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Raising the Barre

Trying out for the Concert Ballet of Virginia.


During 2005-2006, the all-volunteer company plans to stage two great classical ballets, "The Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake," in addition to its yearly production of "Nutcracker." "Beauty," with a cast of about 55, offers performance opportunities for a wide range of dancers and even some nondancers. This is the second of two auditions, and there are several new faces as well as company members in the room.

Scott Boyer, the company's associate director, puts everyone at ease by arranging them at the barres. "Darlin'," he says to one small girl, "come stand up here." He explains that he will be looking for more than just ballet technique: "I'll be looking at how you present yourself, at how you react to unusual situations. Even if you haven't studied much dance, we have some walk-on parts available. Relax." They do.

The audition begins with some basic warm-up exercises at the crowded barres. Everyone seems to focus intently on Boyer's instructions — some dancers look studious and confident; some stare fixedly at those around them, picking up movements on the fly; some look bewildered but determined. The two boys hold their own: One, a teenager, exudes gallantry and charm; the other, much younger, gamely concentrates on each task set before him. One young girl, about 8, radiates such quiet dignity in the carriage of her head and arms that your eye is drawn to her irresistibly.

The place truly comes alive, however, when Boyer brings the dancers to the center of the room and begins working through floor patterns, partnering and basic performance skills. Two by two they crisscross the floor, then one by one they walk downstage and bow or curtsey, each one with a graceful inclination of the neck that reveals how the study of ballet can imbue even rambunctious children with glimmers of Old World elegance.

Boyer says later that the company participates in auditions so that new people feel less exposed and more at ease. From this audition he chose four new dancers — two older and two younger. "The company is at a great moment right now — such commitment and excitement — and working so well together," he says. "They do a great job with bringing in new people and making them feel at home." It's the perfect approach for a group that long ago dedicated itself to creating performance opportunities for dancers of all ages and levels of experience.

Concert Ballet Artistic Director Robert Watkins emphasizes this mission, saying that in 1976 a group of dancers left the Richmond Ballet in order to stage great classical ballets in such a way that local people could participate and "see how ballets are put together." Thus, the Concert Ballet emerged as what Watkins calls "a civic company," and for the last 30 years, it has presented classical ballets in an inclusive, intimate style that many dancers and audiences have found irresistible.

After a "Beauty" rehearsal later in the week, Boyer notes that, at first, "everybody learns every part, because that way you are constantly learning and constantly improving." The Concert Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty" opens in September at the Woman's Club on Franklin Street, kicking off what promises to be a busy and rewarding gala year. Parents and volunteers are now hard at work on scenery and costumes. Their dedication, says Boyer, as well as that of the dancers, "is how we've managed to survive." S

The Concert Ballet's Summer Intensive Showcase takes place Aug. 21 at the Richmond Woman's Club. Call 798-0945 or go to

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