In 1976, three Richmonders with deep roots in Richmond's dance scene established the Concert Ballet of Virginia. Robert Watkins was its artistic director; Scott Boyer the associate director and deVeaux Riddick, the technical director and designer.
This season, still holding the positions they established 35 years ago, these men will oversee a range of ballet productions downtown and in Goochland and Hanover counties and Williamsburg. Their Fall Repertory Gala runs Sept. 24 and 26 at the Woman's Club auditorium. Recently the men discussed their company's remarkable longevity and the collaborative process.
Style: After 35 years, what have you learned about the young dancer?
Boyer: We began the Concert Ballet of Virginia at a time when dance was really being noticed by the public. There were stars you could name: Margot Fonteyn, [Rudolph] Nureyev and [Mikhail] Baryshnikov. Those who joined our company believed they could become professional dancers. Today our dancers are equally talented and committed but they are savvy and OK with the idea that dance isn't going to be their full career. They might become medical technicians, investment counselors or whatever. If they're going to dance, they're going to do their dancing now.
What have you learned about Richmond audiences?
Riddick: They are loyal. Our audience today is composed of many of the same groups that we had when we started. Of course, every performing arts group deals with what happens as its audience ages. It is often through our annual performances of “The Nutcracker” that we solicit new audiences. We find they are equally as interested in the next production they attend.
How has the ballet world changed?
Watkins: It's better known than ever — more people follow it. There's greater coverage in the media. Of course there are a number of superficial people involved in ballet; there are people who don't have a sincere knowledge. That's because there's too much going on in people's lives in general. How can one be totally committed when you're assailed by a new thing every day. Much of my commitment comes from age. [Watkins turned 90 last month.] I've had a chance to see things. My aunt took me to my first ballet, the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo in 1936 at the Mosque [now the Landmark Theater]. The ballets had spectacular sets. At the Concert Ballet we have excelled in what the stage presentation looks like. With the exception of the New York City Ballet, large companies don't tour like they once did.
Scott Boyer dances with Cindy Hughes in a past performance of “The Night Love Let You Down.”After 35 years of the three of you working together, what have you learned about the collaborative process?
Riddick: It's indispensable. We each contribute something concrete and, mercifully, it has worked for quite a while to our mutual enjoyment. Mr. Watkins has some good ideas. I can implement these through the technical aspects of the productions. Scott makes things work in terms of the dancing. None of us would want to try this on our own.
What are your thoughts on choreography?
Boyer: We have 200 pieces in our repertory. Some have story lines, some are pure dance. Things that we developed 35 years ago are still in the rep. We've fostered choreography from many of our dancers — once they've reached the solo level — instead of bringing in outsiders. We've been successful in what we've turned out.
After 35 years how important are volunteers?
Watkins: Without them, what we've done couldn't have happened. They are the lifeblood of our company. We're concentrating on the young dancers and their families get involved. The parents and other relatives often discover their creativity by getting involved on set crews, building costumes or running shows. A lot of the fathers would never have envisioned themselves working with a ballet company.
What things do you think the Concert Ballet of Virginia has gotten especially right?
Riddick: We kept going. We stuck to our concept that a ballet company should be a part of the community. And when you give dancers and volunteers opportunities, they usually run with them. There is enormous talent in Richmond and this company is promoting that talent.