I Couldnâ€™t Believe It Was the Same Guy
When Phillip Skaggs dashed in to begin Richmond Ballet’s Vestiges, he skidded to a stop, fixed his eyes on a spot downstage left, and held the audience as intensely as he was holding his eyes to that spot. Everything he did in that dance was charismatic, including a bare-chested solo and duet. When I looked at the program notes, I realized he was the same guy who had taken the first solo in Val Caniparoli’s rather classical Vioin, earlier on the Richmond Ballet program. But he was so unremarkable in that piece. Other male dancers, for instance, Thomas Garrett, a tall thin dancer with a mop of hair who had the flair of someone like Damian Woetzel, were much better technically. I had wondered why Skaggs was chosen to do the first solo. But when I saw Skaggs in Vestiges, choreographed by Colin Connor, he was exciting. He was earthy, a little rough and daring, sexy, and totally spellbinding. I couldn’t believe it was the same guy.
There are dancers like that, who excel in one artistic environment and not another. I’m thinking of Andrew Veyette, a principal dancer at New York City Ballet. When he dances a classical role, you notice how tight his shoulders and upper back are. Although his turns are great, he doesn’t have the ease, the open chest, the articulation that we associate with ballet. But it the more grounded pieces, like Mauro Bigonzetti’s Oltremare, he is riveting. He has a command onstage; he’s a daring partner and a daring presence. He is a cool, slightly dangerous character as Riff in West Side Story Suite and the recent film of Robbins’ Opus Jazz.
Come to think of it, all dancers have certain environments where they feel and look freer than others. It’s one of the things that make dance-going endlessly interesting.
Photo of Phillip Skaggs and Valerie Tellman in
Vestiges. Photo by Aaron Sutten, courtesy Richmond Ballet