Direct from London, It’s The Royal Ballet School

A smashing conclusion to Richmond Ballet’s Leap Week, The Royal Ballet School performs with RB’s new company, Richmond Ballet II.

Last year, our very own Richmond Ballet made a splash on the London stage.

This year, London fights back.

Just kidding, it’s all very harmonious. The Royal Ballet School and Richmond Ballet continue their exchange program, closing out the very exciting Leap Week with two performances by Royal Ballet dancers in conjunction with Richmond Ballet II, the RB’s new second company.

We asked Jay Jolley, Assistant Director of The Royal Ballet School, to talk to us about what this cooperative experience has been like for his students. And we may have also baited him heavily to compliment our town.

And, in a very special bonus interview, we encouraged Igor Antonov, Director of Richmond Ballet II, to brag a little about this new company and how it’s giving our ultra-talented dancers even more chances to shine. Caution, you may feel emotions.

Richmond Ballet II Dancers in Djangology by Val Caniparoli. Richmond Ballet 2012. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Richmond Ballet II Dancers in Djangology by Val Caniparoli. Richmond Ballet 2012. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

A Royal Ballet School Graduate Student on the Bridge of Aspiration. Photo by Johan Persson.

A Royal Ballet School Graduate Student on the Bridge of Aspiration. Photo by Johan Persson.

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Jay Jolley, Assistant Director of The Royal Ballet School

After the company returned from London last year, their reports were so enthusiastic and glowing that we wondered if they didn’t secretly want to stay. What was it like having Richmond Ballet as your guests?

It was a sheer pleasure to have Richmond Ballet as our guests here in London. They are a great group of people and inspiring to our students and the London public because of their commitment and professionalism in what they do.

The dynamic between the two groups was great. Our students certainly enjoyed watching the Richmond dancers and their approach to their work, as I think the Richmond dancers appreciated that our students were just about to start on their professional careers.

How often does the Royal Ballet engage in a program like this one? I’ll assume that RB is your favorite company to work with, because how could they not be, but what other recent collaborations have you been involved with?

We often collaborate with other schools. Yes, I agree the Richmond project was a lot of fun, and as true Virginians, you are so hospitable!! Other collaborations have been with The Vaganova Academy in Russia, American Ballet Theatre and what was their second company (now the senior students of the Jackie O school), The National Ballet School of Canada, the University of Utah (where I’m from), and several of the European schools.

How do you feel that this performance on Friday is going to go? Any hints as to what vibe we can expect?

I think the Richmond performances will be exciting; we are bringing several new works that we have never performed before. We’ll be showcasing two of our young graduates in the Le Corsaire pas de deux which they have now danced several times in Europe and Mexico. We’re also bringing works by Bubenicek, Bejart, Ashton, and a classical showpiece by Ashley Page. I think there should be a real buzz!

What has been your impression of Richmond? Any plans to see any historical sites? Will you take a look at our “Richmond-Upon-Thames” view of the James River?

Richmond is such a beautiful city, and as I said you all have that wonderful, dare I say, “Southern,” hospitality that is so welcoming. I don’t think we are going to have much time to see any historical sites, although last time they did take us to the State Capitol building for a tour and to Thomas Jefferson’s childhood home at Tuckahoe Plantation.

Igor Antonov, Director of Richmond Ballet II

How does it feel to transition from Company Dancer to Director of the newly formed second company, Richmond Ballet II?

I’m very excited about my new position. I have been teaching in The School of Richmond Ballet, as well as rehearsing with the professional company since 2003, but being a Director is completely different. Having the chance to be able to start something new and work very closely with ten extremely talented dancers is quite special and exciting. I’m not going to lie, I was somewhat nervous about the opportunity, but there are many wonderful examples at Richmond Ballet of the transition from dancer to leadership, including our Artistic Director, Stoner Winslett. I always thought if you are lucky enough to work with someone good at what they do, you better try to learn from them.

Richmond Ballet II is currently on tour throughout the state. What’s it like to tour with a brand new company?

We are the State Ballet of Virginia, after all, so we feel it is our obligation and joy to bring our art form to those smaller communities where they don’t have their own ballet companies. When I first joined the company in 1990, one of our first tour stops was in Lawrenceville, Virginia. Now Richmond Ballet II is doing something that we have never done before: two weeks of touring with ten dancers, a sound engineer, a company/stage manager, and myself. We were the entire team: laying out the dance floor, steaming costumes, focusing lights, operating the curtain, and rehearsing the program in the afternoon. Then after a standing ovation at the end of the show, we pack everything under the tour bus and drive to the next performance venue. At our last tour stop, I was the one operating the house lights! What a great learning experience it was for the young dancers! They are growing and developing into great dancers as well as responsible human beings, and I’m so proud to be a part of that.

What was the coolest thing you saw on tour with Richmond Ballet II?

The coolest thing on tour was to see a huge billboard of Ben Malone and Elena Bello, two of the Richmond Ballet II members, in Martinsville, Virginia announcing the performance. We all took a group photo with it!

Surely you must have experienced some less-than-cool things too. Care to share?

There was one incident that happened in Covington that I think I will never forget–and hopefully will never experience again. We were traveling in our big charter bus, and the GPS led us on a two-way road up the mountain. About two miles in, we realized we could not go any further. The bus simply did not fit on the road! The driver had to make a fast and serious decision, so five minutes later we were going down the mountain in reverse. Yes–in reverse! You can just imagine how we felt. First, we were scared and loud, then we were scared and laughing, and finally, we were just quiet, looking out the window over a cliff with eyes wide open. What you can’t imagine were those shockingly surprised faces of local residents, standing outside their homes, watching the scene. I am sure they had never seen a charter bus on that road before, especially going in reverse!

How has it been to work with The Royal Ballet School?

Richmond Ballet is developing a great relationship with The Royal Ballet School, and I’m absolutely looking forward to their visit this time. It gives the audience, our dancers, and students a great opportunity to see and perform on the stage with what is considered to be one of the best dance schools in the world. I think it will be an exciting program and the students from both schools will have something to learn from each other.

The Royal Ballet School performs with Richmond Ballet II on Friday, March 22 at 6:30 PM and Sunday, March 24 at 2:00 PM. Tickets are still available to Friday’s performance, which includes a post-performance reception (that’s free food and beverages, folks) and a chance to meet the dancers (that’s free hobnobbing with beautiful people, folks). At time of publishing, Sunday’s performance was nearly sold out. Buy tickets online.

Photo by: Sarah Ferguson

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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