Ballet leaders return from China after laying groundwork for future partnerships

Ballet representatives join John Kerry and others to foster relations between the two countries.

Richmond Ballet China trip

Update #1 — July 17, 2014; 1:14 PM

Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett and Managing Director Brett Bonda recently returned from China after taking part in the State Department’s 2014 Cultural Pillar Delegation for the US-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE). The ballet representatives joined Secretary John Kerry, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, and representatives from other organizations to promote cultural understanding between the US and China (see below).

The trip comes before the Richmond Ballet, the State Ballet of Virginia, will hold its “Road to China & Beyond” series during the company’s 2014-15 season. The ballet’s program will foster cultural exchange programs between the two countries.

“We found that our ‘Road to China’ program fit perfectly with what this conference was really all about,” Bonda said in a statement. “At the heart of any cultural exchange program is an understanding that the exchange goes both ways. We feel as though our program truly embraces this hope and we are thankful that we have met such willing partners in China to help us construct a program that we believe will set Richmond Ballet on a very exciting and greatly expanded course for the future.”

Below is the full release.

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Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett and Managing Director Brett Bonda have returned to the United States after presenting the Ballet’s Road to China and Beyond initiative at the U.S. Department of State’s 2014 Cultural Pillar Delegation for the US-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE), July 9 and 10, in Beijing, China. Ms. Winslett and Mr. Bonda were joined by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, along with representatives from the National Geographic Society, Carnegie Hall and the National China Garden Foundation for this distinguished forum that promotes cultural understanding between the American and Chinese nations.

“We could not have been more pleased with the outcome of this extraordinarily rich trip to China,” said Ms. Winslett. “Brett and I felt the warm and gracious welcome of the Chinese people, and to have been asked to represent the United States as a cultural pillar delegation member at this year’s People-to-People Exchange was a tremendous honor for us and for Richmond Ballet. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to get to know our fellow participants as well. We feel as though we have laid the groundwork for blossoming partnerships both here at home and in China as Richmond Ballet continues to expand its horizons in the coming years.”

As members of the forum’s cultural pillar, Richmond Ballet, National Geographic, Carnegie Hall and the National China Garden Foundation formed the American delegation that examined culture and the importance of cultural exchange. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel from the U.S. Department of State and China’s Vice Minister of Education Hao Ping presented the collective findings of the American and Chinese delegations to Secretary Kerry and Vice-Premier Liu Yandong on the final day of the conference. Under Secretary Stengel made particular note of the Ballet’s programs in the summation of the cultural pillar’s discussions, a great source of pride for Ms. Winslett and Mr. Bonda. Among the six pillars represented at this year’s CPE – culture, education, science and technology, sports, women’s issues, and health – the visiting and host delegations collected 106 deliverables.

“We found that our Road to China program fit perfectly with what this conference was really all about,” said Mr. Bonda. “At the heart of any cultural exchange program is an understanding that the exchange goes both ways. We feel as though our program truly embraces this hope and we are thankful that we have met such willing partners in China to help us construct a program that we believe will set Richmond Ballet on a very exciting and greatly expanded course for the future.”

“I want to thank the very many people, the nongovernmental and private sector partners, who have come to Beijing,” said Secretary Kerry in his closing remarks on July 10. “I think you represent the best – those of you who have come from America, the best of our patriotic and pioneering spirit. And I know our Chinese partners here today share in that pride…If there is one thing that we have learned over the course of this dialogue, it’s that this kind of event and partnerships that are represented by the People-to-People Exchange don’t build themselves. They are built by people. They’re built by people who are open to the possibilities and who have a large enough spirit to accept the idea that it’s worth working at it.”

“Together, if the United States and China act with a spirit of fairness, reciprocity, and shared responsibility for shared challenges, then we can build a very strong economic tie and a cultural understanding of each other that will benefit all of our citizens and bind us together,” Secretary Kerry continued. “That’s how we can define this next century. I am convinced of it, and I’m convinced you’re convinced of it, which is why [the CPE participants] are here today. That is the promise of our partnership with the Chinese people. That’s the promise that President Obama wants us to live out.”

“We were happy to find that there was tremendous interest in the depth and comprehensive nature of our Road to China project,” said Ms. Winslett. “After all, within this program, we have elements that educate the students in our Minds In Motion program about Chinese culture, elements that touch the lives of our professional dancers with both the opportunity to share the stage with members from the National Ballet of China in Richmond and to perform in China itself, and elements that will hopefully excite our patrons at home as we plan to celebrate the Chinese New Year in grand fashion.”

Education earned much of the focus of the 2014 forum, fitting as this year marks the 35th anniversary of student exchange between China and the United States. During the forum’s closing ceremony, Chinese and American students representing the new “One Thousand Schools Hands Together” initiative performed songs and publically recited a pledge that demonstrated their commitment in working together to protect the planet’s environment. With its focus on children and in providing a green, community-oriented vision for the future, Richmond Ballet hopes to learn more about this promising initiative, seeing a meaningful pair in the Ballet’s own Minds In Motion program.

Ms. Winslett and Mr. Bonda were also approached about the possibility of expanding the Ballet’s multi-city tour while in China next year while talks of developing a farther-reaching community engagement component for the scheduled tour in May of 2015 also generated interest. Richmond Ballet hopes that the 2015 tour could now include additional opportunities for company dancers to connect with local students both in and outside of the studio.

“Over 30 years ago, it was hard to imagine that when we were thinking about taking this company professional, we would be where we are today, recognized on an international level,” added Ms. Winslett. “We have reached this point because we have stayed true to our founding mission. We have always said that it would be through the means of the work, by maintaining the highest quality of an artistic product, Richmond Ballet would expect to make a significant contribution to the art form on a national basis, and now even outside of the United States. And indeed, we have done so. Through 30 years of small, consistent steps upward, our state, our country, and now the world is noticing that what we are doing matters. It is extraordinarily gratifying to know that we have been acknowledged in such a meaningful way.”

While in Beijing, Ms. Winslett and Mr. Bonda also had the opportunity to visit the National Centre for the Performing Arts, where the Ballet will perform next year, as well as a local dance school, I See Cinderella International Children’s Art Center (ISEE). The large ballet school hosted Ms. Winslett and Mr. Bonda for an extensive tour, with Ms. Winslett offering an impromptu lesson for a group of eager students rehearsing a variation from The Sleeping Beauty.

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Original — July 09, 2014

The Richmond Ballet will participate in the 2014 Cultural Pillar Delegation for the US-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE)1 in Beijing, China on July 9th and 10th.

Representatives of the State Ballet of Virginia — Artistic Director Stoner Winslett and Managing Director Brett Bonda — will join Secretary of State John Kerry and other invited participants,2 alongside Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, for the annual forum.

“We are incredibly honored and excited to participate in this year’s CPE,” said Brett Bonda. “We are privileged to represent the United States, Richmond Ballet, and the performing arts while in China, and we welcome the opportunity to participate alongside such esteemed company.”

The Richmond Ballet tour of China precedes its scheduled May 2015 trip to China to perform at the 15th annual Meet in Beijing Arts Festival. Both trips to Beijing underpins its “Road to China and Beyond” initiative, which will foster cultural exchange programs celebrating Chinese culture in the US during the company’s 2014-15 season.

“We are proud to play a part in our country’s continuing efforts to establish a collaborative relationship with China,” Bonda said. “We believe that dance, which exists beyond the barriers of the spoken word, serves as a strong and meaningful language of mutual cultural exchange and respect.”


  1. Bilateral negotiations between the US and China resumed in 1979. The CPE fosters interpersonal relationships between the two countries in the fields of education, culture, science, technology, sports, and women’s issues. 
  2. The National Geographic Society, Carnegie Hall, and the National China Garden Foundation. 

photo courtesy of the Richmond Ballet

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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