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Richmond Ballet

Kirk Peterson's "Vortex" & John Butler's "Carmina Burana"

Carpenter Center, Richmond, VA

February 20, 2001
By S. E. Arnold

Bonded by their emphasis on couples and coupling, "Vortex," choreographed by Kirk Peterson and "Carmina Burana," choreographed by John Butler, met in a concert performance given by the Richmond Ballet that electrified the celebration of St. Valentine's Day.

Each of the three movements of "Vortex," set on the Violin Concerto by Philip Glass, features a distinctive couple. Additionally, a corps of four couples sets the choreographic key of each movement and links one movement to the next. At moment one of "Vortex," for example, the corps of couples sweeps onto then across the stage ordaining the urgency of the music and announcing the thematic material that structures the ballet. In the wake of the departing corps, the first soloist couple, Tristi Ann McMaster and Brandon Becker, gains center stage as the solo violin, played by Jeffrey Multer, enters the concerto. A brief and obsessively repeated arpeggio pattern briskly played by the solo violin vividly paints a sonic picture of a Slipstream, the title given to the first movement by Peterson. Moreover, Peterson mates the musical slipstream to a balletic one. One that he powers with the double-quick footwork or the petite allegro common to classical ballet. Additionally, the rapid turns of the female dancers, the spinning jumps of the male dancers, and the periodic propeller-like rotations of an arm define the first movement and credit its title.

The nightfall lighting, the dark murmur of the strings, the stillness of a male figure, the gray costumes, and the title, Stratocumulus, combine to fashion a ruminative mood for the second and slow movement. In this dreamy atmosphere, the female corps flies, it seems, unaided by their male partners. As if only a thought, however, they vanish as the female soloist soars out of the darkness to join the lone male. Stirred by the sweet, but elegiac sounds of the solo violin the second couple, Anne Sidney Davenport and Pedro Szalay, begin an expansive pas de deux. In the Stratocumulus pas, the long shimmering phrases of the first movement condense or separate into motifs. The motifs lengthen in duration and mull themselves over in a repetitive process that looks contemplative rather than frenzied obsessive. Additionally, the unhurried pace of the pas lets one ponder on the moments of exchange when dance and music impetus meet and part. Such a moment happens, for instance, during the lifts that weave through the melodic leaps cycling in the solo violin. Although, moments such as these offer a pleasure on their own, pondering them, however, reveals a musicality unique to Peterson and a feature that makes his work interesting and, one thinks, significant.

The third movement delivers the excitement promised by its title, Propulsive Transmutation, X-3. Indeed, Peterson transforms the concerto into double mach choreography. Thematic material taken from the first movement returns in the third amplified in power, speed, and intensity. The resistless spinning motions of the corps ultimately absorbs the third movement couple, Tiffanie Smith and Bryan Skates, as well as those from movement one and two into itself. Ever dissolving groups of dancers form, divide, crisscross or meet in exciting counterpoint. The urgency of the motion, however, resolves into the calm that closes the work. Here, as if gently lifted by the rustling atmosphere rising from the music, the female dancers, a la Stratocumulus, soar off the stage until one remains only to vanish on the final sigh of the music.

The massive musical forces, the Richmond Symphony, its Chorus of one hundred members, and three vocal soloists, assembled for "Carmina Burana," by Carl Orff, easily, and happily, enveloped the audience in Richmond's Carpenter Center. Additionally, the dance forces included all sixteen members of the Richmond Ballet. With our attention securely held by the familiar and dramatic opening, O Fortuna, the choreography, by John Butler, set out to do the same. Butler did so by duplicated the directness of the music with a ballet looking, but modern and very legible lexicon that featured held poses, broad gestures, and moves with work-a-day references. Moreover, he negotiated the daunting task of choreographically accommodating text and music by favoring the music. Although, the choreography abstractly interprets the narratives of the text, it stays pleasantly tethered to the music and successfully yields its ideas through it. In addition to illustrating this feature of the dance, for example, Part III, or the Court of Love, also highlighted the abilities of dancers Anastasia Babayeva, Kristen Gallagher, Kevin Bowles, and Denis Gronostayskiy in singular way. In fact, the twenty-eight sections that divide the hour of Carmina offered the Richmond Ballet a rich opportunity to display its range of talent.

In the end, however, the bright and powerful world of "Carmina Burana" offers little hope to escape by either love or faith the iron geometry of Fortuna's rule.


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Edited by Marie.

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