RICHMOND BALLET: Contemporary Classics
A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts | Carpenter Theatre | 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219
Performances: September 27-29, 2019
Ticket Prices: $25-$125
Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com
I had forgotten how beautiful the ballet “Carmina Burana” is. Choreographed for the New York City Opera in 1959 by John Butler, the ballet is based on a collection of thirteenth century songs and poems discovered in a monastery in Bavaria. The songs were composed and arranged by Carl Orff in three highly dramatic sections – Spring, In the Tavern, and The Court of Love – that are intended to be performed by a collaborating team of orchestra, chorus, and dancers.
The Richmond Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Erin Freeman and a chorus of about 100 singers composed of members of the VCU Commonwealth Singers and the Richmond Symphony Chorus, divided into four groups on two levels of the theater provided what my daughter described as “surround sound.” Tenor Andrew Sauvageau, Baritone Jeffrey Grayson Gates, and Soprano Zarah Brock stood onstage and wore monastic black for their solos. At one point Brock held an impossibly long note.
The dancers moved through a range of human emotions using a stylized vocabulary of movement that seems to have been inspired by the figures on the Wheel of Life or perhaps the characters illustrating a deck of tarot cards. The music is structured in three major sections, beginning and ending with the familiar “Fortune, Empress of the World,” for which the dancers don monastic black robes and rush about with determined steps and postures. But having seen all that occurred between the Prologue and the Finale, these same movements and garments have vastly different connotations at the end than at the beginning. [Link to “Fortune Empress of the World” – https://youtu.be/PG8U2vast6k]
In between we see two couples seemingly caught up in a web of sexual betrayal reminiscent of the story of Othello and first one man and then a group of women wearing costumes that bare – or use flesh-toned fabric to skillfully mimic baring – half their bodies and much more. Although the movement is not tied to any narrative it is easy to find familiar story lines.
While the four main dancers and corps of 6 couples were uniformly dynamic, this weekend’s performance hold special significance for 13-year company member Maggie Small who is retiring her pointe shoes after her final performance of “Carmina Burana.” Like the Wheel of Fortune that inspired this work, Small’s career has come full circle, as she closes her performing career with the ballet that marked the start of her professional career. [Here’s a link to a Richmond Times Dispatch article about Small’s career and retirement: https://www.richmond.com/entertainment/art/richmond-s-homegrown-ballerina-maggie-small-set-to-retire-with/article_e5c1067b-703f-5549-bb3a-c957fd177da3.html. And another from Style Magazine: https://rvamag.com/art/dancetheatre/with-contemporary-classics-richmond-ballet-says-goodbye-to-maggie-small.html.]
Small’s long-time partner, Fernando Sabino, will retire in the spring, and it looks as if Ira White, now in his fifth year with the company, is ready to step up and into Sabino’s shoes. White, who like Small, came up from the company’s Minds in Motion program (for fourth graders) and the trainee program before joining the company, has shown tremendous growth and maturity as a dancer over the past two years, and shows promise of contributing a high level of professionalism as well as charisma to the current season.
The Contemporary Classics program marks the start of the Richmond Ballet’s new season and opens with the stunningly beautiful Theme and Variations by George Balanchine. Set to the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major, Op. 55,” “Theme and Variations” is a grand ballet, traditionally styled with white tutus, a series of pas de deux by the lead couple, and a grand procession or polonaise for all the dancers to show off their technique and gorgeous lines. As I watched the dancers move through the intricate patterns, I thought this is one ballet I’d prefer to see from the balcony, which affords a bird’s eye view of the design. My daughter, who arrived a little late after hunting for parking, did get a chance to see “Theme and Variations” from the balcony and confirmed my suspicions. She said the experience of seeing the ballet from above was the silver lining to arriving late.
“Theme and Variations” was staged by Jerri Kumery with Sabrina Holland and Anthony Oates dancing the lead roles. “Carmina Burana” was staged by Malcolm Burn featuring partners Cody Beaton and Ira White and Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino. The Balanchine classic was first performed in 1947 while the Butler opus premiered in 1959, yet both remain fresh and engaging to today’s audiences. The final performance of this short run will take place Sunday afternoon, September 29, at 2:00pm. The season continues with Studio One performances November 5-10, featuring Artistic Director Stoner Winslett’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” and a World Premiere by popular choreographer Ma Cong.
Here’s an excerpt of Maggie Small’s bio, from the Contemporary Classics program: Maggie Small, a native of Richmond, Virginia, began dancing at the School of Richmond Ballet. She completed the trainee, apprentice, and Minds in Motion programs before joining the company. In 2012 she was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine as Richmond’s “Homegrown Ballerina.”
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson
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