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The School of Richmond Ballet Celebrates Forty Years

school of BalletRichmond Ballet and The School of Richmond Ballet (SRB) are pleased to announce the premiere of their newly produced one act ballet, The Enchanted Toy Shop, opening April 25 at Richmond CenterStage’s Carpenter Theatre.

The new production, staged this year in honor of The School’s 40th anniversary, is uniquely designed for SRB’s two performing ensembles of middle and high school-aged ballet students. As part of a special, two-part celebration, The Enchanted Toy Shop will be performed both as part of a full-length benefit evening on April 25 that will feature School of Richmond Ballet alumni who are current Richmond Ballet company dancers, performing selections from the professional repertory, and as a stand-alone matinée on April 26.  The revamped production will showcase new costumes by world-renowned costume designer Holly Hynes and scenery by French painter and illustrator, Alain Vaes. The Gala evening will also serve as an opportunity to celebrate one of The School’s beloved, founding trustees, Betsy Gayle.

A popular production originally envisioned by Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, The Enchanted Toy Shop tells the story of a whimsical, old-fashioned toy shop as it comes to life through the magic of a group of spritely fairies. Dolls, themselves appearing as well-known and beloved characters, will perform dances in the spirit of the ballet world’s favorite stories, including selections inspired by The Sleeping BeautyThe NutcrackerCinderella and La Sylphide. With a rotating collection of dolls, The Enchanted Toy Shop has proved to be a memorable piece of the performing repertory for SRB, complete with a variety of roles designed to suit the ages and abilities of the young dancers. Audiences will be quick to recognize the music of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Mendelssohn and will be happy to see the hallmarks of some of the ballet world’s most beloved choreography from Petipa and Bournonville, with additional pieces bearing the choreographic talents of Ms. Winslett, Ballet Master Malcolm Burn and SRB Director, Judy Jacob. The Enchanted Toy Shop also sees that current SRB students are exposed to ballet’s unique oral tradition – classic works and knowledge are passed from one generation to the next through class and rehearsal dialogues alone – in hopes of inspiring new dancers with fresh eyes to embrace the art form and keep it alive.

“I feel so honored to be able to bring The Enchanted Toy Shop back to life because this is an opportunity to celebrate our foundation, our School,” said Ms. Winslett. “In many ways, this is a tribute to what everyone loves most about the ballet world – the great classics – but it also allows us to demonstrate the great variety of talents found among our students. This spring, with a new production, adorned with the most amazing sets and costumes, and with the chance to be on the beautiful Carpenter Theatre stage, we are able to honor now four decades of excellent training. Moreover, with the addition of our professional dancers, we are able to show the true trajectory of committed students from this School – with devotion and a passion for dance, young students can rise to the professional ranks.”

The full-length Gala evening presents a sparkling opportunity to see the artistic depth of the organization, as both company dancers and students will share the stage. The evening is slated to begin with a wide-ranging repertory featuring members of the professional company who honed their technique while studying at The School of Richmond Ballet. Variations and excepts from popular ballets within the Richmond Ballet repertory are set to include George Balanchine’s Serenade and Mozartiana, the Grand Pas de Deux from Nicolas Beriozoff’s Don Quixote, a contemporary piece by former New Works Festival choreographer, Sasha Janes’ Dominant Curves, and Val Caniparoli’s DjangologyToy Shop Rendering

Originally founded in 1975, The School of Richmond Ballet pre-dated the establishment of the professional company by nine years. Throughout its 40-year history, the School has grown from a small group of roughly 150 students to a world-class, pre-professional training institution with over 800 students of all ages every year. Eight different directors have overseen The School’s development. The School’s current director, Judy Jacob, was invited to step into The School’s top position in 1998, after three years working as a member of the faculty and as ballet mistress with the professional company in Richmond; Ms. Jacob is now celebrating her 20th season with the organization.  Three-quarters of Richmond Ballet’s own professional dancers received a portion of their training through The School, while other graduates have now joined companies across the United States and around the world. From its earliest days, co-founders Kitty Claiborne, Betsy Gayle, and Ruth Hill have remained active board members, while the generous financial support of Mrs. William Massey allowed The School to both organize and expand throughout the 1970s. Further, for more than 20 years, the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation’s generous support of student scholarships has played a pivotal role in ensuring The School’s continued excellence.

“The School of Richmond Ballet was founded so that young Richmonders would not have to leave home to have professional-quality ballet training, and could be trained to the professional level right here; they would not have to go to New York, to North Carolina School of the Arts or similar kinds of schools elsewhere. Also, it was founded very much with the goal that anyone who wanted to learn to dance would have quality teachers and facilities,” continued Ms. Winslett. “We are fortunate to have been able to stay true to that founding mission, and to have built a school that has, as hoped, become firmly attached to our professional company. They work very much in tandem with one another, and we feel strongly about the significance and meaning in our shared space at 407 East Canal Street – we all work together. When I arrived in 1980, I quickly became aware that I was inheriting a rich tradition and a solid foundation, and I truly feel honored to have become one of its caretakers and indeed beneficiaries in my time as Artistic Director.”

“Starting from our three founding visionaries, we have seen this School develop into a very fine institution that is really something to be proud of,” added Judy Jacob. “In my 20 years here, I have continued to see this School reach new heights, training many of the dancers within our professional company, and then launching dancers into other professional companies around the world.”

“There is a special brand of warmth and happiness within our building – it’s a true family,” continued Ms. Jacob. “Teachers, students, staff, we all seem to stay. There’s something unique that hangs in the air here. People feel it, if they are open to it, and not every company or every school has that feeling. Woven into that feeling, of course, is also the wonderful reality that we are all under one roof – the professional company, The School and our educational outreach programs. We want everyone to be around the professional dancers and feel as though they are part of something that can be, and is, enriching. Being a part of this organization is a well-shared and cherished experience.”

 

SRB Alumni are encouraged to reach out to The School by emailing alumni@richmondballet.com or by visiting the new SRB Alumni page on Facebook in order to receive updates and alumni news.

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