Carmina burana in the air


BECKET -- Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet made its United States debut in 1964 at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival to considerable fanfare, yet the troupe is only getting around to a return Pillow visit this week.

The big aggregation of dancers from up north opened the ballet's engagement last evening on the Ted Shawn stage with one of the most sensuous programs in memory.

"Sensuous? Indeed it's sensuous," affirmed André Lewis, the company's genial artistic director for the past 16 years. " ‘Carmina burana' is very sensuous, a very organic, beautiful work," he added. "It's a production we acquired 10 years ago, and it is highly in demand in Winnipeg. Every time we do it, people say we should do it every year. We've performed to sold-out houses."

Lewis said he had his first glimpse of this "Carmina" in Belgium, in a creation of Mauricio Wainrot for the Royal Ballet of Flanders. "He is from South America -- Argentina -- and he actually danced in Winnipeg for one year. Thirty years later, he returned and said he was interested in (our doing) ‘Carmina burana,' and so we went ahead and did it with great success."

"Sacred" and "profane" are two adjectives that accompany "Carmina burana," a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts written principally in Medieval Latin during the 11th and 12th centuries by students and clergy, mainly to satirize the Catholic Church.

Their subject matter, as topical in the 21st century as the 13th, includes the fickleness of fortune and wealth, life's ephem eral nature, the joys inherent in spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and, of course, lust. Carl Orff, the German composer, set 24 of these poems to music in 1936 and, since debauchery al ways sells, they became part of popular culture and continue to enjoy a presence in concert halls.

But "Carmina" is only the tip of the iceberg, or more appropriately the heater, in this hot-blooded program.

Those who found delight in Peter Quanz's "Luminous" two weeks ago, during the Hong Kong Ballet's Pillow engagement, should be further intrigued by this promising young choreographer's "In Tandem."

Set to Steve Reich's pulsating "Double Sextet," which was accorded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, Quanz's ballet matches the edgy character of Reich's score in its exploration of fundamental confrontations faced by love-based relationships.

"It is more cerebral, very metaphoric," Lewis explained, comparing "In Tandem" to "Luminous." "It is never blatant or obvious. The movement is suggestive without being literal," he added.

Rounding out the program, "Moonlight Sonata" is another testament on relationships -- the idea of romantic love and how love rarely leads us in the direction we thought it would. Part of a longer work, "As Above, So Below" by Mark Godden, a Mon treal choreographer, this pas de deux is set to the Adagio Sostenuto movement of Beet hoven's eponymous opus.

"This too is very sensuous," Lewis said, "but again, not blatant, not blunt, just beautifully crafted. No one will shield their children's eyes. In fact, I hope that children will come."

And why is the Royal Win nipeg returning only now after a 48-year absence?

"Because nobody thought of it, I guess," answered Ella Baff, the Pillow's executive and artistic director, with a chuckle. "I love bringing ballet to the Pillow. When I consider all the ballet companies that I'm aware of around the world -- and not only whether or not they are beautiful dancers, but the kind of repertoire that they have to offer -- I thought the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was doing some really wonderful work and they should be seen more in the United States."

What: Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Where: Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, 358 George Carter Road, Becket

When: Through Sunday; Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Admission: $65 to $70



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