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Stepping on Toeshoes

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Out of the spin, if we can just find that moment where nothing stops," choreographer Todd Rosenlieb says in the midst of creating a new dance work at the Richmond Ballet. Six men leap toward the center of the studio in a surge of energy and then turn on one foot, suspended like strong, elegant cranes.

The Norfolk-based Rosenlieb is one of six choreographers the ballet invited to create new work for the company for the "New Works Festival" this week. Through most of March -- the designated rehearsal period was March 10-28 — the ballet's Canal Street studios were buzzing with rehearsals, meetings and costume-fittings, and tired but excited dancers learned an unprecedented amount of new material.

The Richmond Ballet has always emphasized the commissioning of new works during its 25-year span as a professional company, and since the inauguration of the Studio Series in 2001, that emphasis has only increased. "We've commissioned 47 new works from 18 different choreographers since we've been a professional company," Artistic Director Stoner Winslett says. "So we get overtures from choreographers all the time wanting to work with our dancers and our space."

The New Works Festival was born from a desire to broaden the scope of the ballet's commissioning program by working with more than one choreographer at a time.

Using what Winslett calls a "festival format," the program features shorter works and more of them — six in all, to be shown in two rotating programs of three dances each. The ballet chose three choreographers from the national/international front and three Virginia-based artists. Mexican-born independent choreographer Eloy Barragan has created works for such companies as Utah Ballet to Beijing Dance Academy; Ukrainian Viktor Plotnikov formerly performed in the Donetsk Ballet with current Richmond Ballet danseur Igor Antonov, and later with Boston Ballet; and Gina Patterson, now performing with Ballet Austin, recently won a prestigious award for her choreography.

Closer to home, Virginia Commonwealth University professors Patti D'Beck, a Broadway veteran, and David Leong, a prolific movement coach, are creating a work together, while Rosenlieb, with an established dance company in Norfolk, and Richmond Ballet Artistic Associate Malcolm Burn round out the program.

About the selection of choreographers, Winslett says: "Since it was the first time off, for the most part we went with people we had some kind of connection with. But I hope we'll be able to do it again and broaden the net."

Best of all, the "New Works Festival" is an opportunity for Richmond audiences to check out the cutting edge of the ballet world. "I'm so proud of our audience," Winslett says. "They have really embraced new works. I think they really like the adventure of it. It's become one of the real draws of the Studio Theater, that there's always something new and different that they haven't seen before." S



Richmond Ballet's "New Works Festival" runs April 1-6 at the Studio Theatre, 407 E. Canal St. Call 344-0906 or visit www.richmondballet.com.



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