Leaps and Bounds 

Richmond Ballet celebrates three decades while the dance scene continues to grow.

click to enlarge Richmond Ballet dancers in "Lines Squared." - SARAH FERGUSON
  • Sarah Ferguson
  • Richmond Ballet dancers in "Lines Squared."

Dance in Richmond has been ascending for at least 30 years. Each collective, delighted breath an audience takes in theaters, galleries and amphitheaters across the city has inspired another dancer's leap, another choreographer's determination to create. Slowly, with grit beneath grace, the local dance community has coalesced into a scene so vibrant, you must plan carefully to see everything the season has to offer.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Richmond Ballet will top many must-see lists. In 1984, 12 dancers — most of them straight out of ballet school — worked there for 20 weeks a year. Guest artists danced principal roles. "It was difficult to conceive of Richmond Ballet as attracting dancers who saw us as a final destination rather than a stop along the way," Artistic Director Stoner Winslett recalls of the time.

But now the company has doubled its dancers and their workweeks. It has a world class repertoire, its own building, a professional school and a performing season that often includes stops in Washington, New York and, most recently, London. The company has commissioned 55 original works and has a solid repertory of classics such as "Swan Lake," "Giselle," and of course, "The Nutcracker."

The company stages its 30th anniversary celebration performance on the first weekend in November, following Studio 1 in October. The repertoire is designed to highlight the dancers' versatility and technical prowess, including George Balanchine's fluid "Serenade," Jerome Robbins' delightful "Fancy Free" and Salvatore Aiello's ferocious "The Rite of Spring," set to the Igor Stravinsky score which celebrates its centennial this year. No guest artists are needed to add sparkle to this company of such diverse and gifted performers.

"When I look around today, my heart is filled with gratitude," Winslett says. "While I am tremendously proud to have witnessed the trajectory of this company, after all this time what resonates most is the opportunity to do what I love, with the people I love, for audiences now around the world."

Other dance shining this fall includes local favorites Starr Foster Dance Project, which stages performances Oct. 3-6 at Grace Street Theater. Foster has restaged a powerful work from 2001, "Nineteen43," which looks at her grandmother's memories of the holocaust

The Latin Ballet of Virginia performs "Dia de los Muertos" (Oct. 25-27) at Glen Allen Cultural Center. K Dance presents the 15th annual Yes Dance Invitational (Oct. 8 and 9) at Dogtown Dance Theatre, which showcases companies from the region and across the country, including Bodytraffic from Los Angeles and Chisena Danza from Philadelphia. In November, emerging company Claves Unidos, founded by Kevin Jones to "unite the African diaspora through dance," performs sketches of new works, also at Dogtown Dance (Nov. 9).

Other highlights of the season include full concerts from visiting companies, including Dallas Black Dance Theatre's presentation by VCU Dance (Sept. 20 and 21), and the New York-based Keigwin and Company (Oct. 3 and 4) at the Modlin Center. From Los Angeles, Contra-Tiempo performs Nov. 19, also at Modlin, in a work titled "Full Still Hungry," which looks at the politics underlying our food choices.

As always, dance lovers passionate and even lukewarm can round out the season with a pilgrimage to Richmond Ballet's "The Nutcracker" (Dec. 14-23). The Sugar Plum Fairy, adorable lambs and sinuous snake can be relied upon to weave their traditional holiday spell over dance goers new and seasoned alike. Dance across the city, dance through the streets, Richmonders. Your town is rich with leaps.

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