With its engaging 35th Celebration ballet that opened the season done and before the “Nutcracker” takes over December, Richmond Ballet’s smart Studio One series offered two uplifting performances Saturday, one looking to the past, the other to the future.
Held in Richmond’s large Canal Street facility, Studio One featured one of the dance world’s most revered choreographers, Jerome Robbins, in a 100th celebration of his life’s work and the up and coming and already highly celebrated Nicole Haskins.
Richmond offers varied dance throughout its season, the Studio series being a chance to explore smaller scaled works, many of them contemporary or modern in style. It’s a cool thing, enhanced by its setting in an amphitheatre-seating-styled studio that allows an immediacy and intimacy to dance not found in larger venues.
For this event, Robbins was celebrated through his charming “In the Night,” set to four nocturnes by Chopin, played superbly by acclaimed pianist Joanne Kong, positioned at the edge of the dance space. “Night” depicts three couples and three faces of romance from young and enthusiastic to more studied and mature to resistance and resolution. A series of elegant dances, each is based in classical technique but with typical Robbins flares of resolution here and there, bringing it from the there to the here.
Haskins is a freelance choreographer from San Francisco and dancer with the Smuin Contemporary Ballet. Her works have gotten high marks in companies around the country, thus Richmond’s wont to bring her back to town for a new commission and world premiere, “Requiem,” set to Faure’s “Requiem” and, to these ears, one of the most lyrically touching choral works ever penned. (A splendid recording by the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus under Robert Shaw was used. )
One of the nifty things about Studio events are video segments from choreographers who talk about their pieces. Here, Haskins explained that her mission was not to create a dark dance of sadness but something akin to a “lullaby of death,” something celebratory of memories.
Surely a choreographer with much to say, Haskins crafted her “Requiem” for 12 dancers, the movements masterful manifestations of text and choral composition. She uses many motif-type moves throughout, such as uplifted hands and arms in supplication, prostrate positioning, arched backs, an interesting crossed leg action while flat on the floor, circular formations, clusters that break away for individual or collective displays — a fine, creative blend of classical and modern movement.
At all times, the myriad movements reflected the rich score and choral lines — a choral work transformed into liquid movement. The dancers embraced “Requiem’s” emotions and delivered highly expressive performances that again showed the polish and professionalism of this valued company.
I know the choral work well, but having seen this, I can say it mattered little whether or not you understood the intent of the Latin text. It was the emotion of the music and its product in lyrical dance lines that mattered.
At Richmond’s doing, it was a magical and moving experience. In fact, when the final ethereal lines of “In Paradisum” and the image of a lone dancer in prostration faded into darkness, it was a speechless moment. The lady beside me turned to say she had never heard the Faure but was overwhelmed by its beauty and this extraordinary conceptualization of it by Haskins. Mission accomplished.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for more than 40 years.