Steps Beyond 

The Richmond Ballet looks to find new converts during March’s Leap Week.

click to enlarge RICHMOND BALLET
  • Richmond Ballet

To an outsider, ballet can feel like a closed circle. To some, dancers seem mysterious, exotic — even superhuman, with all those extra muscles.

Audiences are full of, well, dancers, along with their families and friends and other devotees. What’s a stranger to make of it all? Richmond Ballet wants newcomers to know it’s about art, beauty and human connection — and you don’t have to be an expert to join in the dance. And so the company plans Leap Week, from March 17-24. It’s a series of events not only inviting the public behind the scenes at the ballet, but also taking ballet to the streets, malls and restaurants of Richmond.

“I think there’s still that aura that you have to understand everything about dance and ballet in order to participate,” says the ballet’s managing director, Brett Bonda, “and that is not the case. We’ve said for years, all you have to do is get someone to see what we do once, and they’re most likely going to come back. It’s just that initial step to say, ‘Look, you don’t have to understand ballet to come and appreciate it.’ These are incredible athletes who just happen do be doing an art form.”

To encourage that first step, Leap Week will include screenings of dance films (some selected by the public through social media) at Criterion Cinemas. There will also be dancer appearances in restaurants around town, backstage tours, open company rehearsals and studio performances, including appearances by dancers of London’s Royal Ballet School. The School of the Richmond Ballet’s Minds in Motion program for Richmond youth will send Team XXL, a group of performers from the program, into the suburbs for performances at Short Pump Mall, Stony Point and elsewhere.

“We have accomplished a whole lot, and we still don’t think everyone knows about us,” Bonda says. “Why don’t we get out there and let the Richmond metropolitan area know more about what we have done, and why we appreciate the support of the community?”

The program, created through a collaboration of the company’s staff, board and trustees, is sponsored by longtime Richmond Ballet supporter Altria, and its honorary chairs are Gov. and Mrs. Robert F. McDonnell.

In addition to performances and appearances around town, the ballet will offer master classes to area dancers, and wants locals to know that its full schedule of adult classes are open to the public.

You don’t have to be a professional dancer to take a class. “We’re just trying to make a concerted effort to break down the barriers,” Bonda says. “If they do come, they are really going to be moved by what they see. We can keep preaching to the choir, but it’s the people who aren’t in the choir that we’re trying to reach.”

Information and a full schedule of Leap Week events can be found at richmondballet.com.

Other events on the horizon

From now till May, you can get your dance love on almost every weekend. Of course, this could be true for anyone who makes a practice of dancing in their kitchen on Saturday nights. But for those who get out of the house — oh, there is so much to see.

From the Southern Hemisphere to the far North, the Modlin Center brings Black Grace, March 7 and 8, stunning contemporary dance inflected by an athletic Pacific Island sensibility from New Zealand. The sparkling classicism of the Russian National Ballet arrives from Moscow just one week later. Broadening the cultural sweep further, the Latin Ballet winds down March with “El Pintor,” a flamenco work inspired by the diverse paintings of Spanish artist Julio Romero de Torres (1895-1905), on March 21-24.

Not to be outdone, the locals make a splendid showing this spring. VCU Dance Now’s faculty and guest artist work is Feb. 21-23. Radar and Dogwood Dance Project performs together at Dogtown Dance Theatre on April 20. And Dogtown’s own “Looking Forward,” the first production of new work by Ground Zero Dance along with emerging choreographers from Virginia Commonwealth University’s dance and choreography department, is set for May 3 and 4. RVA Dance Collective winds up the spring contemporary dance season with a concert of new work May 10 and 11.

Overlapping in April, two shows bring a host of voices to the stage. Richmond Ballet’s New Works Festival runs April 4-14, and is sure to include some jewels. The choreographers are Amy Seiwart, Sasha Janes, Darrell Moultrie and Starrene Foster. “It is always such an invigorating time for both dancers and audience,” Artistic Director Stoner Winslet says. The other event is the 11th year of the Starr Foster Dance Project’s annual Choreographers Showcase on April 6 and 7.

All told, dozens of choreographic voices and hundreds of dancers await you on the stages of Richmond as the weather warms and your own body loosens and you remember how splendid it is to let the screens go dark for a while and watch, listen, and inhale living, breathing art — the body as instrument and song.

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