Backstage: Stavna Ballet
The arts serve to enrich and enliven a community, cultivating unique forms of expression, entertainment, and education. Stavna Ballet’s mission is to encompass all three by promoting, performing, and teaching the art of dance, an art-form which first captivated founder and artistic director Shannon McConville as a small child.
“I started dancing when I was three,” recalls Shannon. “In middle school, I began to get serious. I spent most of my summers from 13-17 traveling or studying with a professional dance company.”
After earning her BFA in Dance from Radford University, she accepted a position dancing professionally at the San Diego Ballet, where she worked for five seasons. While most of SD Ballet’s performances were based in California, the company went on tour for the Nutcracker, performing in states such as Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming.
During her time living and working in California, Shannon met her husband, Chad, a native of the Richmond area. When she retired from professional dancing in 2008, the pair moved to Virginia. Her passion for dance continued to burn brightly and when she found there was just one ballet company in Richmond, inspiration struck.
“There was only the Richmond Ballet, so I felt like the Southside needed their own professional ballet company,” explains Shannon. “In 2011, I started Stavna Ballet as a nonprofit, operating out of another studio.” Two years later, she opened the Stavna Ballet Academy, which was their first brick-and-mortar location.
“We are bridging the gap between a professional company and a recreational school,” she continues. “Stavna is ballet-focused, but we do offer jazz, tap, modern, and contemporary styles as well.” The academy offers classes for ages two to adult, while the professional company is comprised of dancers 18 and over.
Through the assistance of a government grant, Stavna is now in its second season as a full-time, professional company.
“In the past, we had contracted dancers who would only perform on weekends, then return to their regular jobs during the week,” says Shannon. “Now, we are able to hire on dancers who can dance professionally full time. We are creating jobs in Richmond and bringing talent from all over the country.”
While there is some cross-over between the academy and the professional company, most of the instructors are separate from the full-time dancers. Company dancers train from 10am to 2pm daily, then the academy instructors arrive at 4pm. For those in the professional company, their primary jobs are training and performing.
“We do three main performances each year at the University of Richmond Modlin Center for the Arts. These are big-scale productions.”
Last fall, the company’s performance of Dracula for their annual fundraiser was accompanied by live music, courtesy of local musicians. Their spring performance is director’s choice and takes place at the Grace Street Theater in April.
“In the spring, myself and other local artists will collaborate and come up with original choreography for the performance,” Shannon adds.
Shannon believes it is important to collaborate with local artists as often as possible and offer a place for them to come together.
Another important element of Stavna Ballet is their outreach program which Shannon founded in 2017.
“This is really close to my heart,” she says. “It’s expensive to dance…that’s why I started Stavna Reach. We teach free classes to underserved areas in Richmond from four satellite locations around the area. The company also does free performances at these locations for those who are unable to make it to the theater. Everyone should be exposed to ballet! And the company really loves it because they get to give back and do another show.” In addition to Stavna Reach programs, professional dancers from Stavna visit local libraries once a month to perform special story times, in which children are read a story and excerpts from the tale are acted out.
Though Shannon’s professional dance shoes have been hung up for nearly a decade, she has thoroughly enjoyed her evolution from performer to director. With two children at home, Lilah (9) and Paxton (2), she feels fulfilled in her role behind the scenes, especially as the company continues to flourish and grow. As she shares the art of dance with her community, her greatest joy is seeing the effect it can have on others.
“It’s all worth it to see someone’s face light up,” she concludes.
Here are a few ballet moves for you to try at home and incorporate into your New Year exercise program.
– Stand with your legs In a wide stance with feet turned out and heels facing each other. Bend your Knees while lowering the body until your legs are at a 90° angle with knees in line with your heels. Stand up straight keeping your neck and back long. Then straighten the knees and repeat 30 reps.
– Stand with feet parallel and rise up on toes. Keeping your heels raised high bend knees. Straighten legs while staying up in calf rise. Repeat this 30 times.
-Lift leg directly behind you, keeping back upright. Touch toe back to ground and raise back up. 30 reps, great to sculpt back, legs and butt
– Start with feet in a turned out position. Lift leg to the front engaging the inner thigh. Close feet back into a first position then kick leg back again. Try this step for toned legs, 30 times on each leg
On Saturday January 11th, the Stavna Ballet Company will be performing a full length ballet adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Ticket information for the performance may be found at stavnaballet.com.