Soundings: "Spring for Dance Gala" showcases seven organizations

The Virginia Gazette

As the saying goes, you're judged by the company you keep.Whether you accept that or not, as it relates to the Richmond Ballet, it's assuredly true.It was in high cotton company as one of seven organizations featured in the Virginia Arts Festival's 20th anniversary season "Spring for Dance Gala" held in Norfolk's Chrysler Hall Sunday.

This was a collection of big name dance companies in a diverse afternoon of classical, modern and contemporary dance.In addition to Richmond, it showcased dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Lula Washington Dance, Mark Morris Dance Group, Richard Alston Dance Company and Tokyo Ballet, all performing to music supplied by the Virginia Symphony and exactingly conducted by Paul Murphy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.A special appearance was also made by England's Elmhurst School for Dance in coordination with the Virginia Governor's School for the Arts as a fine example out outreach.

Richmond's pas de deux, "After Eden," was powerful, a brilliant display of balance and strength.It was also notable for the emotional dancing of Fernando Sabino and Cody Beaton, Adam and Eve respectively, as they danced out John Butler's angular choreography suggesting unrest after expulsion from Eden.With Lee Hoiby's turbulent and unsettling score, "Eden" was captivating and highly visual and showed Richmond at its best and competitive in quality with the rest of the mainstream companies seen.

While Gala commentary might be directed toward highlight moments, this was a rare event in which absolutely every single dance offered, all 10 of them, was flawless.One after another illustrated amazing choreography, some old some new, and impressively trained dancers, all a positive reflection of the state of creative affairs within the world of dance.Mentioning specifics is no reflection on those not mentioned. So, attempting to note a few moments, here goes.

The incredibly talented and crazy-good Mark Morris Dance Group opened with one of his stylish, quirky works, "Resurrection," set to "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," with creative costumes by Isaac Mizrahi.Totally delightful and innovative.

England's Birmingham offered Frederick Ashton's dreamy pas de deux "The Dream" to music from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Kenneth Macmillan's elegant and superbly danced pas de deux "Balcony Scene" from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet."Again from "Romeo and Juliet," the British and Virginia dance schools contributed a well done "Dance of the Knights." Still in the classical mode, American Ballet offered a poetically danced Act III grand pas de deux from "Sleeping Beauty."

In the way of modern and contemporary style, in addition to "After Eden," came Alston's recorded techno-music "Verbal Flight" from "Nomadic" with its free flowing movement and a more refined duet from "Brisk Singing" to Jean-Philippe Rameau and a very clever "Beautiful Venus and Serena" done by Lula Washington wherein Tamica Washington-Miller crafted movements on the tennis court into an engaging tennis match.

Probably the highlight of the Gala was the American debut of dancers from the Tokyo Ballet in "Spring and Fall" set to Dvorak and the grand pas de deux from Petipa's "Don Quixote," music by Minkus, that closed the Gala on a stunning note.It was a fireworks display ofvirtuoso skill.Dan Tsukamoto's mid-air leaps and turns were awesomely athletic, as were Mizuka Ueno's extensions and execution of the 32 fouettes (nonstop turns on one toe) amazing, the sum of which brought the packed house to its feet in sustained and vocal appreciation of these dancers and the entire celebratory Gala.

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