Phil Skaggs, Richmond Ballet treasure, retires gracefully
As if he would do it any other way.
Last year, we ran a piece on Phillip Skaggs, who is a physical paragon of power and elegance but the nicest guy you will ever meet.
And now you may actually have a chance to meet him! Skaggs is about to leave the ballet’s secluded planet and enter Earth, where people eat cheesecake and, every single day, spend up to an hour not rehearsing. It’s not that I’m not grateful for all of his sacrifice–he’s been a pillar of the company’s for well over a decade, and his presence on stage certainly elevates the RB (as well as whatever female dancer he’s hauling around). But, after a knee surgery a couple of years ago (with daily strenuous physical therapy sessions ever since), a bout of appendicitis last year, and two small sons, he deserves to be able to go out on top.
Turns out, that’s how he saw it going anyway. “I’ve always wanted to leave a legacy behind and walk away–not limp away–looking back and enjoying what I was able to do,” says Skaggs. “And, anyway, at some point you just don’t look good in white tights anymore.”
At 36, it’s a wonder Skaggs is even feeding himself anymore, much less walking around without assistance. I jest, of course, but in ballet terms (and, really, the terms of many intensely athletic professions) that’s pretty up there. He jokes about the word “retirement,” because it’s not like he can leap away to Florida after cashing in a 401(k), so prefers to just call his departure from dancing a career change.
It’s still not the right phrasing though, as going from a life of few weekends, few holidays, and few hours spent doing anything that’s not exhausting to a standard nine-to-five is more than just a career change. It’s a completely new life.
Since he moved to Richmond at the beginning of his ballet career, Skaggs has always spent whatever he could of his scant free time doing construction. “From the first time I picked up a saw, I was like, ‘Oh yeah. I like this.’ It’s instant gratification. You build something, and if you do it well, there it is. A ballet is never perfectly right. There’s always something you wish you had done better.”
Now, he’ll be able to devote more time to building beautiful things at Richmond Loft Company, and he’s looking forward to it. “The normalcy, the routine, and even just having holidays…” We joke about him going back for a guest appearance in the Nutcracker and he says, “No, not this year. Katie [his wife, a former dancer herself] and I are going to have a Christmas.”
What a weird thing, to be a professional dancer! Something you pour your heart into and finely tune your body around…and then you have to peace out before you’re even middle-aged. Skaggs will miss the partnership aspect of it, and always liked that part best. “I’ve had a lot of inner pride for my partners. I was always taught ‘Your job is to not mess the girl up. You make her look beautiful.’ And it’s always been my mission to make people appreciate the guy behind the girl.”
As a jack-of-all-trades at Richmond Loft Company, he could very well spend many of his days alone. He doesn’t know quite what that will be like, having spent the last 16 years surrounded by his best friends all day, every day. But he’s also looking forward to be able to meet a lot of new people and cultivate some new relationships. Oh, and watch his sons grow up. That’s a big one.
Out with a Waltz
The Richmond Ballet plays tribute to Phillip Skaggs, dashing prince and enthusiastic partner, with one of his favorite ballets: Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer, which I caught back in 2011.
“It’s just…special,” says Skaggs. For one, not many companies have received permission to perform it over its lifetime, and…well, I hate to just quote a press release, but the latest from the Ballet puts it beautifully:
The transition between temporal and spiritual is famously marked by a costuming shift. The ladies are first dressed in satin ball gowns and heeled dancing pumps, but later in lush romantic tutus and pointe shoes; and the gentleman, while remaining in their white ties and tails, remove their formal gloves from one section to the next. But it is the ballet’s subtleties that round out Mr. Balanchine’s dancers – they are utterly human, with a hint of regret, and an all too knowing sense of lost, or perhaps, unrequited love. Though the ballet has no specific storyline, Mr. Balanchine knew well how to read the human soul, believing that one would need nothing more than to have a man and a woman on stage together to create the most interesting of stories.
“Our Ballet Master Jerri [Kumery] says she puts Liebeslieder on the rehearsal schedule when she thinks we need a pick-me-up. And it works. We all love it,” says Skaggs, whose wistfulness begins to show. “It’s a classy way to go out.”
— ∮∮∮ —
Liebeslieder Walzer opens Tuesday, April 14th and runs through this Sunday, April 19th. Buy tickets online or call the box office at 804.344.0906.
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