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Sex in Spandex

The Richmond Ballet's Studio Theater production of "Carmina Burana" is really, really intimate.

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This is lust," Malcolm Burn says to dancer Justin McMillan, who's approaching Dana‰ Carter in preparation for a lift.

"Don't show it in the walk towards her," advises Burn, Richmond Ballet's artistic associate. "Show it in how you touch her." After all, he continues, "nothing is more disturbing than seeing a man who looks totally innocent go crazy."

And so McMillan walks up to Carter neutrally, then swings her into his arms and over his shoulder, and there it is: lust. It's speaking through her back curved around him, his hands gripping her waist.

John Butler choreographed "Carmina Burana" in 1959 to Carl Orff's famous 1935 score, which draws on medieval verses celebrating earthly pleasures — wealth and desire — and the capriciousness of fate.

The work has figured in the Richmond Ballet's repertory for years, but has been performed in the Ballet's Studio Theatre only to recorded music (rather than with the Richmond Symphony and Chorus) once before, in 2003. Because contemporary sound systems can deliver such high-quality sound, using recorded music for this piece seems less of an issue than it was during the early years of its performance by the ballet.

Besides, Burn says, through the intimacy of the Studio Theatre, audiences can glean the "full emotional impact as well as the physical impact" of the work. It's intimate, "a completely different experience" than the larger-scale production performed in earlier years at the Carpenter Center. Up close in the Studio Theatre, audiences can take in details of gesture and expression that ultimately trump spectacle.

The company performs "Carmina Burana" in Richmond in advance of its New York performance, April 10-15, at the Joyce Theater. It's part of "John Butler: An American Master," a tribute series that includes performances by artists of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Desmond Richardson and Tai Jimenez, and Ballet NY.

Already, because of popular demand, the ballet has extended its Richmond run of "Carmina" by two performances. After all, who can resist celebrations of lust, singing and drinking with a little fatalism thrown in? S

Richmond Ballet performs "Carmina Burana" March 27-April 1, with two additional performances April 3 and 5, at the Studio Theatre, 407 E. Canal St. Call 262-8003 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

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