Big Shoes 

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Ballet companies tackle George Balanchine the way theater companies tackle William Shakespeare: with courage, gusto and a certain sense of inevitability. Sooner or later, taking up the challenge becomes irresistible -- such scintillating movement or verse, the name everyone knows, whether they know ballet or theater or not. In "Studio 3," the final event of the 2007-2008 season, the Richmond Ballet adds another Balanchine jewel to its repertory: "Mozartiana."

Writing in The New Yorker in 1983, dance critic Arlene Croce said, "'Mozartiana' is Balanchine communicating with Mozart through Tchaikovsky." The work is set to Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 4, which is an orchestral arrangement of Mozart piano pieces. Balanchine created an early version during the 1930s and another during the 1940s; the version that Richmond Ballet's ballet master Jerri Kumery has set on the company dates from 1981. It's one of the last dances created by "Mr. B." — in homage to his final muse, ballerina Suzanne Farrell.

Kumery was part of the original cast in 1981, and that, says dancer Anne Sidney Davenport, who is performing the principal role, made the rehearsal process a standout experience. Choreography, says Davenport, is a sort of oral tradition, "so hearing it from somebody who was actually there was a great experience. She knows so much about the technique Balanchine asked for, the musicality that he liked, and the intention behind the movement."

In discussing Balanchine's technique, Davenport says, "Some of the challenge is that he takes classical steps and puts some sort of twist on them, so it's not what you're used to doing in class every day." "Mozartiana" opens with the ballerina and four young girls, and moves through several sections that include, most strikingly, four solo variations for the ballerina. "It's kind of a marathon," says Davenport. "Once it gets going, it doesn't stop."

This performance marks Davenport's last with the Richmond Ballet. Though she will still be teaching in the School of Richmond Ballet, she plans to expand her work, already begun, with the Child Life Program at VCU Children's Medical Center. "I've been very blessed to have had a ten-year career, and to have found a company that was such a good fit for me," she says. "It does feel, in my heart and in my body, that it's a good time to move on to something new." But before she moves on to new audiences at the medical center, Davenport will lend her grace and sparkle to "Mozartiana," and to the Richmond Ballet stage, one last time.

Richmond Ballet's "Studio 3," which also includes a world-premiere work by Argentine choreographer Mauricio Wainrot, runs May 6-11 at the Studio Theater. Most performances are at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $18-$28. Call 344-0906 or visit www.richmondballet.com.



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