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Great Good Fortune

Richmond Ballet brings a bold “Carmina Burana” to Wolf Trap after a three-year delay.


The Richmond Ballet has traveled the world, appearing everywhere from New York to London to Beijing. On Aug. 30 they’re hitting the road again, mounting their epic production of “Carmina Burana” on the Filene Center stage at Wolf Trap. Though it involves a relatively short drive up the interstate, the appearance will pose unique challenges for the company.

“We know how to take things on tour,” says Stoner Winslett, the company’s artistic director. “But the extra variable at Wolf Trap, of course, is it’s an outdoor venue. So, for instance, you can only set lighting cues at night because you can’t just turn the house lights out.”

Any technical challenge only redoubles when it comes to this production, a lavish staging of John Butler’s 1959 ballet set to Carl Orff’s score that includes the bombastic “O Fortuna,” readily recognizable thanks to its popularity in films and commercials.

The Richmond Ballet production features 16 dancers, 60 musicians from the Richmond Symphony, and more than 100 singers from the Richmond Symphony Chorus and the City Choir of Washington. It will be performed together with “Thrive,” a 2022 ballet choreographed by the ballet’s Associate Artistic Director Ma Cong.

For the Wednesday night show, they’ll load in on Tuesday morning. “We have to set our lights that night, have a dress rehearsal in the sunshine on Wednesday, then we’re on stage for a single performance,” she explains. “It’s a technical challenge, but we will meet it, I’m sure.”

This will be the Richmond Ballet’s first appearance at Wolf Trap, an occasion originally planned more than three years ago. “[Wolf Trap’s president and CEO] Arvind Manocha had come down to see “Carmina” in Richmond in the fall of 2019 and he wanted to get it on stage [at Wolf Trap] as soon as he could,” Winslett recalls. Scheduled for summer of 2020, the performance was another casualty of the pandemic.

“Arvind said he would postpone it, not cancel it, and indeed he did,” she says. “So we’ve ended up with just a little bit of delayed gratification.”

Richmond Ballet dancers in "Carmina Burana," which will be performed at the legendary Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia on Aug. 30. - SARAH FERGUSON
  • Sarah Ferguson
  • Richmond Ballet dancers in "Carmina Burana," which will be performed at the legendary Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia on Aug. 30.

Company dancer Cody Beaton has performed in “Carmina” twice before but anticipates the outdoor venue will result in a whole new experience. “The closest I’ve come to performing at Wolf Trap is Dogwood Dell,” she says. The Dell’s seating capacity of 2,400 is dwarfed by Wolf Trap’s which tops 7,000. “The way I’m building it up in my imagination, dancing in nature with the symphony and the singers, it’s going to be incredible.”

Beaton says any out-of-town performance requires some additional preparation. “Before you go, you have to be much more on the ball when you’re packing things, making sure you have backups because you never know what can happen with your shoes or even your makeup,” she explains.

Mental preparation is just as important. “You know it’s going to be a new space with different rules and a different dressing room and things like that,” Beaton says. “But once you’re dancing, it always feels exhilarating.”

The choreography of “Carmina” fuses elements of modern dance and classical ballet in a series of interludes exploring themes of pleasure and excess, joy and despair. Playing a principal role, Beaton likes her part because, in contrast to the bright wardrobe ballerinas often wear, “I get to wear a black unitard and black pointe shoes. My character in at least one section is a little more edgy.”

Richmond Ballet will add some additional excitement and gravitas to their inaugural appearance at Wolf Trap by honoring Carmen de Lavallade with the Richmond Ballet Lifetime Achievement Award for Dance. Governor Glenn Youngkin will present the award to the 92-year-old de Lavallade before the curtain rises on the Wolf Trap performance.

A woman of color performing professional ballet was a relative rarity when de Lavallade appeared in the original cast of “Carmina” in 1959. She has maintained an ongoing relationship with the Richmond Ballet for decades. “She has come to Richmond multiple times to share her knowledge of [“Carmina Burana”] with us,” says Winslett.

“She is one of the wonders of our world right now; she was still performing until about two years ago. She is such a magic human being.”

The “Carmina Burana” performance on Aug. 30 starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia. Tickets and more information at