From dancer to dancer: Richmond Ballet interviews their own

Studio Two opens tonight, and in honor of this, Susan Howson…got the dancers to do her work for her.

From left to right: Richard Foggio, Sabrina Holland, Abi Goldstein, and Ira White. Richmond Ballet 2015. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Richmond Ballet’s Studio Two opens tonight, with a world premiere by the Mexican-born Edgar Zendejas as well as Stoner Winslett’s 2004 work, Echoing Past. To celebrate, I sat back and let other people talk to each other while I took notes. Not just ANY people, dancers who manage to keep a really quick wit despite living constantly in the throes of near-bodily-exhaustion.

Now, listen, I’m really not trying to get out of an interview. I love interviewing. It’s just that Richmond Ballet had a really good idea: what if Abi Goldstein and Sabrina Holland (now in their second year of being company members) interviewed former Richmond Ballet II colleagues Ira White and Richard Foggio, who are both fully immersed in their first company season.

As much an exercise for them as for us, the interviews would give Sabrina and Abi a chance to remember what it felt like to be intimidated, excited, and proud at the same time. Now that the two ladies are old, decrepit second-year company members…maybe they’ve forgotten!

“In the beginning of the year in RB II” (that’s Richmond Ballet’s traveling company) “it’s a lot of being out and at schools,” says Sabrina Holland. “That’s hard on your body because you’re always changing where you’re dancing, you’re up at weird hours, you’re dancing on concrete…”

“Or turf, or linoleum!” Ira chimes in.

“In the company, you’re here for six hours, you’re busier in that way,” Sabrina continues. “It’s not that one is harder or easier than the other, it’s just different.”

All of them agree that being in the company gives you a lot more responsibility and independence, and you’re also learning other parts in addition to your own, and you’re expected to have it all down cold.

“This year,” says Richard about his first season. “We were definitely shot out of the cannon. We got in the first day and [choreographer] Val Caniparoli was already choreographing the first work.”

Richard and Ira both glow with earnest enthusiasm, and both are impossible not to like immediately. It reminds me a little of interviewing Sabrina and Abi when they first moved up to the company from RB II in 2014–now the two are a lot more relaxed, tell a lot of jokes, and aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. I kind of want to grab Richard and Ira by the shoulders (the former’s I would only be able to reach with the aid of a stepstool) and be like, “Do not lose your sense of wonderment, dudes!”

Everyone’s excited about Edgar Zendejas’s new work. Our intern Chris and I got to watch the birth of a particularly complicated sequence, and while I’ve come to expect the impossible-looking from these dancers, Chris is a newbie, and he was transfixed. When we got into the car after our time at rehearsal, he didn’t even want to talk about it much. I know that feeling–you just want to let it sink in because it’s maybe too wonderful to put into words.

Speaking of words, I’ll now turn it over to the dancers themselves.

Sabrina and Ira

Sabrina Holland: So, Ira, you grew up in Minds in Motion. When you first had your first class [at age 10], were you excited or did you think it was just going to be a dance class?

Ira White: I definitely had the typical boy state of mind and thought “Ugh, it’s a girl thing.” I didn’t have a clear idea of what it was going to be. I thought it was going to be ballet, and kids that age always have a picture of pink tutus, so I went in with a little skepticism. But it was never posed as being a dance class. It was another PE class essentially, but a lot more engaging.

SH: Did you come to the decision yourself that you wanted to do dance classes?

IW: I had other friends in Minds in Motion who had auditioned for the summer program, and they got in and they were improving. I had this decision at the time that I was in my first Nutcracker in 2003, and I thought, “I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it!” but then nope, I didn’t do it.

SH: What were you in your first Nutcracker?

IW: Teal Boy! Chubby little Teal Boy.

The party guests in the Nutcracker typically are grouped into family colors, based on their costumes.

SH: I’m glad you worked up the guts!

IW: I am too, seriously!

SH: Did you ever have a time when you thought you were going to quit dancing?

IW: No, after I started, I was with it 100%.

SH: You thought you were going to be a trainee, but then you got into RB II as a charter member later on in the game, right? How was that process for you?

IW: I remember that summer I was always having my ears open for any news, and doing the best I could, trying to make sure I represented myself. No word was said during the summer, so i thought, “OK, I’ll just continue being a trainee and still do Minds in Motion…that August I was asked to take a company class, and then after, Stoner [Winslett] and Malcolm [Burn] took me into the office and offered me the job.

Seriously I was over the moon and back. My mouth was sore that entire day from smiling so much. It was great because I got to know each of [company dancer] over the summer, and I’d really gotten close with them, so it was great to be a part of it all.

From left to right: Richard Foggio, Sabrina Holland, Abi Goldstein, and Ira White. Richmond Ballet 2015. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

From left to right: Richard Foggio, Sabrina Holland, Abi Goldstein, and Ira White. Richmond Ballet 2015. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Abi and Richard

Abi Goldstein: All right, Richard. Here we go. I know that you played sports when you were younger, but what was it that made you stick with ballet instead of sports? Or, at what age did you stop participating in sports.

Richard Foggio: I played sports until I left for Kirov. I played football, played violin, and then went to dance class.

AG: So you left when you were in 10th grade? Do you think that if you had stayed home instead of left, would you have continued with sports and violin?

RF: I probably would have, but what made me want to be a dancer was a combination of a couple of things. My freshman year, I was playing football and broke my collarbone. My immediate thought [instead of worrying about football] was “Oh my god, I have the Nutcracker in eight weeks.”

I think when I was 14, my dance teacher at the time asked me what I was planing on doing for the summer, and I told them I was planning on staying at home and taking his summer course at his studio. He told me I should audition for Kirov’s summer program. And with my summer audition notice, i got accepted in the school as well. That’s when I started thinking I might actually be able to become a dancer.

Then after five weeks in that program, that’s the only thing I could think of myself doing.

AG: Do ballet all day! What did you like better about dancing,

RF: I felt like dancing was a combination of both aspects. Football was really physical, and I liked being really active, but I also really enjoy playing music and listening to classical music. I don’t think I even listened to pop music and the radio until I left home. I think that’s why I enjoy dancing so much, because it combined the physicality that I loved from football and the musicality I loved from the violin.

— ∮∮∮ —

Susan Howson: What kind of difference do you see in your friends, now that they’ve moved up a year before you did?

RF: [to Sabrina and Abi] There’s a big difference in the way you work, not even the work that happens when you’re dancing, but also the work that’s happening when you’re not. You’re doing a lot throughout the day, and it’s starting to make the impression! I feel like I have to do more for myself throughout the day in terms of staying warm and rolling out and helping myself recover from what I just did.

IW: I just see how much you’ve become two wonderful women.

AG: [to me] We…were pretty annoying before.

RF: [with a “Quit joking, I’m serious!” tone] There definitely is a sense of maturity and confidence in your movement as well!

IW: to see Sabrina do Snow Queen last year was a big moment. I really was proud of you. To see you on stage, that was awesome.

Susan Howson: What could they do to improve?

RF: Maybe SMILE a little less?

IW: The occasional flexed foot isn’t bad.

RF: Maybe stop making the rest of us look bad?

Then they went into a bunch of jokes that I don’t understand because I am a writer and not a dancer. And then we went into rehearsal and saw them create beauty.

Catch Studio Two, with Winslett’s Echoing Past and Zendejas’s Realms of Amber–works exploring women’s views of their own history and celebrating how much women do for human beings, respectively–beginning tonight and through Sunday. Tickets run from $21 – $41, and can be purchased online or or by phone at 804.344.0906.

Remember, this is the Studio Series. It’s in the studio on Canal Street. It’s smaller, more intimate, and, if you ask me, more fun and emotionally impactful.

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Susan Howson

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

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