ABT Opens White Box Theater

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by Allie Pesch

Elisa Alexander performs Das Fünftel, chorographed by Ty Cooper, with fellow concorDance dancers, Veronica Hart, Caitlin Lennon and Dinah Gray behind her in ABT’s new white box.

Albemarle Ballet Theatre has turned its downtown Crozet studio into a white box theater with plans to host monthly performances of all varieties.

A spin on the traditional “black box” theater, which is more common for small venues, ABT’s performance space features a custom white cyclorama (called a “cyc” for short) that covers the wall behind the performers, and an off-white, 48-foot curtain to cover the studio’s wall of mirrors. The cyc and curtains can be put away when ABT’s dance classes are in session. Theater lighting was also installed.

The new theater, which seats an intimate audience of 40 people, will present a variety of music, dance, theater, and other live entertainment monthly or bimonthly. ABT’s annual Funcracker Variety Show, which includes major solos from the Nutcracker along with various entertainers, will be held at the white box during the December holiday season.

The white box had its first show when concorDance contemporary’s “Premier Dance Series” was performed August 12.

ConcorDance contemporary, a division of the theater’s non-profit Studio for the Performing Arts, is a professional dance company founded and directed by ABT teacher and co-artistic director Veronica Hart. Hart and her fellow dancers and choreographers broke in the new space with a variety of dance styles.

“We want dance to be accessible to the community,” said Hart. “You should be able to enjoy dance year-round without having to travel or dress a certain way or pay a high-ticket price.” That accessibility was achieved at “Premier,” not only through the intimacy of the box (the performers and their audience are not only very close together, but on equal ground), but also through the introductions the dancers and choreographers gave before each piece, explaining the inspiration and background of each selection.

The show included ensemble and solo pieces choreographed by Hart, along with Elisa Alexander, Ryan Beck and Ty Cooper. Beck, co-director of Garage Contemporary Ballet in San Diego, made his first trip to Virginia to teach the concorDance dancers his piece “Conversations on Olympus,” set to ethereal music by Icelandic musician Sigur Ros, overlaid with sound bites from a conversation between the choreographer and a colleague. The dynamic, non-narrative piece was performed impeccably by Hart, Alexander, Dinah Gray, Caitlin Lennon, and Moira Price, who worked with Beck for just two days before the performance.

Cooper, who was also the charming host of the afternoon, choreographed the final piece of the show, “Das Fünftel” (“the fifth” in German). Drawing inspiration from, among other things, Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 5, the five seraphim, the fifth sense of taste and the complexity of flavor in a particularly memorable bowl of miso soup, Cooper’s piece ended the show with four ballerinas, in matching iridescent indigo dresses, dancing for the love of beauty and dance itself.

Major donors to the white box project included Crozet Great Valu, Green House Coffee, Harvest Moon, La Cocina Del Sol, Miki Liszt, Eppie’s Restaurant and Pollak Vineyards. The white box construction itself was made possible with the volunteer labor of “Duncan,” Bob Meslar, Joe Simpson, and Turtle Zwadlo.

“The mission for concorDance contemporary is to create a closer relationship between you and the artist,” Hart explained. The same can be said about the Theatre’s new white box, which will bring Crozet much closer to performance art and entertainment of all kinds. The Theatre is currently working on booking events for October.