Richmond Ballet’s opening night performance at the Joyce Theater illustrated the perils of regional dance companies in the big city. How can regional dance companies compete when they come to New York City and they are compared to New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre? The answer, of course, is that they can’t. As a critic, you can’t compare apples to oranges except in the broadest possible sense and that applies to small and large dance companies. Still, there are some caveats that can help smooth the way for the country mice in the big city, if I may mix up my metaphors a bit. If I were a director of a regional company, one thing I would avoid would be programming ballets with a high degree of technical difficulty.

Cody Beaton in <i>Polaris</i> © Sarah Ferguson
Cody Beaton in Polaris
© Sarah Ferguson

Val Caniparoli’s Swipe opened the show and it quickly became clear that the company has a problem. There were some good performances, including Cody Beaton and Elena Bello. Beaton is the company’s number one ballerina even if she came across as a little too anxious to please. I think I would have liked her better if she hadn’t flirted relentlessly with the audience. Bello is not a lithe dancer, she’s more of a muscular powerhouse who is fun to watch. The level of difficulty in Swipe was such that not all the dancers looked good doing the steps and that was fatal. There was a lack of continuity in several of the dancers’ phrasing which gave the piece a disjointed look. The men came in substantially second to the women’s technical ability and that is where most of the distraction came from. Most of them were not quite able to pull off the tricks they were trying to execute. All of this was compounded by Sandra Woodall’s dubious costuming. I don’t like street clothes on dancers in a ballet. The men kept taking off their shirts and putting them back on for no apparent reason. When they were dressed, their shirts were hanging open and flapping around, obscuring the dancers’ lines. It was a sloppy mess.

The Glazunov Pas, second on the program, featured Beaton partnered by Marty Davis. It was a re-hash of every pas de deux you’ve ever seen and while Beaton was engaging and pulled off her difficult steps, Davis struggled to get through his. This is not something I enjoy seeing and I don't think you should programme something like this on stage in New York City and not expect to take a hit for it. Davis looked inadequate and it was a distraction. Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Polaris was a better fit for the company. There was an immediate appearance of comfort and the whole company worked well together. Groups of dancers surged and flowed under dim, filtered light that cast a somber aura around this piece. There was plenty of dancing but it was free-flowing and suited these dancers’ abilities very well.

Cody Beaton and Trevor David in <i>Lift the Fallen</i> © Sarah Ferguson
Cody Beaton and Trevor David in Lift the Fallen
© Sarah Ferguson

Closing the night was Ma Cong’s Lift the Fallen, set to music of Max Richter. His music is everywhere right now, being used by lots of choreographers, and it can be taxing. There is an epic, cinematic sweep to his compositions with loads of cascading arpeggios and rich orchestration that creates a super-saturated sound and it’s all a bit exhausting. The long – very long– climaxes of Richter’s music go on and on, here well beyond the bounds of good taste. The company pulled off Cong’s choreography very well. Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino were a strong central couple and Bello again stood out as a dancer to watch. Women were carried aloft in triumphal rushes across the stage and there was a good deal of dashing and circling the stage that effectively captured the music.

Unfortunatley Richmond Ballet lack the talent required to take on demanding classical ballet pieces without it being obvious that they fall short. In the contemporary pieces that are a fusion of modern and classical dance the company fared much better. Still, they are an engaging bunch who aim to please and their goodwill radiated from the stage.