Jessica Lang's latest premiere at Richmond Ballet, “Lines Squared,” shows the company at its best. It's a complete package -- dancers, costumes, music, set, lights -- put together from a great concept by a choreographer who knows her dancers well. The inspiration for the piece lies in the spare, geometric paintings of Piet Mondrian: horizontal and vertical patterns of black lines on white, with occasional blocks of primary color.
Against a black and white backdrop that mimics those paintings -- with lines that shift to form new patterns periodically throughout the piece -- dancers surge across the stage in rows that interlock or intersect. Lang's movement effortlessly melds the two-dimensional concept with three-dimensional bodies: The dancers bend elbows and knees at right angles, move in straight lines or square patterns, but remain alive and fluid. Circular movements, such as a head roll or the sweeping arc of an arm, feel lush by contrast.
The work progresses from its ensemble opening through three sections in the red, yellow and blue of dancers' costumes and lights, with dancers exemplifying the character and emotion of those colors -- a strikingly effective choreographic device when set within the abstract world of the Mondrian paintings. In red, Maggie Small unites forceful intensity and bewitching sensuality as she dances amongst four men. Three ladies in yellow (Kara Brosky, Whitley Saffron and Valerie Tellmann) skip as cheerfully and gracefully as flowers in a spring meadow; and Lauren Fagone in blue, partnered with Thomas Garrett and two other couples, executes lovely, unexpectedly inverted lifts -- as when he swings her gently around, suspended by her knees.
Paired with “Lines Squared” is the George Balanchine classic, “Apollo,” with the title role danced by Igor Antonov, who personifies the exuberance of the young god, essaying each of three Muses in turn (Cecile Tuzzi as Calliope, Valerie Tellmann as Polyhymnia and company newcomer Alison Dubsky as Terpsichore) before honoring Terpsichore as his choice. The company does a creditable job, and it's always a pleasure to see Balanchine's sensitivity to the pure lusciousness of line in intricate -- but never baroque -- partnering.
“Lines Squared” and “Apollo” run until Nov. 8 in Richmond Ballet's Studio Theater, 407 E. Canal St. Tickets $30. For information, call 344-0906 or go to http://richmondballet.com.