– BY DANIEL JONES –
Photographs by Duncan Cole
Artistic Direction by Neil Ieremia
Welcome, students, to Arts 101. This lesson, we’re in New Zealand learning the basics of art (and dance) appreciation from “Professor” [that’s what we call the experts here at Arts 101] Sean MacDonald of Black Grace, the Pacific island’s leading dance troupe. Black Grace will be performing at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts March 7-8.
MacDonald is a professional dancer and co-founding member of the group, which was created in 1995 and has since performed in North and Central America and across Europe.
Here are BOOMER’s notes for you to crib from:
NOTES FROM ‘PROFESSOR’ MACDONALD’S ‘LECTURE’
RE: Black Grace at U or R’s Modlin Center for the Arts – March 7-8
I. WHY ART MATTERS
A) Art informs people and can be a mirror to what’s happening within a society, a culture.
B) Art provides people the opportunity to reflect on their own lives and their surroundings.
C) “It’s also meant to entertain you, to let you leave what you’re going through and to come and experience something else.”
D) Art provides differing perspectives. “It’s really hard to do some things really new now in any art form; a lot of things have already been done. What makes it new is the individual’s take on it.”
II. DANCE CONNECTIONS
A) It’s a social thing: “Every culture has some form of dance, be it a social thing, a community kind of thing, where the community gets together and they interact physically in dance …”
B) Modern dance is something of a reaction to ballet in France in the 19th century.
C) For the audience, seeing a live dance performance is a visual, auditory and, perhaps most of all, an emotional experience.
III. HOW TO BEST ENJOY BLACK GRACE IN RICHMOND
A) In New Zealand, “black” is synonymous with having courage; “grace” is self-explanatory.
B) What to look for: You will see the sheer effect of athleticism and an overall explosive, high-energy, fast-paced hour-and-a-half show with three performances. The music is very up and driving, the dancers moving in unison and interweaving patterns, with ample body percussion.
C) What to listen for: Black Grace combines western modern dance with New Zealand’s indigenous culture, combining traditional beat rhythms, R and B and dub music.
D) Don’t overanalyze. “A lot people go to dance and they sort of worry about what’s happening. But if you just relax and watch, and just let it wash over you, the messages and the story will become quite clear to you.”
For a local perspective, we spoke with Brett Bonda, the managing director of The Richmond Ballet. Bonda, who first came to the Richmond Ballet as a professional company dancer 28 years ago, has a bachelor of arts degree in ballet with a teaching certificate.
The Ballet will perform in early February and then meet the community in a series of events in late March.
NOTES FROM PROFESSOR BONDA’S LESSON
RE: Richmond Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake, Feb. 8-10 at the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage, and “Leap Weak” March 17-24 at various locations.
A) Universal language: “Dance is a universal language; everyone can dance.”
B) You don’t have to understand it to appreciate it: “But you can just go appreciate the movement quality. … It’s hard not to appreciate it and enjoy it. You just need to give it a chance.”
C) Not every performance has a backstory to follow, so concentrate on the overall experience. It’s not a film to be followed – but a show to experience.
D) A dancer’s only instrument is his or her body – which is very athletic and highly trained. In a ballet dancer, you can see the full potential of the body as well as the potential for human emotion to be portrayed in dancing.
E) Emotional Evocation of Dance: As long as you feel moved emotionally after the performance, you’ve experienced the whole point: “You can come and see Nutcracker or Swan Lake and get away from the hustle and bustle of the world and everything that’s going on around you and just see the pure beauty of movement.”
I. HOW TO BEST ENJOY RICHMOND BALLET’S PERFOR- MANCE OF SWAN LAKE AND THE EVENTS OF ‘LEAP WEAK’:
A) Swan Lake: Composed by Tchaikovsky in 1875-1876, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour performance with a story of magic, mystery and transformation.
B) “Leap Weak” purpose: “Here in Richmond, many people have not experienced the world of ballet,” Bonda said in a news release in mid-January. “But this week will give them the opportunity to get to know Richmond Ballet in an up-close and personal way.”
C) The weeklong celebration of ballet includes a number of special events held throughout Greater Richmond, among them:
1. guest appearances by the Ballet’s dancers on Monday, March 18, at Can Can Brasserie and on Thursday, March 21, at Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point Fashion Park.
2. a tour of the facility and the opportunity to see the Richmond Ballet company dancers rehearse on Tuesday, March 19.
3. an art exhibition of works depicting Richmond Ballet company dancers on Wednesday, March 20.
4. a performance of London’s Royal Ballet School on Friday, March 22, and Sunday, March 24.
5. For more information, visit richmondballet.com.
Daniel Jones is BOOMER’s editorial assistant. Contact him at Daniel@TheBoomerMagazine.com.