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Richmond Ballet News

To Me, It’s Like Breathing: Jerri Kumery and “The Rite of Spring”

October 16th, 2013

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“To me, it’s like breathing,” says Ballet Master Jerri Kumery, when talking about Salvatore Aiello’s The Rite of Spring. Kumery, who is lovingly setting Aiello’s masterful interpretation of The Rite of Spring for Richmond Ballet’s 30th Anniversary performance, is proud and honored to bring her unique perspective on this powerful ballet to Richmond. Kumery worked closely with Aiello on the ballet’s creation during the early 1990’s, and since Aiello’s death in 1995, Kumery has become the curator of his works.

Kumery’s description of The Rite of Spring is passionate and eloquent, and she speaks with her hands as she paints a picture of Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking score. Demonstrating the layers in the music, Kumery crosses and weaves her forearms and stretches her fingers to mimic the intricacies in the music. She counts the music loudly, and with assertion, knowing every note before it strikes. Even before rehearsals began, Kumery gave each dancer a packet that contained not only a recording of Stravinsky’s music, but a written copy of the score so that everyone could learn the music intimately. Kumery required that every dancer, from her leads dancing the roles of The Chosen One (Lauren Fagone) and The Warrior (Fernando Sabino) to the dancers in the ensemble, learn each bar of music, each note, each strike of the percussion, every vibration in the score. For it is from the music that Aiello’s undulating and sinuous, sensual and primal choreography draws its inspiration.

A visit to the Gibson studio during the ballet’s first complete run through shows an ensemble of dancers who have fully embraced the challenge of this emotionally-charged choreography. The ballet, which chronicles the rituals of the primitive society – including the ritual sacrifice of a woman – is powerful and shocking. The pounding of the dancers’ feet is exquisitely precise, and from the famous opening bars of the music where we see the Earth-Mother bring her creatures into this world, the ballet is overwhelming. Kumery presides over rehearsal with a firm, but loving hand. Watching closely, and standing up on a piano bench to view the entire display, one can tell from the confident smile on Kumery’s face that she knows Aiello would have been proud of these dancers. “I’m speechless,” Kumery says after the run. “That was fabulous.”