I remember seeing Atlanta Ballet’s production of David Bintley’s “Carmina Burana” when they staged it in 2013 and absolutely loving it. The choreographed movement isn’t super complex or exciting, but it is incredibly impressive that Bintley managed to pull three coherent stories out of the the collection of fairly random, raunchy poems in medieval vulgar Latin that Orff put to dramatic music. And the work is often hilarious and is entirely entertaining.
Bintley’s three stories trace the (mis)adventures of three seminarians who leave their studies to sample the pleasures of the flesh. Sometimes the scenes take the verses being sung fairly directly – such as Ol Lacus Colueram, which is a telling of the cooking and eating of a swan from the perspective of the swan, itself, and is represented by Bintley by a dance of swine in dinner jackets trying to eat a beautiful swan – but other times it’s a little less direct. This was true in the case of In Taberna Quando Sumus, which is about drinking and gambling. It has a stanza that basically just lists people of all positions and social statuses, from the Pope to the fool, and states that they all drink. Bintley, however, choreographed it as a drunken barroom brawl. Still, even when it differs from the text of the music, it still is close enough and is generally hilarious and worth the deviancy.
The opening, O Fortuna, is danced as a dramatic and ominous solo by Fortune, performed this time by Rachel Van Buskirk (I think that it was Tara Lee the last time that I saw it). Then we meet the seminarians and begin with their stories: the first runs off to horse races and to court women; the second leaves to a life of gluttony and drunken brawling; and the third pursues a rather steamy sexual relationship. Each story ends poorly for its respective seminarian: the first watches as his love interest ends up with another man; the second gets beaten up by a line of his fellow drunken brawlers; and the final one seems to end up with his love interest but, in a brilliant twist to end the work, walks downstage only to find that he’s hand in hand with Fortune, who pushes him to the side and dances the reprise of O Fortuna, this time with a full ensemble of women backing her up.
Seeing it again now, I was very impressed by the improvement of the performance. The ensemble work was much more together than it had been and adherence to blocking was probably the most strict that I’ve ever seen from this company. The cast was somewhat different from the last time that I saw it, although some of the roles were danced by the same people whom I saw four years ago. I was really pleased to see that Heath Gill, who danced the First Seminarian in both productions, had improved by leaps and bounds. This was the most expressive that I’ve ever seen him dance and I found my eyes staying on him and his partner during those scenes with the full ensemble dancing on stage in which I had focused on the other dancers in 2013. He may be the same person as he was back then, but he’s really not the same dancer at all. I was also happy to see a greater degree of sharpness and control in Nadia Mara’s movements as the Lover Girl than I’ve seen come from her in the past.
When I first saw it in 2013, I had chills in all the parts where the live music will generally give me chills. This time, though, I found that they persisted a little longer and that I even felt choked up with the intensity of the ending. Some of this is the difference in who I am, perhaps, but a bigger part of it is the quality of the dancing, bringing the power of the music to the stage. This was definitely a great beginning to Atlanta Ballet’s first main-stage season with Nedvigin at the helm and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the rest of it.
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