Jacob's Pillow: Royal Winnipeg Ballet: Exuberant Canadians return

Friday August 3, 2012

BECKET -- Carl Orff's cantata "Carmina burana" has firmly established its place among 20th-century masterpieces, a work that by its nature offers striking opportunities for inspired movement, along with its inherent joy and excitement for the ears.

Maurice Wainrot's production of the ballet for Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, now a decade old, was unveiled Wednesday evening in the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival during the company's first appearance here in 48 years. They're here through Sunday afternoon.

Wainrot's "Carmina" is loaded with exuberance to match the youthful vigor of a company that apparently is turning out an endless supply of young dancers through its extensive training programs.

Orff pulled the 24 poems that make up his cantata from a group of texts by students and clergy of the 11th- and 12th century, written primarily in medieval Latin. The fickle characters of fortune and wealth, life's ephemeral nature, spring's joys and the pleasures and attendant perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust are the burning issues.

"O Fortuna," the beginning and concluding part of Orff's score, now a part of popular culture in films and in television commercials, is delivered with a full stage of dancers in rather spectacular fashion, with the ballerinas lifted and rotated at one point by their partners in the manner of a wheel of fortune, an intrinsic symbol of "Carmina's" ethos. Carlos Gallardo's costumes range from taffeta-looking skirts for everyone, occasional skivvies for the men, with tuques on the heads of the more sinister.

Although some of the work's texts border on salaciousness, Wainrot has steered clear of the blatant territory in which other choreographers have plunged eagerly, choosing expressions that suggest folkish fun more generally, and in more abstract form, lust and the other sins of weak mortals.

He also manages some beautifully constructed tableaux, such as at the conclusion of the rather sensuous, modernly phrased "In Taberna" scene, in which the libidinous maiden, danced cunningly by Amanda Green, is lifted and supported by her ensemble of ravagers. Large scale efforts like this "Carmina" are not easy, and this incarnation emerged with minimal mishaps.

Jo-Ann Sundermeier, the Pillow's 80th anniversary poster figure, was joined in the smoothly balletic "Cours d'Amours" pas de deux by Alexander Gamayunov, an equally fine dancer who repeatedly swept her off her feet only to face the uncertainty of love.

The ideal, of course, is to have soloists, choristers and an orchestra in the company of dancers, but space in this case prevents such collaboration. The recording used, although unidentified in the program, had some fine singers, and it was conducted sensitively.


The work of Peter Quanz, a young choreographer whose "Luminous" was a highpoint of the Hong Kong Ballet's visit last month, returned with "In Tandem," a dance that further explores the Quanz theories about relationships in which love is concerned. The piece for six dancers -- two men, four women -- was set to the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Double Sextet of Steve Reich who was feted with some of his music last weekend at the Bang on a Can Marathon at Mass MoCA.

In his "In Tandem," Quanz tenders fascinating counterpoint in his graceful lifts and arabesques during the edgier outer allegro movements of Reich's score, and supplies an elegant pair of pas de deux for the slow movement, danced with suave assurance by two couples, Sophia Lee and Gamayunov, and Yayoi Ezawa and Yosuke Mino. Anne Armit's costume design is casual all around, black shorts for everyone, grey tops for the women, black t-shirts for the men.


The Montreal-based choreographer, Mark Godden, clearly had love and relationships on his mind in his "Moonlight Sonata," a brief six-minute pas de deux from a longer work, "As Above, So Below." Here the "above" part, the more optimistic promise, emerged in a persuasive performance by Sunder meier and Harrison James, the two clad in white by Paul Daigle, perhaps for the purity of their seeming motives.

ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET. "Carmina burana;" "In Tandem;" "Moonlight Sonata." Through Sunday. Eves.: Fri., Sat. 8. Mats.: Sat., Sun. 2. Jacob's Pillow, Ted Shawn Theatre, 358 George Carter Road, Becket. Tickets: $70, $65. (413) 243-9745; www. jacobspillow.org.


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