To the string of events making London a seemingly nonstop center of attention this season, add the plucky Richmond Ballet. From June 15 through 19, this troupe of modest size and queenly ambitions will be making the first overseas trip in its 54-year history.
For performances at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House (in the 400-seat Linbury Studio Theatre) and at the Royal Ballet School’s White Lodge villa, outside London, the 13-member company is bringing four works created in America and new to British audiences: George Balanchine’s “Valse Fantaisie” and John Butler’s “After Eden” (both from the 1960s), and the more recent “Ershter Vals” by Ma Cong “ and “Swipe” by Val Caniparoli.
“The reason to go is we have something unique to show,” says Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett. “London is an especially poignant place to do that,” she adds, noting a couple of royal resonances: Her state was named after Queen Elizabeth I, and one of Richmond’s sister cities is Richmond-upon-Thames, location of White Lodge, a former royal hunting residence.
Richmond Ballet’s small number of dancers won’t be nearly the headache to transport as, say, the 73 members and 10 works that Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal recently brought to London from Germany. But still, Winslett planned carefully for this tour. She had wanted to bring a piece she had commissioned from Jessica Lang, “To Familiar Spaces in Dream,” but the large set would have cost $30,000 to ship overseas and back. “So I said, you know what, we’ll see that piece in Richmond.”
Which is where audiences can get a preview of the London program this week. Through Saturday, Richmond Ballet is performing all four works in its Studio Theatre. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets available at richmondballet.com or by phone at 1-800-514-3849.)
The London trip came about after Richmond Ballet invited the Royal Ballet School students to their studios last year when the students were making a trip to New York. It was then that Jay Jolley, assistant director of the British school, saw the Richmond dancers rehearse “After Eden” by the Memphis-born Butler and was impressed.
“It’s such an amazing piece that we take great pride in keeping alive,” says Winslett of the 1966 work inspired by the story of Adam and Eve.
“But what we feel like we’re really known for is the commissions. I’ve commissioned 55 pieces since I’ve been here.” Those include “Ershter Vals,” inspired by World War II films and Klezmer music, and “Swipe,” accompanied by a remix of Londoner Gabriel Prokofiev’s String Quartet No.2.
If you can’t make it to Richmond, you’ll have a chance to see “Ershter Vals” a year from now at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Richmond Ballet will perform it as part of the center’s Ballet Across America series.