The Nutcracker at Richmond CenterStage

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I was supposed to be at work all day yesterday. If you promise not to tell anyone that could get me in trouble, I’ll tell you what I did after leaving the office at 10:15am (I was in at 7am, so I got some things done). Winking smile

Our friends in Richmond bought six tickets for the matinee of The Nutcracker at Richmond CenterStage. We went with our godchildren and their significant others. This is our third time at CenterStage (actually Lois’ fourth time) and we have enjoyed each performance immensely.

I may be one of the few adults in America that never saw The Nutcracker growing up. For whatever reason, I never sought out ballet or opera, even though I grew up loving classical music. That said, I didn’t squirm at the thought of seeing it this time, given how much I enjoyed the ballet portion of the Richmond CenterStage opening (covered in this post).


Even though I hadn’t seen The Nutcracker before, I knew the music very well. I am a major fan of The Richmond Symphony and they performed Tchaikovsky’s work beautifully. Everyone in the orchestra contributed, so I feel badly calling out two instruments. The flutists were incredible. There were a number of harp solos that were delivered flawlessly.

The ballet was much more ornate than I imagined it would be. The costumes and sets in the first half were gorgeous. There were nearly two dozen kids as well (always good for heart-warming chuckles, I’ll give a specific example later). Not to ruin it for the other person in America who hasn’t seen it, but there isn’t much ballet in the first half. There’s some dancing and graceful moving around, but the real ballet mostly takes place after intermission.

The most impressive scene in the first Act is the magical coming to life of the dolls. Awesome in every respect.

Act I ends with the dream sequences beginning, first up The Enchanted Snow Forest.

There are a number of different fantasy scenes (dreams) in the second half, all set to traditional ballet. All of the choreography is top notch and the costumes are stunning. That said, the various scenes are not equal. Some are adorable (non-stop chuckling in the audience), specifically, the Russian Dance, which includes a bear doing ballet. On the other end of the spectrum is Waltz of Flowers, which is visually interesting, but way too repetitive.

The men seemed to all perk up during the Arabian Dance. The ballerina was stunning, her outfit inventive (and suggestive) and her movements (dancing) were mesmerizing.

The two most impressive ballerinas (to my taste) were the Sugar Plum Fairy (the program lists a number of possible dancers, so I can’t be sure which one I saw yesterday) and the Snow Queen who ended Act I (that role also lists multiple possible dancers).

Coming back to the child-induced chuckling. There is a scene with Little Bo Peep and her sheep. The sheep are all little girls. All but one sheep is dressed in white. The smallest girl/sheep is dressed in black. She was beyond adorable and every time she wiggled, we all giggled. Smile

I really enjoyed the ballet but I admit to occasionally feeling that the visual distraction was keeping me from fully immersing in the music, which is still my first love. I’ll need to get back to Richmond to see a performance of the symphony, with nothing else going on (no Cirque, no Ballet, no Opera, etc.). I look forward to that!

Kudos to all involved in this excellent production. Unfortunately, yesterday was the last day of a two-week run, so you won’t get to see the same show I saw, at least not this year.


While the ballet was a highlight of the day, it was by no means the only one. Before the show, the six of us, plus our benefactors (our godchildren’s parents), had a wonderful meal at Chez Foushee. Here’s a shot of us, thanks to the waiter:


Lois forced us to split four desserts. Here are two of them, just make you a bit jealous:


After a little R&R following the show, our benefactors were back in action preparing a home-made feast to top off the night. Here’s the home-made pasta drying:


Thanks to everyone for making yesterday a memorable and special day! I leave you with a shot of our wonderful godchildren:


Cirque De La Symphonie at Richmond CenterStage

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I grew up on classical music. My dad had thousands of full reel-to-reel tapes that he played non-stop from tape #1 through the last. When I need to be rejuvenated, I still turn to classical music, though I listen to other stuff way more often.

Last night our friends invited us to a very special performance of Cirque De La Symphonie at Richmond CenterStage. It was a one-night performance (with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra), but you can catch them with other orchestras and I highly recommend that you do!

This was our second time seeing the Richmond Symphony perform. I covered the previous one in this post. I am sure it won’t be our last, they are wonderful! They are led by Steven Smith, Musical Director and Conductor. Last night his role was expanded, as he also interacted with the Cirque performers, including one fantastic illusion.


The symphony performed four or five pieces without the Cirque performers on stage. During those pieces, the symphony was well lit and it was as visually interesting as it was aurally. My particular vantage point allowed me to focus on the cello players. Their fingers were flying up and down the frets, mesmerizing. The violin section was all bows to me, moving in unison at lightning speed.


I love most instruments, but I always surprise myself when one is highlighted and I catch myself thinking “That’s really one of my favorites!”. Last night was the flute. Many of the pieces were flute heavy (or should I say flute heaven?). Smile

The last row was the horns. I love brass (see, I told you, I really love them all!). Our godson’s fiancée plays the French Horn, so  I couldn’t help but try to pick out every note from the four French Horn players. I wasn’t so successful at that.

One last shout out to the viola section, they were superb.

When the Cirque players were on stage, the orchestra was beautifully but dimly lit. That made it easy to spend 100% of the time being awed by every single performer (six in all, with a few of them performing multiple routines). I have never seen a Cirque performance live. It won’t be my last.

If you know what Cirque is you don’t need my description. If you don’t know, my description wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll just leave you with a few of Lois’ photos of the performance.




Thank you to our friends for inviting us last night and to the Richmond Symphony and Cirque De La Symphonie for a truly magical evening!


We spent a couple of hours in the afternoon wandering around the annual Richmond Folk Festival. A perfect day of weather and music. We didn’t stay at any one stage long enough for me to write a blog about it. If you get a chance to attend one in the future (or later today?), run, don’t walk!


Richmond CenterStage

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The inaugural meeting of the CenterStage Foundation (organized to raise money for this amazing project) was held on September 11th, 2001. In an unplanned tribute to that meeting, a black-tie affair unofficially opening the Carpenter Theater to donors and dignitaries, was held on September 11, 2009.

The official grand opening of Richmond CenterStage was yesterday, September 12th, 2009, and what an opening it was! There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the afternoon, followed by a spectacular performance at night, including all nine resident performing groups.

For an excellent article covering the opening, including a video of a few of the highlights of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, read the coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

So, how did two life-long New Yorkers end up at both the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the grand opening performance? Simple, our closest friends are life-long Richmonders. Bob Mooney is the Vice Chairman of the CenterStage Foundation. He was instrumental, along with hundreds of other civic and artistic minded Richmonders, in working tirelessly, for eight years, to see this project to fruition.

There were five speakers at the podium before the actual ribbon cutting. Jim Ukrop (Chairman of the CenterStage Foundation), Dwight Jones (Mayor of Richmond), Tim Kaine (Governor of Virginia), Kathy Graziano (City Council Representative in Richmond) and Grant Mudge (Artistic Director for Richmond Shakespeare). All were rightfully bursting with pride over the birth of this wonderful Performing Arts center.

This was our first glimpse of the Mayor. Lois and I left extremely impressed with his presence and message. CenterStage is playing a small but important role in a sweeping revitalization of downtown Richmond, and we have faith that Mayor Jones is an excellent person to lead that transformation.

Note: All photos in this post can be clicked on to see larger versions.

Before and after pictures of the ribbon cutting ceremony:

Before Ribbon Cutting

Before Ribbon Cutting

After Ribbon Cutting

After Ribbon Cutting

As the ribbon was cut, dozens (perhaps as many as 200?) of the performers from the various resident companies burst through the doors, in what could only be described as a Mardi Gras style procession. The Jazz Band was incredible (leading the way), and all of the performers, in full regalia, mesmerized the crowd with their grace and infectuous smiles.



Confetti then showered down on the crowd:



After the ceremony, everyone was invited to explore the entire CenterStage complex, including the Carpenter Theater, Rhythm Hall and the Libby Gottwald Community Playhouse. We were blown away by everything we saw. What was more amazing than our own reactions were the spontaneous gasps, oohs and ahs that were involuntarily uttered by practically everyone that walked into any of the spaces (most notably the Carpenter Theater and the Donors Lounge).

Carpenter Theater

Carpenter Theater

To top that off, there was such an incredible spirit of belonging (being a part of this magical place), that after finishing the gasps, strangers started talking to each other and gushing about the place. It was extraordinary!

After grabbing a quick dinner at home, we returned to the Carpenter Theater for the grand opening show. We arrived shortly after 7pm for an 8pm curtain. The place was buzzing with a ton of people there already. The Carpenter Theater seats 1,736 people, and it was sold out last night! That would be impressive any night, but was even more impressive considering that NASCAR was in Richmond on Saturday! A local hero won that race, so it was a big weekend all around for Richmond!

While the show was spectacular in general, what made it magical (a word heard very often on both Friday and Saturday nights at the Carpenter) was the eclectic mix of genres performed, and the ability to sample a smorgasbord of art forms in one sitting. Sheer genius. Kudos to the people who envisioned it and executed their vision to perfection.

Here’s a concrete example from me personally (I’m sure there were hundreds of analogous experiences, but perhaps with a different collection of likes and misconceptions). Prior to last night, it would have been difficult for someone to get me to attend the Ballet or the Opera. I had strong conceptions of what an evening at either would entail.

While the selection from La Boheme for the Opera piece didn’t change my mind on that, I was shocked at how much I was immersed in the Richmond Ballet performance (which was the finale of the evening). They performed Windows (Final Section), a ballet choreographed by the founding Artistic Director of the Richmond Ballet, Stoner Winslett (now in her 30th year in that position!).

Windows Richmond Ballet

Windows Richmond Ballet

The Richmond Symphony (who were incredible all night long) accompanied the Ballet playing an original work commissioned for this piece. The music was exceptional, and it restored my faith that brilliant classical pieces continue to be created now, even though they are creatively different than the masters of a few centuries ago.

I could fill a few more pages covering each of the performances in detail, but instead, I’ll conclude this portion by calling out one additional extraordinary musician, who also mesmerized me with his play.

Amadou Kouyate played the 21-string Kora. He performed with the Elegba Folklore Society who presented an excerpt from Marketplace Suite. All of the dancers and percussionists in the Elegba performance were excellent. Still, I can’t help but highlight Amadou directly. His fingers seemed to be barely moving, yet the richness of sound that came out of the Kora was beautiful and mind-boggling. It was a long piece, and he kept up his level of play throughout. Amazing!

Here’s a YouTube video of him singing (he did not sing last night). Aside from the fact that I like the song, it shows a number of people playing a Kora. In the video, most are sitting down. You also see someone playing the Kora while standing up, which is how Amadou played it last night.

After the show was over, all of the performers, the three people who conducted the Symphony throughout the evening, and the hosts, Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid all came out on stage for a group bow:

Performers at Richmond CenterStage Opening

Performers at Richmond CenterStage Opening

As we were walking up the aisle, we bumped into a good friend of ours that we hadn’t seen in a while. We chatted briefly, and as we were parting company, I heard our names called out from roughly 20 rows away. It was another couple whom we haven’t seen in a while. Here’s a shot of me with them standing in front of the amazing Donors Wall at CenterStage:

Friends at the CenterStage Donors Wall

Friends at the CenterStage Donors Wall

We then walked over to the after party. It was a wonderful scene, with most of the performers milling about (no longer dressed in costume) and quite a number of the patrons as well. The food (and drink) were exceptional, and we got to chat with a few people.

For me, the highlight was speaking to Stoner Winslett about the ballet piece. Lois got her to sign our program. Cool!

Hadar and Stoner Winslett

Hadar and Stoner Winslett

Stoner told me that the Richmond Ballet is coming to the Joyce Theater in NYC this spring (April  6th to the 11th, 2010). We are going to do our best to see that show. See, it is possible to open a mind, even mine! 😉

Then Lois chatted with the incredible hosts of the entire evening, Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid. While both had well-known TV careers, they have continued their artistic careers, and have supported new ones, through their VA-based production company.

Bob and Tim Reid

Bob and Tim Reid

Both of them were charming and gracious and also both signed our program! Score!

Earlier in the day, Lois pulled off another little coup, and got all of the major players in the ribbon-cutting ceremony to sign the afternoon’s program. Way to go Lois! 🙂

Ribbon Cutting Program

Ribbon Cutting Program