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After 20 years with Richmond Ballet, Stoner Winslett shows no signs of slowing down. 

Still Dancing After All these Years

"Windows"
The Richmond Ballet
The Carpenter Center
Nov. 5-7
$10-$25
359-0906

Stoner Winslett considers herself to be one of the luckiest people in the world. Why? Simply because she loves what she does and has had the opportunity to do it for the past 20 years.

"Most people would like to make a difference, and I know that my work here along with a whole lot of other people has made a real difference," says Winslett, artistic director for the Richmond Ballet. "It's made a real difference about what's available in Richmond for dancers, audiences, choreographers and children."

Winslett joined the Richmond Ballet in 1980 to work as the assistant to Barbara Rassel, the ballet's previous director. But her tenure as assistant lasted just a few months. When Rassel unexpectedly resigned, Winslett was appointed artistic director.

"The company was bursting with potential," she recalls. "They were really finely trained students onstage, and the trustees that I met were incredibly dedicated people. … I couldn't say no."

Twenty years later, Winslett is still at it. During her tenure, she has seen the Richmond Ballet incorporate an extensive repertoire of dances from national and international choreographers. She has introduced Richmonders to top choreographers and dancers. And she has turned the once-amateur dance company into a professional ballet.

Great pride comes from knowing that the Richmond Ballet pays its dancers and has been doing so since 1984, when it conducted its first national auditions in New York and hired 12 dancers for 20 weeks.

With the ballet being both a school and a performing company, another source of delight is seeing the potential of its dancers realized. "There's nothing more exciting than seeing a dancer who's at one stage make a breakthrough to a whole new level," Winslett says.

And if all goes as planned, Winslett's 20th anniversary with the ballet will coincide with a step up to yet another level: a move into a new downtown Cary Street facility that more than triples the size of the ballet's current headquarters. Potentially, the new, larger facility, which is convenient to both downtown and the highway, can boost the ballet's audience.

Already, Winslett has plans. She hopes to use one of the dance studios as an after-work treat for business people — wine, cheese and a ballet before they hop on the highway for home. She's also eager to move worker's desks out of the maze of cramped halls into their own offices and finally resolve conflicts over the use of rehearsal space, helping to separate the Richmond Ballet school from the company.

But her most immediate goal is the completion and premiere of the fourth section of her dance "Windows," which will be featured in the ballet's Nov. 5 Carpenter Center concert, accompanied by a commissioned score by former Richmonder and composer Jonathan Romeo. "I want to make it a special moment for the entire community," she says. "It's our millennium project."

Each section of "Windows" uses a different style of ballet, from French romantic to classical Russian to American and European styles. The fourth section of the ballet will incorporate more contemporary movement. The entire dance is set to variations on a Paganini theme.

Surprisingly, Winslett is one of the few female artistic directors of a professional ballet, an odd fact given that ballet is traditionally a woman's domain. "These jobs are so physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding that choreography jobs and artistic director jobs do not mix well with having children and a family, because you're on all the time," she theorizes.

When not spending time with her family, Winslett divides her day between working in the studio, choreographing and talking with dancers, and performing administrative duties such as communicating with trustees, ensuring ticket sales and raising money.

"The community has grown from just Richmond to the state to the nation," she says. "In order to create more performance opportunities and a better life ultimately, to raise money for the dancers, I end up being taken away from the studio where [the dancers] want you to be, and you want to be with them. It's a Catch 22."

Not that Winslett ever loses her focus on the ballet's raison d'ˆtre: the pure joy and discipline of dance.

"Classical ballet is one of the most, if not the most beautiful form of dance, and it's versatile as well," she says "… Dance is part of every one of us, despite the fact that some of our Puritan traditions try to train it out of us."

With Winslett in the driver's seat with no plans to hand over the wheel, she's out to make sure that more than a few of us get an opportunity to learn what she
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