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Reinvigorated by its new surroundings in a refurbished downtown building, the Richmond Ballet leaps enthusiastically into the 21st century. 

Modern Dance

When the Richmond Ballet moved into its Lombardy Street home in 1978, a gift from Mr. and Mrs. William E. Massey Sr., the company welcomed its good fortune. With its very own dance studios, administrative offices and costume shop, the ballet could more easily nurture its professional company and dance school. Over the years, it took full advantage of the space, building a full repertoire and active school. In recent years, the company outgrew the space as dancers and administrators continually juggled schedules to accommodate heavy demands on limited rooms. Now all this is a legacy of the last century. This summer, the Richmond Ballet moved into its new home at 407 E. Canal St.

The new space, a generous donation from Reynolds Metal Co., consists of more than 53,000 square feet — more than triple the size of its previous location. Since accepting the gift in 1997, the Ballet raised $5.7 million dollars to cover extensive renovations. The recently completed building can't be missed from the RMA or Canal Street. Its modern architecture cuts like a wedge into the skyline. Two of the more obvious alterations of the building are the raising of the roof and the addition of sizeable windows. The roof, which is the ceiling of two dance studios, is slanted, reaching 32 feet at its highest point. It is designed both for aesthetics and to ensure that no dancer ever hits her head during a leap. And for the first time, the ballet school and the company have their own separate studios. Both have lockers and showers, also a first. Additionally, Health South Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation will lease a space in the building, servicing both dancers and the public.

Dancer Brandon Becker finds the new space — with it north- and south-facing windows and a liberal view of the James River — nothing short of "amazing." "It really makes you want to work harder," he says. "It's great to have access to natural beauty. That's what we're about. Art is merely adding to that."

Other company members, who arrived in early August to rehearse for the upcoming season, were similarly awed. "It was overwhelming," says dancer Anne McMaster. "The studios are so big. It's like a fresh start."

Already Artistic Associate and Ballet Master Malcolm Burn has seen changes in the dancing. "The entire spectrum of the [movements] has shifted," he says. "The guys are flying higher. ... I've noticed some dancers working in the studios on their lunch hour. What we had was good compared to some of the buildings I've seen, but the ambience here is incredible. It's already influenced artistic inspiration. You can't put a price tag on that."

Several dancers will only hear stories of the ballet's past, as five newcomers join the company this season: Louis-Philippe Dionne, previously with Les Ballets Contemporains de Montreal; Lauren Main, a guest artist last season; Katherine Lynch, previously a trainee of the dance school; Alberto Munoz of Spain; and Glenn Newbeck of Hawaii. Members returning for the season include Anastasia Babyeva and DenisGronostayskiy.

Artistic Director Stoner Winslett thinks the ballet's new home will assist in downtown revitalization, with the arts playing an integral role. "We continue to challenge ourselves so that we impact more people with the magic of dance and fulfill our increasingly awesome responsibility not only to this community, but to the national and international fields as well," she says. "Do we need this in the 21st century? I think so. In an information age, where human contact is liable to be largely via e-mail and the Internet, our work is more important than ever. Dance is a celebration of life."

Grand Opening
The ballet will host a grand opening on Saturday, Sept. 23 from noon to 4 p.m. Canal Street will be closed to traffic and will be filled instead with booths on ballet programs such as Minds in Motion, and displays by other arts organizations. Face painting, clowns and other fun activities will also be featured. Tours of the building will be available, as will sample
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