Proof of the adage “Good things come to those who wait,” Thursday night’s long-awaited performance by Richmond Ballet and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in “The Rite of Spring” at UB Center for the Arts’ Mainstage Theatre had everything: excitement, drama, pathos, thrilling music and exceptional dancing.
The production, postponed due to 2014’s “snow-pocalypse,” was the Western New York premiere for Richmond Ballet. It began with Richmond Ballet artistic director Stoner Winslett’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” (1986) set to Italian and French lute songs orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi. Four masked male/female couples in medieval costume began a slow, prim and proper courtly dance. A shift in Respighi’s music then saw the couples ditch their masks and break into a joyous dance as if stripping away a layer of emotional restraint.
Winslett’s neoclassical choreography for the ballet exuded simplistic grace and varying levels of emotion. That was most evident in the series of four pas de deux that came next. Each of the four appeared to be themed around the maturation of romantic relationships from the innocence and glee of young lovers first discovering their feelings, to a couple who has spent years together.
The most gripping of the pairings was that of dancers Kirk Henning and Melissa Robinson as a couple whose relationship was on the rocks. The angst-ridden pair longed for each other but seemed torn apart by some unknown issue. In the middle of the pas, the other dancers filtered in, the men to dance with Henning, and the women with Robinson as if echoes of each of them. The well-crafted scene was indicative of a ballet that entertained on many levels.
Next, choreographer Val Caniparoli’s “Stolen Moments” (2015) played with the contradiction of composer Jean-Philippe Rameau’s graceful and regal music for the contemporary ballet, and his eccentric public persona.
Caniparoli had the dancers running through a range of quirky gestures with their hands, silently screaming (with one audible one) and moving through smart and polished movement phrases that at times repeated for effect. Highlighting the ballet were the performances of lead pairing Elena Bello and Mate Szentes. A flirty sprite with a buoyant movement quality, Bello teased Szentes in a delightful game of cat and mouse. In this and in “Ancient Airs and Dances,” the dancers and the BPO, led by JoAnn Falletta, were simpatico in their performing together, each achieving a level of brilliance that was most satisfying.
The program closed with the marquee ballet of the night, Salvatore Aiello’s 1993 masterpiece, “The Rite of Spring.” Set to Igor Stravinsky’s iconic score of the same name, the ballet was a nonstop deluge of primal energy and athleticism delivered with passion by Richmond Ballet. Right there every step with them was the BPO’s stirring performance of the score filled with power and punch that boomed from the orchestra pit.
Like Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 original, Aiello tapped into the rituals and dances of ancient tribes. Both took the idea of a sacrifice to the gods of a young maiden and built extreme tension around it.
The ballet from the get-go grabbed hold of one’s heart and mind and refused to let go. Standouts in the ballet were dancer Valerie Tellmann-Henning as the strong but motherly “Earth Figure” who simulated birthing several dancers onstage including “Young Warrior” Trevor Davis, who took over the combative tribe.
But the clear star was retiring company veteran Lauren Fagone as the defiant “Chosen One.” She railed against Davis’ character, defeating him but not the tribe whose bloodlust engulfed her, forcing her to dance herself to death. Fagone’s performance was a masterful display of grit, tenacity, fear and desperation that put a glorious cherry on top of a magnificent evening of music and dance.