Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward recently talked with Ricardo Melendez, director of Virginia Ballet Theater and associate director at TRDance Center. Virginia Ballet’s annual Sweetheart Concert, coming up Feb 14 & 15, is the pride of Valentine’s Day weekend. Dancers perform three beautiful ballets from classical to contemporary. Included are La Sylphide, one of the world’s oldest romantic ballets, an original presentation with on-stage musical accompaniment, and a dance set to Hoagie Carmichael’s music, which will send you and your Valentine dancing and singing out the door.
TW: Ricardo, thanks for meeting here in the TRDance studios. This feels like a really creative, happy space.
RM: It is. The classes are full of laughter and passion.
TW: What do you teach in the classes?
RM: In every class, the dancers learn and practice awareness. Dancers have to learn to be conscious of their bodies and their reactions to everything. They have to know when they lean over, does their body want to inhale or exhale? They have to learn what they are feeling in relation to their breathing, to the music, to the choreography and to the situation. Each moment is an opportunity to react to the circumstances of that moment. How are they responding to this energy? What do they feel? And how do they feel it? They express their personal reaction through dance. We cannot change the reaction of others, but we can shape our own actions.That shapes character. Who we are is the shape of our responses.
TW: You are a philosopher as well as a director and choreographer! What exactly is Dance?
RM: Dance has two definitions. It is “geometry in motion.” Dance is shapes in motion through space.
TW: That sounds poetic.
RM: Dance is also human passion in motion.
TW: And that definition is romantic.
RM: Dance is ephemeral. The emotion of a moment can never be recreated just that way again. Dancers express what they feel and interact with the audience through the shared dance experience. Dance is a discipline. On the doing of it, the dancer lets go of restraints and moves us as human beings. That’s what makes it imminent and makes it connect with the audience. The immediacy to share that specific moment in our lives makes it so precious.
TW: Which leads me to ask about the Sweetheart Concert.
RM: The idea of love is the theme of our Sweetheart Concert. Audience members are allowed to share a fleeting moment in the most human way through three distinct dances.The first is an excerpt from the classical romantic ballet, La Sylphide. The costuming is white; there are wings and light, graceful, fluid movements. There is a traditional St. Valentine’s Day feel.
TW: It sounds idyllic.
RM: It is. The middle excerpt is neo-classical. This new work is performed with cellist Jeff Phelps and pianist Dr. Stephen Coxe performing live on stage. The work extends an abstraction into a presentation by combining artistic harmonies of dance and music. Each art form has its own beauty, and the audience enjoys both arts as they meld together on stage.
TW: That sounds innovative.
RM: It is. And this is its world premiere!
TW: And the third work?
RM: “I Heart Hoagie” is a collection of sassy contemporary pieces set to the music of jazz great Hoagy Carmichael (who wrote "Georgia on My Mind"). The music for the dancers is sung by Shannon Furcell. This segment has a contemporary jazz feel. I like things to flow, and these three dances flow from one to the next in a fluid motion. The center of gravity changes from the classical to the jazz number.
TW: Please, explain that.
RM: In classical ballet, the dancer’s center of gravity is high to sustain being on their toes. With jazz, the center of gravity moves to the hips. The whole body shifts to find balance. The change is noticeable and gives a more playful tone to the motion. The audience feels it and leaves singing and dancing out the door.
TW: My final question is always, “What would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?”
RM: We have a professional ballet company in Tidewater. It has grown and strengthened itself. The faculty is comprised entirely of dancers from different eras who speak the language of movement and flow. Right here in Tidewater there is an opportunity to participate in dance physically by taking one of the many adult classes from pilates to ballet. Or the readers can participate visually by supporting the dancers on stage and attending a performance. Virginia Ballet Theater is Tidewater’s ballet company. We share our art form. These are athletes who make it all look easy. Come and enjoy it!
TW: Thank you, Ricardo, for sharing your insights with Tidewater Women. And thank you to Todd Rosenlieb and TRDance Center for being such a shining light in the community.
Annual Sweetheart Concert • Virginia Ballet Theatre Feb. 14, 2014 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 15 at 8 pm. • The Tidewater Community College Roper Performing Arts Center, 340 Granby St., Norfolk • http://tidewater.universitytickets.com • 757 822-1450 ($)
TRDance Center • 325 Granby St., Norfolk • www.trdance.org • 757.626.3262