Richmond Ballet's "Trio" proves good things happen in threes

A couple of popular sayings suggest that good things happen in threes and that variety is the spice of life. In both cases, the application perfectly fit the Richmond Ballet's "Trio" program in the Carpenter Center Friday.

The company offered three distinctly different works with music to match, all of which made for a fine affair of finely done dance — Petipa's "Kingdom of the Shades" from "La Bayadere," Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," and Ma Cong's "Lift the Fallen."

Certainly such diverse fare showcased the diverse abilities of this professional company, starting with the opening "Kingdom." Representing the purity of classical line and romantic score of Minkus, the work requires the utmost of precision in its lengthy series of arabesque entrances and subsequent development into lilting waltz form. There's nary room for an extension or position that's not perfectly matched throughout the corps and, to its credit, the perfection of placement was impressively done. To this good old fashioned, bravura ballet, the corps offered fine pointe work, symmetry of movement, positions, extensions, and spirit. Cody Beaton and Marty Davis, as the romantic focus, delighted the large house with a grand pas de deux that was highlighted by Davis's impressive leaps and turns and Beaton's sure-footed pirouettes and exquisite pointe work, all of which made this opening work exciting and fulfilling.

Closing the program in an entirely different tone was "Slaughter," choreographed for Rodgers and Hart's 1936 Broadway musical, "On Your Toes." The score is jazzy and bold and provides a bit of ballet, jazz, tap and Broadway razzmatazz. Balanchine was a master at exploiting to the fullest the musical score and matching every musical beat with innovative movement. Here, he was in a comic mood, despite the underlying murders lending themselves to the title. Populated with strippers, cops, gangsters, thugs and barflies, it's a somewhat seedy side of life, "Slaughter" is good fun but fun that requires fine, structured dancing and a feel for theatrical stage business and dancing banter. It was a joy to watch and a swell close to the evening.

However, the take home memory of this event that supplied the most introspection and awe came with Ma Cong's extraordinarily touching "Lift the Fallen," created for the company. Inspired by the death of his mother, it explores universal feelings of loss and recovery through its fine blend of classical and neo-classical movement. "Fallen" is extraordinary in its stunning movements and how thoroughly those movements embrace Max Richter's deeply emotional and dramatic score that offers a magical mix of classical, minimalist, contemporary styles (think Philip Glass). 

It is sweeping in scope, not to mention flowing materials that become part of the texture of the dance and provide a transcendental quality. "Fallen's" drama and intense feelings were diligently delivered by the company, every move of which was dedicated to the intent and drive of Ma Cong's impassioned choreography. This pulsing, powerful work wowed China on the company's tour there last season and will no doubt do so at its New York debut in May when the Richmond Ballet appears in the Joyce Theater. Its reception Friday was electrifying, the audience standing in prolonged applause and shouting approval. It was an emotional moment of importance and impact. 

The Richmond Symphony, under guest conductor Erin Freeman, performed brilliantly, bringing power and sensitivity to each score, with Freeman artistically coordinating the music and movement to perfection.

John Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearnce in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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