Sunday, April 20, 2014
The day's events include a journey by torchlight along the Trail of Enslaved Africans.
Meet Abraham Lincoln, find codes hidden in quilts and learn about American slavery by torchlight at the fifth annual Civil War and Emancipation Day held by the Future of Richmond’s Past. It’s all happening Saturday (April 12) from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. to commemorate the 150th anniversaries of the war and proclamation of freedom for slaves. With more than 25 activities spread out all over the city, there is a little something for everyone, says Edward Ayers, University of Richmond president and chair of the event’s steering committee.

“Every site has a different tempo and a different flavor,” says Carolyn Martin, a steering committee member.

The event is free to the event is free to the public with the exception of the Civil War Sampler Bus Tour. The $25 tour beginning and ending at the Valentine Richmond History Center explains Richmond’s role as the capital of the Confederacy while visiting sites in the city as well as the battlefields of Gaines’ Mill and Cold Harbor, says Alyssa Murray, project coordinator. A reservation is required for the tour, but registration is encouraged, though not mandatory, for all other events.

The Civil War and Emancipation Day is a collaboration of historical institutions working together to celebrate the unique history of Richmond, Murray says. The event began in 2010, when it drew a crowd of 2000 after being put together in 30 days, Martin says.

 “This seemed to be the quickest way to take advantage of what we had,” Ayers says. Last year, 5,000 people attended the Civil War and Emancipation Day.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s RamRide will provide shuttle service, and student volunteers from UR, VCU and Virginia Union University will help with the event, Ayers says.

Richmonder Elizabeth Van Lew was an
abolitionist and Union spy.

Many cities have some sort of commemoration for the Civil War, but Richmond is unique in its inclusion of slavery emancipation, Ayers says. The event offers many different perspectives, including the slaves and women during this time period.

“It gives people a chance in their own backyards to take pause,” Ayers says.

The committee adds something new every year, with this year’s event featuring a walk through the brand new Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, which recently moved to 00 W. Clay St. The interior is not entirely finished, but people will still be able to walk through and see the new site for the first time, Ayers says.

Each attendee will receive a “passport” to carry around to the locations. They can get a stamp for each location they attend, Martin says. Ten stamps will earn a free T-shirt.

A spy tour is another new feature this year. The Spies, Unionists and Resurrectionists: Richmond’s Unionist Underground Bus Tour is a street-guided tour discussing unionist spies living in Richmond during the Civil War at 10 a.m. and another at 1 p.m., both departing from Chimborazo Medical Museum. Pair this tour with the family-friendly Civil War Spies program at the Valentine Richmond History Center from noon to 3 p.m. to learn about African American and abolitionist roles and the ways information was passed, such as through hidden messages in quilts.

John Mitchell Jr., an equal rights activist and
newspaper editor, will be portrayed
at the Maggie Walker National Historic Site.

Walk the path of the slaves on the Trail of Enslaved Africans to experience the hardships of being a slave on a three-hour, 1.5-mile, torch-lit walk at 6:30 p.m. The shuttle will leave from Main Street Station. Martin recommends this activity and says to try it even if you attend only one activity all day. 

“It’s fun to be a tourist in your own town,” she says.

There will be free parking at the Virginia Historical Society and Main Street Station. Both locations are shuttles stops providing free transportation around to any of the locations. Parking is also available for $5 at the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, another shuttle stop. “Abraham Lincoln” has been known to make an appearance on these shuttles, Murray says. Food vendors will be present at most locations as well.

Meanwhile, planning is already underway for next year’s event, which will commemorate 150 years since the end of slavery and the Civil War, Murray says.

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Irene Ziegler on the set of The Walking Dead
with series protagonist Rick Grimes in the background.
Did you happen to catch Richmonder Irene Ziegler in the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead post-apocalyptic zombie drama? She tells us:

“On March 30, I was backstage, awaiting my entrance in a student musical at the University of Richmond when I got a text from my son, Addison Martz (VCU ‘15). ‘OMG! You’re a cannibal!’ he wrote, referring to my appearance on the season 4 finale of The Walking Dead. That was a big surprise to me, too. The producers keep such a tight lid on the show, they wouldn’t even let me read a script. I arrived on set and was handed my lines, which provided no clues or context beyond my description as ‘Broadcasting Woman.’ I’ve since learned that the writers are famous for killing off their human characters, so I count myself lucky to still be among the living. Whether I’ll return in season 5 is a secret not even my agent knows, so I can’t say if I’ll eat or be eaten. I’m just really pleased to have some street cred with my son, who calls me ‘momster.’ ”

If you missed the episode, you can probably catch it On Demand. And we’ll just have to wait until series returns in October to find out Ziegler’s fate. Meanwhile, you can see her in a less carnivorous role as Polly Wyeth in Virginia Repertory Theatre's Other Desert Cities, directed by Chase Kniffen and also starring Joe Inscoe and Melissa Johnston Price, from April 24 to May 18. In this Tony-nominated play by Jon Robin Baitz, a daughter's plan to write a tell-all memoir about her politically influential family sets off fireworks.

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Today through Sunday, the Latin Ballet of Virginia will perform El Beso de la Abeja (The Kiss of the Bee), to promote awareness of the critical need to protect nature, in particular bee populations, which have decreased by 3 million hives since 2006. Honeybees are the most effective flower pollinators, without which flowers would die, leading to a downward spiral for living things.

Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Francisco Mesa, a composer from Spain who helped write music for part of the production, will dance along with the 30 other Latin Ballet dancers ranging in age from 7 to 45, says Ana Ines King, artistic director of the Latin Ballet. “We combine flamenco technique with contemporary dance, tribal dances from Brazil like Capoeira and hip hop,” King says.
Spanish composer Francisco Mesa

This performance will take place from April 3 to 6 at the Cultural Arts Center of Glen Allen. Using original music incorporating natural sounds of the bees with musical instruments, the dances serve to represent the relationship between humans and bees with an artistic flair, King says.

Kiss of the Bee was inspired by Verde de Jardin (Green Garden), a Latin Ballet performance from a few years ago that focused on protecting the environment and promoting nature. A friend introduced King to a composer whose music incorporated the sounds of bees. She then began learning about the history of the bees and their important role in the circle of life, something other civilizations had noticed. The bees’ actions parallel the meaning of love, she says: “Love for them is like giving without expecting to receive.” King thought this was a positive message for families, especially children, given the prior success of Verde de Jardin.

Later this month, the troupe will be embarking on a 10-day trip to Mexico, where they'll represent the United States at the “Feria Internacional de Libro 2014” during the international cultural festival “Feria de San Marcos.” The Latin Ballet will perform El Pintor in the Mexican states of Zacatecas and Guerrero from April 20 to 28.

Tickets for the current show are $15 for students, children and senior citizens, and $20 for adults. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

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Shira Lanyi leads her fellow Richmond Ballet dancers in Shadows on the Inside
by Gavin Stewart. Photos by Sarah Ferguson for Richmond Ballet
There’s a lot going on this weekend, but don’t overlook the Richmond Ballet’s New Works Festival, going on through Sunday (March 30) at the Studio Theatre. Presented as works-in-progress, the short pieces include Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz’s Exulto, Mexican-born Edgar Zendejas’ Reife, former New York City Ballet dancer Melissa Barak’s Eos Chasma and Shadows on the Inside by Richmond Ballet II’s Gavin Stewart — the first member of his company to be invited to participate in the festival as a choreographer. Each of them had 25 rehearsal hours to develop the pieces with the Richmond Ballet dancers.

I was in the audience on Wednesday night, and I appreciated the filmed interview and introduction by each choreographer. Stewart’s piece was performed last, but I’ll start with him because he’s local — and because his Shadows on the Inside, a smooth, stylish take on the AMC series Mad Men (a day in the life of character Don Draper) made me smile. In his introduction, Stewart said he had done choreography when he was a student at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and had fallen in love with it. The Oklahoma native said he was a little apprehensive about choreographing for Richmond Ballet, especially as a Richmond Ballet II member, but he said that he and the dancers developed a rapport. 

Lauren Fagone and Matthew Frain
in Exulto by Peter Quanz

Going back to the program's start, Quanz, who choreographed for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Co. in Canada before going freelance, talked about the Spanish baroque music bringing warmth to his piece, Exulto, which he said drew inspiration from the Richmond dancers who helped bring it to life. Though the music is from another era, the dance incorporated modern movement and composition so that, as he noted, it didn’t feel like a museum piece.

Cody Beaton and Fernando Sabino in Reife.by Edgar Zendejas.

Zendejas, a jazz dancer who went on to do choreography for Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal and then start his own company called Ezdanza, said he usually doesn’t explain much about the concept of his pieces. He said the viewers bring their own experience to the work, which they can accept or reject. A description of Reife on his company’s Facebook page says, “As we mature spiritually there is less need to have our self-respect bolstered by praise and special attention. As our thought processes become more compassionate and less self-obsessed, we feel increasingly satisfied with ourselves and our lives. We relate to people more easily and feel no need to draw attention to our successes or complain about our problems.” I’m not sure I would have gleaned that message, but the piece, which began without music, in low lighting and with minimal, black costumes, left me with mental images to store away and reflect on later. (One of those is the lifting of one male dancer by another, which is not something I’m used to seeing.)

Melissa Robinson and Fernando Sabino lead Richmond Ballet dancers
in Melissa Barak’s Eos Chasma.

Introducing Eos Chasma, Barak said the music she chose (Cruel Sister for String Orchestra), took her to a place that was scary, dark, hostile and unfamiliar. Given the Richmond Ballet dancers’ skill, expertise and talent, she said she was able to feel more comfortable going outside her comfort zone. The music was, indeed, jarring, in contrast with the warm lighting and earth-toned leotards. This piece felt furtive and unsettling at times, but I sensed strength in numbers when the dancers moved together in sync, as if part of one being.

Performances are at 6:30 tonight (Friday), 6:30 and 8:30 Saturday night, and 2 and 4  p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $20 to $40.

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Sonya Clark (second from left) receives a gift basket from the stylists
involved in the "Hair Craft Project." Photos by Olivia Harrison
The “Hair Craft Project” at 1708 Gallery may have closed, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of this inspired exhibition conceived of by Sonya Clark, chairwoman of the VCUArts Department of Craft/Material Studies.

“I hope to travel it to other venues throughout the nation and ultimately find a permanent home for it,” Clark says, noting that one of her previous projects, “Beaded Prayers,” traveled to 30 venues over a dozen years. Shown at VCU’s Anderson Gallery in 2009, it included the work of 5,000 people from 35 countries.

If I hadn’t seen the 1708 exhibition, I’m not sure I would have thought a lot about the artistry that’s involved in hair braiding. Clark emphasized it by asking the group of Richmond stylists not only to braid her hair and have the results photographed, but to complete works with silk thread on canvases that would hang on the wall. The results seemed to surprise even them. During a gallery talk earlier this month, Nasirah Muhammad (Ancient Techniques) said of working on the canvas, “I had to put it down and come back to it. Then, all of a sudden, it flowed.”

Winning stylist Jamilah Williams (right) with Taryn Adkins and Jason Glass

Clark noted that when she wore the style by Jamilah Williams (Jah Earth/Jah Braids, 908-8240) on a trip to Italy for the Venice Art Biennale, “people were photographing the back of my head.” Williams, who calls her design a “lotus” style, said she was overwhelmed to know that her handiwork traveled so far.

About a week after the gallery talk, 1708 announced that juror A’Lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, selected Williams as the first-place winner from among the 11 hairstyles. Williams received $500, and second-place winner Ife Robinson (Indigo Salon, 354-0974) received $250.

Best-in-Show stylists Jamilah Williams (left) and Ife Robinson,
with Sonya Clark wearing their creations.

Another juror, Lowery Stokes Sims, chief curator at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, chose best-in-show winners from among the canvases. First place and $500 went to Kamala Bhagat (Natural Salon and Spa), while second place and $250 went to Chaunda King (also of Natural Salon and Spa).

In addition, gallery visitors were invited to vote for their favorite hairstyle and canvas. It appears that they were in sync with the jurors, because after more than 500 voted, People’s Choice Awards went to Bhagat for the canvas and Williams for the hairstyle.

Best-in-Show canvas works by Kamala Bhagat (left) and Chaunda King

Clark says, “One of the goals of the 'Hair Craft Project' was to bring together the multiple communities that I belong to as an artist, professor, black woman, researcher on the semiotics of hair, etc. The pastiche in these projects I create is central to my work as an artist. It is a means to permeate boundaries, create dialog and generate cultural confluences. What I learn in the process is always invaluable. And, it almost always leads me to the next idea.” 

She adds that she is working on a project that will include barbers and hairdressers in a literary festival in Miami. And, “I have another project proposal that will bring together museums, artist-hairdressers and Ghanaian sign painters,” Clark says.

I look forward to seeing how these projects evolve. Meanwhile, a solo show by Clark, “Same Difference,” continues at Reynolds Gallery through April 5, featuring sculptural works that address themes of cultural identity and heritage. She says, "The pieces are riffs on cultural identity made from hair, combs and textiles with music and Albers' color theory and a few other surprises thrown in the mix." Also part of the show are portraits that Clark made of each of the stylists from the "Hair Craft Project."

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