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dance: The Last Dance

Prominent Richmond Ballet dancer bows out after 13 years.


One face — or name — that Burn is unlikely to forget is that of Kristen Gallagher. A Richmond Ballet dancer for 13 years, Gallagher is perhaps the female face most closely identified with the company. She's that rare performer who combines exemplary technical skill with a natural grace and charisma, resulting in an onstage magnetism that audiences do not easily forget.

"Sometimes I look from the front at her," says Burn, "and the first thing you see is she is exquisitely beautiful onstage. She has a seamless quality to her movement, and she is an interpreter of roles. There are few and far between who are as good as her."

On April 6, Gallagher will dance her final Richmond performance with the company in a Studio Series program featuring the appropriately titled "Bow Out," a work that was created for the company in 1995 by Val Caniparoli. The program also will include a world premiere Burn has created in her honor.

"This piece is in honor of Kristen and Kristen's career, but really in honor of all those artists who have inspired us and enriched our lives over the years," Burn explains. The work uses classical ballet as its vocabulary, but also incorporates hints of choreographers and ballets Gallagher has performed during her tenure with Richmond Ballet.

A native of Reading, Pa., Gallagher joined the company as an apprentice in 1989, becoming a professional member the following year. She never expected to stay here so long — it's rare for a dancer to remain with one company for 13 years, let alone dance professionally for that long — but she says she has always been challenged by the diverse repertory of Richmond Ballet.

"I feel like I get such a well-rounded range of styles," she says, "from classical, to modern barefoot, to contemporary."

Gallagher's greatest strength, say those who work with her, is her ability to adapt to any of these styles. "She epitomizes the type of dancer that we like," Burn says. "She is all-around versatile in every way. She can do myriad styles of dance, from the sublimely classical to the wacky."

Gallagher has danced roles ranging from the Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker," to the Cowgirl in "Rodeo," to the lead role in "Carmina Burana."

"She can dance a lot of different styles," says dancer Pedro Szalay, "but more important, her soul is there in every part … She can do anything. Her personality comes through in each role she dances."

Gallagher, who plans to remain in Richmond and to continue her affiliation with Richmond Ballet through staging works or through teaching, says she is leaving the company simply because, "It just feels like the right time for me." Her departure also will allow her to spend more time with Suzanne Farrell Ballet of Doylestown, Pa., with which she has danced the works of George Balanchine since 1999.

She is looking forward to these new challenges, but is not eager to leave the many friends she has made in her 13 years. "I will miss my friends, working with them every day, seven or eight hours a day, for six days a week," she says. "We all get along so well."

Company member Katherine Gansman says that when Gallagher leaves Richmond Ballet, the dancers will lose a leader. "Everyone in the company looks up to her," she says. "When we're pulling different pieces together she tries to get everyone focused. Everyone respects her."

None more so than Burn, who says, "I have a particular soft spot for [Gallagher]. In all of the years, you develop a relationship with an artist. I know her as a choreographer, a producer, a teacher and a coach — there are so many facets to our relationship. ... She's been 13 years with us and that can't be replaced. She's part of us. We're going to miss her just being here." S

Richmond Ballet performs Studio 4 March 27-April 6 at 407 E. Canal St. Contact Ticketmaster at 262-8100 or Richmond Ballet Box Office at 344-0906, ext. 223 for details.

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