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Spring love, tainted love, pure love
Fort Wayne Ballet opens its new season with Carmina Burana
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Carmina Burana, the Fort Wayne Ballet’s 2012 -’13 season opener, is rated PG.
But Karen Gibbons-Brown, the Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Ballet, is anxious that you might get the wrong impression.
There’s nothing in Carmina Burana that can’t be seen as anything other than ballet, Gibbons-Brown says; it’s just that some of the subject matter is a little dark. “It’s kind of like when Disney adapts a fairy tale or a story like The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” she explains. “Most kids just see it as a Disney story, and you can look at Carmina the same way, just for the movement.”
There’s certainly no shortage of spectacle to keep your eyes and ears engaged during Carmina Burana, a big production with lots of pageantry that sees Fort Wayne Ballet’s dancers sharing the stage with the Heartland and Heartland Festival Chorus and Orchestra and the Fort Wayne’s Children’s choir.
Based on a collection of poems written by German monks in the 13th century, Carmina Burana was scored by German composer Carl Orff in the mid 1930s, and choreographed by American John Butler in 1959. It’s theme is nothing less than “the prettiness and the ugliness of life,” and the vagaries of fate and fortune. “This was life at its best, and life at not necessarily its best, as those monks saw it,” says Gibbons-Brown. “These were life lessons they were trying to pass on.”
Though Carmina isn’t necessarily one of the more well-known ballets in the canon, Orff’s score is performed frequently and pops up often in movie soundtracks and even commercials, in particular “O Fortuna.” “My students first told me ‘we don’t know anything about Carmina,’ but when I played them ‘O Fortuna’ they recognized it immediately,” Gibbons-Brown says.
Carmina Burana clocks in at about an hour with no intermission, and its brisk running time is divided into three sections — spring love; tainted love; and pure love (you can probably guess which section deals with the “ugliness” of life).
The style of movement corresponds to the tones of the different sections, so naturally “Spring love” or young love is bright, bouncy and fast-paced — movement that might be familiar to anyone who has seen a ballet. But Gibbons-Brown explains that things take a different direction in the second vignette, the one dealing with tainted love. Featuring Lucia Rogers in the lead role, this section is set in a tavern, with a darker color scheme and movement that breaks from classical ballet’s traditional patterns for a more contemporary flavor. “The movement here is a little more angular, abrasive, percussive” Gibbons-Brown says. “It’s movement that you don’t always see in ballet.”
She continues: “In classical ballet, you have these movement patterns that feel and look very comfortable. You have three and then a break; or you have this kind of movement on the floor and then you lift your leg and create this very circular, sweeping motion. In contemporary movement it might be sharper. Instead of ABCD, it might go BCDE. In the tavern section, you have this bold movement — the legs go up unexpectedly, some lifts don’t happen where you might expect them, an arm might bend rather than stretch.”
Life’s ugliness examined, Carmina gets back on track for the third section — pure love — which has a more stately, mature tone. “The body movement between the dancers is a little more distanced, ‘softer’ and more romantic than the tavern section,” says Gibbons-Brown. “It’s very much non-contemporary.”
The Heartland & Heartland Festival Chorus and Orchestra are on stage throughout — 100 voices backing a cast of 30 — with the Fort Wayne Children’s choir chiming in on different sections from the stage aprons. The chorus serves as sort of the voice of the monks who wrote the original source material; they’re telling the audience what’s going on, though unless you’re really up on your Latin and German, you’ll have to infer the details by watching the dancers on stage.
Fort Wayne Ballet’s season openers usually aren’t this… well, big, spectacle-wise. Gibbons-Brown refers to Carmina at one point as a “Ben-Hur production,” and loves watching it all come together. “This is a tremendous collaboration,” Gibbons-Brown says. “Anytime you can work with a like-minded group, it’s really exciting.”
The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Carmina Burana
Friday, September 21 at 8 PM
Sunday, September 23 at 2:30 PM
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $32/$27adult; $27/$23 seniors and youth
— By Phone: Call the Arts United ArtsTix Community Box Office at 260.422.4226 Monday - Friday from 12 noon to 6 pm
— In Person: Arts United ArtsTix Community Box Office, 303 East Main Street (front vestibule) Monday-Friday between 12 noon - 6 pm.
An Opening Night Reception at the Ian Rolland Gallery at the Arts United Center will follow the performance at 9:45 on Friday, September 21.