When colleagues asked Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett how she wanted to celebrate the millennium and her 20th year with the company, her initial response was to offer a series of glimpses into ballet highlights from the last century. She quickly ruled it out, however, partly due to the expense of acquiring the rights to so many works, but also because her own "Windows" accomplished many of the same goals. "A window," she explains, "is an opening through which one can see a partial view of another place from a very specific vantage point."
For their upcoming show Nov. 5-7, Richmond Ballet will stage Winslett's recently completed four part "Windows," which includes a premiere of Part IV. Each section, all variations on Nicolo Paganini's 24th Caprice for violin, reflects a time period and its accompanying dance style. To complete the program, she's also selected the much praised, Eliot Feld's "Contra Pose," with its powerfully angular geometric patterns.
"Windows" is Winslett's creative version of dance history. Her most ambitious work (the dance runs one hour) uses 38 dancers, four costume changes, and is her first-ever personal commission of a composer, Jonathan Romeo.With a specific Ballet fund devoted exclusively to the creation of new work, Winslett calls the opportunity a "great privilege."
"Windows," originally intended as a three-part work, was choreographed for a scholarship project for Smith College in 1980. The first section, set to Johannes Brahms, highlights the French Romantic style ballerinas with gently wilting arms and posturing noblemen. In short, jeweled tutus and virtuosic dancing, Part II captures Czarist Russia, with music by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Part III addresses 20th-century Europe and America, with a score by Boris Blacher. The movements in this section, with dancers in leotards, are angular and sharp, the women taking more powerful roles than previously.
When "Windows" was staged in 1992, Winslett thought the work complete. She later realized a segment reflecting the last part of this century was missing. About Part IV, the last window, Winslett explains, "The dance is more modern, more grounded. There's a wide range of styles of dance and clothing long and short skirts, shorts and pants."
"Working with Romeo has been a dream," she explains. She contacted Romeo nearly a year ago with her proposal for this section, yet another variation of Paganini. He sent her several short takes of music and awaited her feedback. "I knew how I wanted the piece to end," she offers, "but I didn't want to give him much more instruction than that." Eventually the final version arrived. and working as she always had, from the music, she began setting the choreography.
"The arts are what a generation leaves behind," says Winslett. "Windows" honors a century, an anniversary, and a form of expression, a reminder of where we've been and where we're