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Richmond Ballet - After Eden, Carmina Burana

by Anna Brady
April 14, 2007
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
www.RichmondBallet.com
804-344-0906

See a previous review of Richmond Ballet
More about Carmina Burana
It is a sobering moment when an individual with 15 years of experience in their field comes face to face (or face to stage) with a glaring gap in their education. In this case, the unfamiliar name was "John Butler: An American Master".

I had tickets to the April 14th performance of his works by the Richmond Ballet of Virginia, with Guest Artist Desmond Richardson, at the Joyce Theatre in New York City.

Mr. Richardson is not unknown in this city, I last saw him perform with his own company, Complexions, at the Joyce Theatre three months ago. The Richmond Ballet was also not unknown to me. I had never seen them perform but at least I knew of the company through audition notices, friends of friends and general studio buzz. I was, however, embarrassed to be unfamiliar with one of the great 20th century American choreographers. Online research through Wikipedia was not helpful. The listing went directly from Trisha Brown to Gower Champion. Apparently I was not the only one missing out.

Enter: Richmond Ballet.

The two Butler pieces performed Saturday evening were After Eden (debuted 1966) and Carmina Burana (debuted 1959).

After Eden tells the story of Adam and Eve's exile from the Garden of Paradise. As the music begins we see a stoic Adam (Mr. Richardson) carrying what appears to be a lifeless Eve (Anne Sydney Davenport, Richmond Ballet) onto the stage. They have just been banished, both still "naked" in flesh-toned costuming and slightly catatonic from the newness of their situation. Mr. Richardson effortlessly manipulates Ms. Davenport's slender body over his in snakelike movements reminiscent of the infamous serpent and the reality of their situation slowly sinks in.

A pleading, apologetic Eve lies before her incensed husband who is caught between his own emotions. The woman he loves, indeed the only woman he has ever known, has destroyed their way of life. Mr. Richardson, whose technical ability and jaw dropping physique could fill pages, encompasses the theatre with his frustration and love. A fearful and penitent Eve gently begs his forgiveness and convinces me Ms. Davenport would go to any lengths in reparation for Eve's misdeed.

The dancing itself was not overshadowed by the emotional energy onstage and Ms. Davenport's single, nearly imperceptible "bobble" is forgotten among fluid leg lines and a penche promenade partnered by Richardson — while lying on the floor. Mr. Butler apparently demanded not only emotional depth but also technical excellence.

In the end, Adam reconciles his anger and his love for the woman who ruined his life, and we find we are watching a story of forgiveness, a message as important today as it was in 1966.

The second piece of the evening was set to Carmina Burana written by Carl Orff and danced by the Richmond Ballet Company. These were stories of life and fate told by four soloists (Valerie Tellmann, Justin McMillan, Danaë Carter and Igor Antonov) interspersed with full company movements. During the first entrance following After Eden, a parade of flagellating monks, Richmond Ballet Company, immediately made me question Mr. Butler's personal experiences with guilt and contrition. It was clearly a topic on his mind.

The soloists, forming two couples, take us on a journey through love. Ms. Tellman and Mr. McMillian danced with effortless weight sharing and elegant intensity. The second pas de deux by Ms. Carter and Mr. Antonov brought a welcome change to the stage, their love much more playful and lighthearted than any yet that evening. This may be why I felt particularly sorry for the heartbroken Mr. Antonov when he later lost Ms. Carter to Mr. McMillian. Throughout all, their performance retained the skill and facility I quickly came to expect of Richmond Ballet dancers.

Perhaps it was this expectation of excellence set by the soloists which left me surprised by the full company pieces. The company dancers were all very talented and well trained individuals, yet I found they lacked the presence of seasoned performers and their nervous energy caused occasional timing errors and missed steps. The company's efforts backstage, however, must have been flawless and acknowledgements should be made to the quick change staff, especially regarding the final entrance.

By the end of the evening, I knew I would always remember "John Butler: An American Master." I look forward to seeing the Richmond Ballet in the future and hope they bring John Butler with them again.
Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa


Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Richmond Ballet - Carmina Burana

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Novoa

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