'Carmina Burana': Making dance, step by step



‘This way. Now that way."
The commands are clear and succinct:

"Step across -- push, push, push!"

With the notations residing in Paula Weber’s mind, rather than on a printed page, she is making dance as it is done most frequently -- step by step, gesture by gesture.

Watching and listening carefully during this rehearsal conducted by Weber are three agile performers who appear to seize her messages quickly -- Melanie Comeau, a lovely, statuesque young woman, and two trim and muscular men, Mauricio Vergara and Camilo Cardenas.

They are principal dancers, and Weber, the choreographer of Albany Berkshire Ballet’s new "Carmina Burana," the major work on the company’s spring performances to be offered over the weekend -- this evening at the Egg in Albany, N.Y., and Saturday evening at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. Curtain times are 7:30.

The program also includes excerpts from "Swan Lake," restaged by Darren McIntyre to the familiar Tchaikovsky score, and "Sleight," a work of Rick and Jeffrey Kuperman, performed to a sound score by Nathan Johnson.

A major goal of Madeline Cantarella Culpo, the company’s founder and artistic director, has been the restoration of ABB’s spring performances, which were resumed last year. She also is delighted to have "Carmina" back on stage for the first time in a dozen years, welcoming back Weber, the company’s balletmistress to restage the piece.

Weber, who has worked with such major choreographers as Bill T. Jones, Laura Dean and Charles Moulton, and performed some 45 works with several notable companies, is an associate professor of ballet at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

A product of the rich imagination of the German composer Carl Orff over the years 1935 and 1936, "Carmina Burana" is a scenic cantata based on 24 poems from the medieval collection of that title. The translation of its full subtitle, "Secular Songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images," only begins to convey its rather salacious nature, in the exploration of the pleasures and perils of strong drink, gluttony, lust and gambling -- perfect revels for a newly awakened springtime, ideal as well for expression in dance, outside its presence as a concert-hall staple.

The poems were preserved over the centuries by Benedictine monks, and the choreographer employs the metaphoric presence of the monks as she develops the delicate thread of a storyline, according to Weber.

But much time has passed and a great deal has occurred in the world since Weber’s last production here of "Carmina."

"When I originally choreographed ‘Carmina Burana’ in 1996, there was no cell phone or Internet, but now, people are more connected with each other technologically than emotionally," she said during an interview at ABB’s Pittsfield studios.

"And you can’t do dance by cell phone, because it precludes the essential face-to-face exchanges of human communication. We have been working over these past days to refine the piece emotionally so the dancers can spark a beautiful connection among themselves, which will then radiate to the audience."

"Each dancer represents an abstraction of characters assumed from everyday life," added Comeau. "My character, who I guess we could call the ‘Lady in White,’ participates in multiple group numbers, as well as being featured in one of the main love stories of the ballet.

"She finds love, only to be hurt and betrayed, but eventually finds resolve in forgiveness and love again."

Vergara and Cardenas, the two principal male dancers, are part of a contingent of six that McIntyre has brought from Alabama’s Montgomery Ballet -- for whom he is artistic director -- along with two dancers each from the Spartenburg Ballet in South Carolina and Florida’s Orlando Ballet.

A native of Australia, McIntyre, who has performed with and choreographed for several companies, including ABB, has set after Marius Petipa a new three-part pas de trois in which six dancers will take part. It is based on Tchaikovsky’s 1895 revised score.

A directing and choreographing team, Rick and Jeff Kuperman, recent graduates of Harvard and Princeton, respectively, have gathered an already impressive resume of achievements in film and on stage, including their latest film, "Rules of the Game," which has become part of the "Dance on Camera" tour. Their piece, "Sleight," first was presented by the Harvard Ballet Company, a student-run, extra-curricular troupe.

Comeau, a Pittsfield native who received her initial training with Culpo and later performed Clara in ABB’s "Nutcracker," was a fellow student with Rick Kuperman at Harvard, and the Kupermans invited her to join the cast.

"It’s a piece for four dancers who pretty much share the stage equally," she explained. ("It’s) centered around the idea of competition versus cooperation in relation to outside forces -- there’s a little bit of a ‘strength in numbers’ feel to it as the dancers try to negotiate a seemingly uncontrollable environment.

"I love working with the Kuperman brothers. Their work is always very physical, which is great, because the process of creating in studio is often very exploratory and we are constantly jumping on one another while trying to figure out new lifts and partnering."


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