Since moving into its own home on Canal Street, Richmond Ballet has celebrated a series of initiatives. The latest is commissioning one of its own dancers for a new work. For Studio Theatre 2, Brandon Becker will premiere the folksy "Up the Sideways Mountain," presented along with Charles Czarny's "Concerto Grosso."
Although a first commission from the ballet for Becker, "Up the Sideways Mountain" is not his first venture into choreography. He's consistently created dances, beginning as long ago as middle school, and is currently making them for a variety of student groups. But it was his well-received work shown at the Subscriber's Performance last year that cued Artistic Director Stoner Winslett to select him as a choreographer for the upcoming season.
He enjoys the choreographic process, saying, "It's good to know I have the time to develop [the] work and also have dancers allotted to me. Without that, you're always under the clock." As a member of the Richmond Ballet since 1998, he's got an extra advantage over visiting choreographers; having spent hours with them on rehearsal and onstage, he knows the company's strengths and weaknesses intimately. Additionally, being a dancer makes Becker more sensitive to dancers' needs.
"Some choreographers go by the 'If I can do it, you can do it' rule," he says. "I make it a point to not drill the dancers the whole time and to work at understanding what they're trying to do."
Becker also has a background in theater, and "Up the Sideways Mountain" reflects that dramatic blend, as well as an interest in folk tradition. With music by Nickel Creek, Mark O'Connor and other folk, bluegrass and fusion artists, the work is a series of seamless vignettes that captures a mountain community bonded by music and dance. The work, performed by seven dancers, conveys what he refers to as a "no-frills" sensibility about people who "are simply concerned with work, family and play," scenes that are joyous, and other times sorrowful.
The second work of the program, inspired by the 1968 Olympics, is Charles Czarny's whimsical "Concerto Grosso," created in 1970. Revealing his interest in athleticism, dancers box, skate, play soccer, even walk on a tight rope. The emphasis is not on competition, but on the grace and vigor inherent in those who perform sports.
Both works contribute to a program that is playfully inventive and upbeat. Becker says he hopes his new work "engages" the audience. The various moods in Becker's work and the levity in Czarny's seem an effective prescription for that.
Studio Theatre 2 appears at Richmond Ballet, 407 E. Canal St., from Jan. 22-27, $19-$15. Performances are 6:30 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday; 9 p.m. Friday - Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 344-0906.
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