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Dancers and Clowns

A strong one-two punch at Richmond Ballet's Studio Theatre.

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Clowns tend to evoke either affection or terror in their audiences. They descend from an ancient tradition that crosses many cultures, from Native America to Europe to China, and they serve as an outlet for human emotions -- most often those deemed unruly or unacceptable to society. The late choreographer Salvatore Aiello, whose 1979 ballet, "Clowns and Others," appeared first on the Richmond Ballet's Studio 1 program, said: "Dancers and clowns … the two are the same. Each wears a mask on his soul."

This ballet, staged by ballet master and curator of Aiello's works Jerri Kumery, opened the Richmond Ballet season with charm and simple humor. Dancers in white, clown-inflected costumes transported their audience through a range of human emotions and experiences, lightened by a layer of silliness. The themes of the work, leachedA├┐of the more sinister aspects of the clown character, felt sweet and often comical, but never creepy.

The 14 dancers, a mix of company members and apprentices, took the opportunity to show off their increasingly versatile, technically crisp performance style. They danced with clean vigor the squabbles over a balloon or a lollipop, the lovelorn duets, the juggling and mock funeral procession. Perfect pantomime, tight pirouettes and petit allegro — dancers miming clowns miming dancers brought a layered sensibility and a degree of complexity which lent interest to this slightly dated piece.

Ma Cong's newly revised and completed "Ershter Vals" showed the company at its best: reveling in rich, delicious partnering, tossing off fascinating inflections — the women undulating through jumps like shaken ribbons, the men surging low and fast through the space and then offering a flash of upturned throats, vulnerability and power juxtaposed throughout. Lauren Fagone and Thomas Garrett danced a gorgeously fraught duet that came closer to raw than anything I've seen from Richmond Ballet in recent memory.

Go see this show. Studio 1 sparks the season off in fine style.

Ma Cong's "Ershter Vals" and Salvatore Aiello's "Clowns and Others" will return Oct. 13-17 to Richmond Ballet's Studio Theatre, 407 E. Canal St.

The Richmond Ballet will also be presenting free performances during the Richmond Folk Festival. "Voyages" by Mauricio Wainrot will be seen on Oct. 8 & 9 at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m, A Suite of Russian Folk Dances will be showcased on Oct. 9 & 10 at 2 p.m., and "Dancing for a Brand New Bay" will be seen on Oct. 9 & 10 at 3:30 p.m. For more information, go to richmondballet.com.

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