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Richmond Ballet digs into its contemporary repertoire for its final season performance. 

New Movement

Richmond Ballet concludes its season with a dynamic mix of contemporary works. Dances by choreographers Val Caniparoli, Chris Burnside, Ben Stevenson and a world premiere by Colin Connor offer a program of distinctive, powerful pieces, for four shows to be presented May 10-13 at the University of Richmond's Modlin Center.

Connor's tender and intense "Vestiges" marks his third work for the Ballet. As he did in 1996's "Terra" and 1997's "Streets and Legends," he explores the ardent connection to the immediacy of life. Here, he pursues ruin and renewal, the vestige of the past which is also the very thread that weaves a new start.

"We all have symbols of power and stature," he explains, "systems of security. What happens when we lose those things?"

Colin is known for combining classical and modern techniques in his work. He has performed with the Mary Anthony Dance Company in New York and performed as a soloist with the Limon Dance Company for eight years. In 1990, he became a resident choreographer for The Yard and City College of New York and began teaching at The Julliard School.

Connor has been working in Richmond the past few weeks setting "Vestiges" on the Richmond Ballet company. In the first of six sections, dancers drift through the rubble of alienation and confusion, sharing space but little else. As the work progresses through its apocalyptic origins, individuals find one another, sometimes desperately but eventually with greater ease and compassion. Couples fold into one another, creating openings that promote relationships.

With music by Michael Nyman and dancers wearing tattered evening wear, "Vestiges" evolves from hopelessness through tension into a restoration of "the soft animal of your body," a phrase from the Mary Oliver poem "Wild Geese" that inspired Connor. In softening to our surroundings, returning to the senses rather than to the drive to achieve, Connor says, "we find the source of ourselves, the elegance of ourselves as creatures. The world becomes more immediate."

That immediacy, that staying close to the personal pulse provides the intrigue for Connor and the appeal for audiences.

Equally engaging are two other works familiar to the Ballet. Burnside's lyrical "Runaway Horses," with music by Philip Glass, involves five dancers running repeatedly in a large circle, occasionally shifting positions or stepping briefly out of the momentum, only to be swept back in. Caniparoli's "Djangology," parallels the upbeat and playful rhythms of jazz musician Django Reinhardt, on which this piece was based.

New to the repertory is Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson's "Three Preludes," the most classical work of the program. With music by Serge Rachmaninoff, the entire piece revolves around a couple practicing at a ballet barre, each pose reflecting a development in their relationship from peers to intimates. Originally intended as an exercise for the classroom, "Three Preludes" is now considered a signature piece for this English-born choreographer.

With its emphasis on contemporary work, the Richmond's Ballet final program of the season highlights the strength of the company. Its dancers are well versed in a range of styles, moods and techniques, able to express the quieter moments as found in "Three Preludes" as well as the brisk passages in
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