Richmond Ballet News

Carmina Burana Returns; SRB Celebrates 40 Years

October 2nd, 2014


Butler’s controversial spectacle will be staged alongside Balanchine’s Mozartiana and Winslett’s own Danse Macabre in celebration of 40 Years of The School of Richmond Ballet

One of the most popular works from the Richmond Ballet repertory returns to the Carpenter Theatre this Halloween as Richmond Ballet presents John Butler’s impassioned masterwork, Carmina Burana, alongside George Balanchine’s Mozartiana and Stoner Winslett’s Danse Macabre, for the company’s second consecutive year of full-length repertory programs, October 31-November 2, 2014. Mozartiana and Danse Macabre will both be staged in honor of the 40th anniversary of The School of Richmond Ballet (the School, SRB). Students from the School will join current company members, some of whom are among SRB’s notable alumni, on stage for Balanchine’s final masterpiece. Students will also be featured in a special revival of Ms. Winslett’s Danse Macabre, the Artistic Director’s first choreographic work for Richmond Ballet. Richmond Symphony Orchestra and Richmond Symphony Chorus will provide live accompaniment for all four performances.

“My favorite thing about putting together lots of different pieces for a mixed repertory program at the Carpenter Theatre is to show the depth, breadth and height of what Richmond Ballet is, who we are, and what we can do,” said Ms. Winslett. “When the opportunity to return to the Carpenter Theatre with repertory programs was made possible, one of the first ballets I wanted to bring back was Carmina Burana. When this work can be presented with full Symphony, the full Chorus and with full stage effects, it’s a spectacle that the audience will never forget.”

Originally choreographed in 1959 for New York City Opera, Butler’s Carmina Burana uses the full breadth of Carl Orff’s choral score to explore the melding of classical ballet’s structure with the earthiness of contemporary dance, ultimately creating an innovative work that was polarizing when it premiered. The grand-scale, musical masterpiece was meant to overwhelm the senses, painting a portrait of the harsh cycle of medieval life, and of desire as it chafed against doctrine. Using 24 carminas, or songs, found tucked away in the mortar of a Bavarian monastery to form the basis of the Latin text, Orff’s chorus sings of earthly pleasures, while lamenting the powerful and heavy hand of fate. Composed in 1935, the score has become known around the world for its famous overture (“O Fortuna”) which rumbles with an impending sense of doom before reaching an electrifying crescendo (“Fate is against me – in health and virtue”) before the work’s close.

It is against this dramatic and immense musical background that audiences see the genius of Butler’s choreography. Butler’s Carmina Burana passes through three major sections: Spring, which celebrates joy and life, The Tavern, which delves deep into the shadowy world of pleasure, excess and despair, and a the third, the Court of Love, which is imbued with a romantic and graceful tone. As the Orff score progresses and changes, so too does the character of Butler’s groundbreaking work. Butler’s steps seem intimately tied to the extremes of human emotion, as expressed through movement: rapture and release, torture, and true love, all that may succumb to an overwhelming fear of our own morality.

Carmina Burana was John’s signature work,” Ms. Winslett explains. “The Carl Orff score had never been performed in the United States until New York City Opera commissioned John to create this work in the late 1950s. On opening night, it really was one of these historic performances, where the audience became very divided, with half the crowd applauding, and the other half left in complete shock. However, now that the Carl Orff score has become so popular, so many choreographers have choreographed to that music. I still think it’s really important to have the classic version, John’s version, intact and still performed.”

For Ms. Winslett, Carmina Burana holds a special personal touch. “John Butler came to Richmond Ballet in the late 1980s and he did Carmina Burana and After Eden, two works that have been very successful for us, and we became close friends. I promised him that we would help keep his work alive, which is no chore; it’s just a pleasure to be able to continue to perform it.” Carmina Burana was last performed by Richmond Ballet in 2007 at the Ballet’s Studio Theatre, and previously at the Carpenter Theatre in 2001.

Celebrating 40 Years of The School of Richmond Ballet

While the Ballet celebrates the full glory of Carmina Burana, it is also celebrating a special year for The School of Richmond Ballet. This season marks the 40th anniversary for the organization’s school, founded originally in 1975, pre-dating the establishment of the professional company by nine years. Throughout its 40-year history, the School has grown from a small group of roughly 150 students to a world-class, pre-professional training institution with over 800 students of all ages every year. Eight different directors have overseen the School’s development. The School’s current director, Judy Jacob, was invited to step into the School’s top position in 1998, after three years working on the faculty and with the professional company here in Richmond; Ms. Jacob is now celebrating her 20th season with the organization.  Three-quarters of Richmond Ballet’s own professional dancers received a portion of their training through the School, while other graduates have now joined companies across the United States and around the world.

George Balanchine, the legendary choreographer and co-founder of The School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet, was famous for saying, “butRichmond Ballet first, a school”[1], so it is therefore befitting the celebration and the School’s anniversary to present Balanchine’s own Mozartiana alongside Ms. Winslett’s Danse Macabre to open the evening. Mozartiana was Balanchine’s final masterpiece, done, as many believe, as a farewell for his beloved ballerina Suzanne Farrell who premiered the lead role in 1981. Comprised of a series of elegant dances, Mozartiana is set to Tchaikovsky’s moving musical tribute to Mozart, and is imbued with a warm sense of divinity and joy from the very start. The work is both gracious and heavenly. Not without its technical challenges, Mozartiana features solos and duets that are rigorous and yet visually stunning, a hallmark of Balanchine’s style and taste.

Four students from the School will share the stage with seven company members for this intimate work. “Mozartiana is one of my favorite of Balanchine’s ballets,” added Ms. Winslett. “I think it’s poignant on the 40th anniversary of The School of Richmond Ballet to see alums of the School in the lead roles with the tiny ballerinas around them who aspire to that.” Jerri Kumery, Ballet Master at Richmond Ballet, serves as the répétiteur for Mozartiana on behalf of The Balanchine Trust, having learned the choreography from Balanchine himself, and dancing in the work’s premiere alongside Suzanne Farrell in 1981.

Danse Macabre, a swirling waltz set to Camille Saint-Saëns’ music of the same name, will return for the Halloween weekend as well, danced by current students. Ms. Winslett’s first choreographic work for Richmond Ballet has its roots in the School and in a particular student who went on to become a star with the New York City Ballet, Philip Neal. “The original inspiration for Danse Macabre was really Philip’s virtuosity as a child. I saw Philip Neal as the master of ceremonies, conducting the tiny spirits to go up and down, and over and across.” Saint-Saëns’ composition was directly influenced by the words of the poet Henri Cazalis, whose song “The Danse Macabre” tells of the French fable, where Death awakens “at midnight [to play] a dance-tune.”[2] Ms. Winslett’s choreography also follows the poem’s tale of dancing spirits, bewitched to run and leap, until the dawn’s first light.


Carmina Burana with Mozartiana and Danse Macabre

With Richmond Symphony and Richmond Symphony Chorus

Carmina Burana  |  Choreography by John Butler  |  Music by Carl Orff

In Celebration: 40thAnniversary of The School of Richmond Ballet

Mozartiana |  Choreography by George Balanchine  |  Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Danse Macabre  Choreography by Stoner Winslett  |  Music by Camille Saint-Saëns


The Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage

Friday, October 31, 7:00 pm

Saturday, November 1, 2:00 pm and 7:00pm

Sunday, November 2, 2:00 pm


Tickets start at $20.00.



Altria - Richmond, VA

E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation

John A. Cable Foundation

Hunton & Williams LLP

Richmond Ballet’s restaging of Mozartiana is made possible by an anonymous gift in honor of Ballet Master Jerri Kumery.

Richmond Ballet, The State Ballet of Virginia, receives support from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and

the National Endowment for the Arts.

 NEA-logo-color     spotlight_sm_2

Richmond Ballet also receives support from the Arts and Cultural Funding Consortium (City of Richmond, Hanover County and Henrico County)



[1] BALANCHINE is a Trademark of The George Balanchine Trust.

[2] Henri Cazalis. The Danse Macabre. Translated from the original French. 1872.


Featured Photo: Anne Sidney Hetherington in John Butler’s Carmina Burana. Photo by Suzanne Grandis.

Anne Sidney Hetherington and former students from The School of Richmond Ballet in Mozartiana. Choreography by George Balanchine. (C) The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

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