21 Chances for Dance 

The Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre series sets choreographers free.

Studio 1 features two world premieres by Philip Neal and the return of Colin Connor's "Vestiges." Principal dancer with New York City Ballet and a Richmond native, Neal brought his lively tango work, "Astormix," here last season. Now he's ready to show another side of his choreographic abilities with two small works, "Solace," for two dancers, and "Mephisto Waltz" for four. What motivated the change was a desire to challenge himself. He wanted to explore relationships and work with intimacy and drama. "Studio Theatre is a breeding ground for creativity for choreographers," he explains. "I wanted to delve into relationships and use dancers I hadn't worked with last time."

About the difference between the two works, he explains, "One is calm and pretty...what people expect from me. The second is not." Intended to honor the death of a friend who died of cancer, "Solace" is a quiet and tender duet set to the Erbarme Dich selection of music from "St. Matthew Passion" by J. S. Bach. Much more turbulent and dynamic, "Mephisto Waltz," for two couples, with music by Liszt, Neal describes as a "thriller."

The other work of the evening is Connor's powerful apocalyptic "Vestiges," which premiered in Richmond two years ago and takes on new meaning in this post 9/11 world. It is a work in six sections, and dancers drift through rubble eventually, as the work progresses, finding ease through connection to one another. Explains Connor, "It explores what happens when our world is shattered and the outer trappings of security are lost."

Studio 2, in the latter half of October, features yet another world premiere, this one by Michael Lowe, new to Richmond audiences, and George Balanchine's popular "Serenade." Lowe called upon his California roots and its beach culture in the lighthearted "Surfside," with music by Sandy Nelson and the Ventures, instrumental beach music popular just prior to the British invasion. He describes the multisectioned dance as a "time capsule, a looking back." With dancers in swim suits reminiscent of the early '60s, a period when Lowe used to mud-board (precursor to boogie boards), he wanted to "give the feeling of being on the beach."

Like Neal who benefits from the creative opportunities available through Studio Theatre productions, Lowe grabbed hold of the chance to create a work for the Richmond Ballet, having retired this year from California's Oakland Ballet to devote time to choreographing and teaching. His newly embraced role as choreographer engages his skills in a new way. "Now it's my turn to put a whole picture together, not just dance for another and carry out someone else's vision. I love being the motivator and getting to utilize the artistry of dancers. It's a great challenge and, so far, immensely satisfying."

The fourth choreographer of October's lineup is by far the best known and provides the most classical of all the works in both concerts, Balanchine's lyrical "Serenade," with music by Tchaikovsky. The work evolved from a classroom exercise and marks the first piece he created upon coming to the United States.

These 21 performances span four weeks, making it possible to attend a show a week if you want. Or see each show once and you'll have plenty of dates to choose from. S

Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre series takes place at 407 E. Canal St. Studio 1 runs Oct. 3-13, Studio 2 runs Oct. 17-27. Tickets cost $15-$20. Call Ticketmaster, 262-8100 or ticketmaster.com.


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