Thursday, April 24, 2014
Artistic director Stoner Winslett introduces the company's dancers.
Richmond Ballet dancer Valerie Tellman, known for her starring roles in Cinderella and Rodeo, among many other productions, starts rehearsing today with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet for a series of performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

“I’m a little anxious,” she said during a kickoff event Friday evening for the Richmond Ballet’s 30th anniversary season. “I’ve been here my whole career.”

Tellman, who started with Richmond Ballet as an 11-year-old student, says she finds the prospect of dancing with Farrell’s company “exciting and a little nerve-wracking.” She credits Stoner Winslett, Richmond Ballet’s artistic director, with supporting her desire to work with the renowned ballerina and dance teacher.

Valerie Tellman at the 30th anniversary season kickoff.
She says she knows only one of the eight ballet works the Suzanne Farrell Ballet will be performing — Mozartiana, which the late George Balanchine created for Farrell and Ib Anderson in 1981. Tellman will be working with the company in D.C. for seven weeks before returning to Richmond to perform as the Butterfly in The Nutcracker. She doesn’t know yet which parts she’ll be assigned — “I’ll go and they’ll put me where they want to put me.”

Winslett announced Tellman’s news while introducing Richmond Ballet’s dancers at Friday’s event, which celebrated the company’s three decades. Surrounded by a display of costumes and video projections from past performances, Winslett said, “I just feel like the luckiest person in the world. I arrived at a time when the Richmond Ballet was bubbling with potential.”

Thirty years ago, she noted, “There was no place in Virginia for a professional dancer to have a job.”

Winslett recognized Catherine R. "Kitty" Claiborne, a longtime trustee, advocate and fundraiser for the Richmond Ballet in attendance Friday, as being instrumental in founding the company. (Read more about Winslett and the company's beginnings in this profile by Harry Kollatz Jr.)

As she called the dancers forward by name, Winslett pointed out that Thomas Ragland, attending the event on crutches, has been temporarily sidelined by partial tear in his right Achilles tendon.

“I felt it during small jumps,” Ragland said later, “and decided to have it checked on. Hopefully I won’t be out for long.” A Henrico High School graduate, Ragland first studied dance with Annette Holt at Richmond’s City Dance program. He’s been with the Richmond Ballet since 1999, and teaches jazz dance there, as well.

Ballet II dancer Ira White started with the Minds in Motion program.
Winslett also introduced Ira White, a Richmond Ballet II member whose experience with the company began when he was a fourth grader at Mary Munford Elementary School participating in the Minds in Motion program.

Afterward, White said his Minds in Motion teacher, Katherine Smothers, encouraged him to try out for Team XL and then audition for Team XXL, a performance group.

“She saw something in me that I never knew I possessed,” he says. “That was some of the most fun I ever had. It gave me a taste of what it was like to be a dancer.”

After auditioning and performing in The Nutcracker, White says, he was hooked. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a dancer.”

A 2011 graduate of St. Christopher’s School, he’s now in his second year with Richmond Ballet II, which performs in schools and around the state as well as in Richmond Ballet main company productions such as the upcoming Bow Out, The Nutcracker and Cinderella. Richmond Ballet II dancers also serve as understudies who can fill in, if necessary, for main company dancers like the injured Ragland.

Choreographer Philip Neal works with dancers Fernando Sabino and
Maggie Small.
Guests at Friday’s kickoff event also were invited to watch the dancers in rehearsal. When I arrived, an ensemble number was wrapping up. Choreographer and veteran New York City Ballet dancer Philip Neal asked two lead dancers, Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino, to remain on stage and continue working with him on Phoenix Rising, set for its world premiere Oct. 1 to 6 at the Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre. Also being performed on those dates will be Bow Out, choreographed by Val Caniparoli and commissioned by the Richmond Ballet in 1995.

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