage scrim, were superbly and poetically presented by Joanne Kong.
MX Stewart's dramatic lighting brought enhanced thought to the dance, as did Susan Cologne's costumes add to the flowing movement and emotions.
Where "Past" provided a strong context for the dance, "Realms" did not. Advance reading material, notes, and a brief video by the choreographer suggested, at its most basic level, that Zendejas sought to celebrate the female spirit that he believes is the essence of all people. "Realms" was also described as deeply soulful and spiritual.
However, I just didn't get it. To provide contrast between female and male elements, he set the dance to chants by Russian monks from the Valaam Monastery which provided zero context upon which to view the dance. Despite background explanation, the dance struck me as not celebratory of women but visceral and virile, with bare-chested men frequently displaying martial-like gestures. Even the stylized set of tree branches, which as objects were interesting, added a starkness to the already obscure dance.
This is not to indicate it wasn't compelling, because it was. The movement for movement's sake was complex and finely executed and again displayed the superior quality of dance offered by the company.
I greatly admire the choreographic process. To take a thought and transfer it into dance is a highly developed and admirable skill. "Realms" just didn't seem to coalesce thematically. Stated themes and actual dance caused more confusion than clarity. Chanting monks didn't help.
As we were exiting the theatre, a patron succinctly summed things up when she said she needed to see it a few more times to try and sort things out. No doubt that thought crossed the minds of others. It did mine.