By MICHAEL CURRY
The upcoming performances by Virginia Ballet Theatre in its annual Winter Concert at the ODU Theatre promise to be exciting, entertaining and enlightening.
Artistic Director Ricardo Melendez has put together an ambitious program of classical and modern dance which will, as he proudly states “entertain and delight but also challenge; we constantly strive to redefine harmony and beauty”,
Embodying and showcasing the magic of dance, Coastal Virginia’s only professional dance company, Virginia Ballet Theatre, under the expert direction of Melendez is soaring to new heights. Ever since 1961, VBT has been a major force in dance in the region and is now, of course, basically merged under the same roof and umbrella as TR Dance. Both components, classical and modern continue to reach out and set new standards for dance in our region. These forthcoming not to be missed performances bring remarkable vision and commitment to the art form.
TWO BELOVED PAS DE DEUX
A couple of ballet’s most famous and spectacular pas de deux ( or duets) from the classical repertoire open this special program.
The spectacular ballet known as Le Corsaire – based on a poem by Lord Byron – was first presented at the Paris Opera and then in Russia at the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg in which the young Marius Petipa took the role of the corsair, Conrad. Petipa of course become one of the (if not the) most important and influential choreographers of all time and this particular pas de deux is among classical ballet’s most famous and performed excerpts. Le Corsaire will feature Virginia Ballet Theatre Principal Daena Bortnick who has been with the company and with TR Dance since 2016. She graduated from the prestigious Houston Ballet Academy under Ben Stevenson and from the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Professional Division. Joining her in this riveting showcase piece is Guest Artist Omar Nieves. He was a Principal with The Ballets de San Juan and in addition to starring in productions in his native Puerto Rico, has also been seen to great acclaim in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and across the United States. His impressive repertoire not only includes the great classical roles such as Don Quixote or Giselle but also recently created and commissioned works. He is also an actor , singer and choreographer.
The other famous pas de deux on this wonderful program is the famed Black Swan duet from Tchaikovsky’s full length ballet, Swan Lake. The featured dancers in this performance are Amber Romano a member of the company since 2016 and Timothy Knoll.
While these two major classical pieces open the evening, they will be followed by a neo-classical piece entitled Twilight. Choreographed by the renowned David Kenner, former Director of the Virginia School for the Arts and the Alabama School of Fine Arts, it is set to the lush romantic sounds of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and showcases the American influences in classical ballet.
Artistic Director Melendez presents his recently completed Fragile Strength. This engaging piece is set to the popular contemporary composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s Sonata for Cello. Fragile Strength is inspired by Danielle Tegeder’s influential art entitled “Lightness as it Behaves in Turbulence” which is currently featured in the Chrysler Museum’s exhibition Chaos and Awe. In fact, the VBT dancers performed this new creation earlier this month right there in front of the painting in the galleries of the Chrysler. It is an experiment on classical ballet lines as impacted by contemporary influences – or as Ricardo likes to say it is “an allegorical image of fragility as it confronts obstacles”.
The other new piece on the program is the world premiere of Larks – a contemporary ballet piece set to the iconic Romance for Violin and Orchestra entitled The Lark Ascending by the great 20th century composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. For this premiere, Ricardo chose the virtuoso violinist Nigel Kennedy’s highly praised performance as the “soundtrack”. The work is an exploration of movement on a narrative of courage and the strength to venture out towards an uncertain future.
As with any professional performance, this one has been months in preparation and rehearsal – for dancers, usually a minimum of six weeks. As Melendez points out, “we usually estimate one hour of rehearsal for one minute of choreography” which amounts to about 20 hours for the creation and then countless hours to get the work ready for the audience on opening night. Rigorous training and dedication indeed.
When asked about this year’s Winter Concert and its particular appeal, Ricardo Melendez says: “We want to take the audience on a journey – a journey of styles, if you like. From the early famous works of the legendary Marius Petipa which showcase the technical abilities of the dancers, to the neoclassical Twilight which asserts the technique and creative genius of the choreographer, this is a program for everyone”.
And of course, Ricardo’s own Twilight which challenges and almost reinvents physical shapes and his Larks both redefine the narrative of dance. He explains: “I aim to challenge my dancers by helping them discover the endless possibilities of the dance. I visit the classics because I love the ideas that pioneered our art form. I admire neoclassical ballet with its sense of spatial harmony and musical visualization and I always welcome the chance to indulge in contemporary ballet with its daring and challenging forms and use of rhythm. In a very significant way, this is the voice of our time, our contribution to the art form”.
So..don’t miss this journey of exploration into the Magic of Dance.
See also the related article – Rhythm Live – in this issue of VEER Magazine. Rhythm live will feature a cast of almost 100 people including dancers from The Governor’s School for the Arts under the direction of Artistic Director Todd Rosenlieb and musicians from the Virginia Arts Festival’s signature program, The Rhythm Project.
Virginia Ballet Theatre’s Winter Concert
Feb. 22 & 23 @ 8pm
Feb. 24 at 2pm.
For tickets: www.CoVaTix.com (or purchase at the door).