2011-03-09 / Front Page

New ballet dances into Chesterfield

By Jacqueline Raithel

The Stavna Ballet Company includes (from left) Lauren Gibson, Heather Bell, Mandy James and Shannon McConville. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer The Stavna Ballet Company includes (from left) Lauren Gibson, Heather Bell, Mandy James and Shannon McConville. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer There’s a new show in town, literally. The Stavna Ballet Company danced its way into existence in December 2010 and debuted at the Virginia Dance Festival in January.

Chesterfield’s newest nonprofit ballet company drew some attention at the festival because of its performance, and for another reason: The company is composed of teachers, business professionals and moms, who are also professional-quality ballerinas who use their dancing for the benefit of the community.

“It’s a pretty unique and awesome opportunity,” said Heather Bell, one of Stavna’s principal dancers. “I’m an adult, and I haven’t danced since college, so it’s cool to get back into a company and to perform again. Something that makes Stavna different is that most of the time adults don’t have the opportunity to give back to the community through the arts.”

As a nonprofit, Stavna has a board of directors that helps the group decide where to become involved. Upcoming performances include participation in the Junior League of Richmond’s Kids in the Kitchen event and a fundraising event for the prom at Thomas Dale High School, home of the school system’s Visual and Performing Arts Center. The company has also begun planning for an important show in August at the Firehouse Theatre Project in Richmond.

Right now there are only four dancers in the Stavna company. They’re all students of Shannon McConville, who teaches ballet at the Spotlight Studio of Dance in Midlothian. She selected them for their talent and their desire to perform again.

Creating Stavna is the fruition of a lifelong dream, she said. McConville already completed a 10-year ballet career with the San Diego Ballet, but for the other dancers, this is a first-time crack at chasing down their own childhood dreams.

“My lifelong dream was to be a ballerina,” Bell said. “I feel like I’m in the midst of fulfilling my lifelong dream.”

It’s not just Bell that feels that way.

“I get to live that little part of a childhood dream and be a ballerina,” said Mandy James, a teacher at Midlothian High School. “People are like, ‘Really? You’re buying pointe shoes? You’re 30.’”

For most dancers, being 25 means they’re almost too old for professional dancing. But, they’re not too old for Stavna.

“Stavna Ballet Company is a chance for me to do what I love,” said Lauren Gibson, a Stavna dancer. “It’s freedom with no boundaries. There’s no age limit, and there’s no creative limit.”

Stavna’s mission is three-pronged: to provide an outlet for adult dancers to continue pursuing their passion, to present high-quality dance performances that represent a fusion between classical ballet and contemporary dance and to share the arts with the community.

As the company’s founder and artistic director, all of the choreography comes from McConville. It’s unique because it’s rooted in classical ballet, but branches out into contemporary dance, explained Katie Morris, SBC board member.

Though the Stavna dancers may be older than typical ballerinas, and they might spend most of their days working at other careers, McConville still holds them to a high standard.

“Shannon records every rehearsal,” Bell said. “She is insistent on perfection because this is her creation. She wants audiences to get what they deserve.”

So far, it seems they have.

“We did the performance at the Virginia Dance Festival, and because it was our first show, I didn’t know what to expect,” Bell said. “But after, people were stopping us – studio owners – asking, ‘Where do you come from?’ They thought we were Russian. I said, ‘No, I’m from Chesterfield.’”

The last prong of the company’s mission is to engage the community by sharing a passion for the arts – specifically ballet. That’s why the company intends to give its time to events such as Kids in the Kitchen.

“Once we get out there with our leotards and our tutus, people see us and say, ‘Hey, show us what you can do,’” Bell said. “There’s a little bit of magic in a pointe shoe.”

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