Orlando Ballet’s Carmina Burana: fortune’s fury in one intense act

I am interrupting Late to the Theater’s horror month to bring you my review of Orlando Ballet’s Carmina Burana, and I will start with a confession: I did not pay close enough attention to the playbill to notice that there was no intermission, and I kept patiently waiting for it so that I could go powder my nose.

By dance number sixteen I thought: holy cow this is going to be a four-hour extravaganza! And by dance 25, I realized it was already the reprise of O Fortuna, and I’d watched the whole ballet. (And then I raced myself to the beautifully appointed Harriett’s Lady’s Lounge after the second or third curtain call…)

Clocking in at an hour-fifteen it is a spare yet intense ballet. We discussed the creation of it with Mr. Robert Hill, choreographer, in this piece a few weeks ago, and I’ll point you there for some background in the earworm-inspiring music and philosophy behind the choreography. On to the review.

Orlando Ballet at Dr. Phillips Center is a grand production — but the show keeps its small-town feel with personal words from Mr. Hill and various important front-office personages before the dance began. This is my fourth time watching the Orlando Ballet (and I’ve watched two rehearsals), so I realized that I have gotten quite familiar with the company and director.

The “angst and the passion…partying and lust” of Mr. Hill’s choreography shone brightly in the solos, pas de deux, and smaller ensemble numbers. Kate-Lynn Robichaux and Jinho Won were especially good at taking the lexicon of movements in each piece and imbuing them with deeply felt emotion. (In a story before the ballet, Mr. Hill described Harriett Lake’s favorite piece — one in which Won was lifted high by the hands of every male dancer in the company, shirtless and in small shorts. Mr. Hill described Harriett’s reaction to the dance as: “O.M.G., If that’s not heaven, I don’t know what is.”)

Arcadian Broad also had a solo to Were diu werit alle min (dance 10) that he danced with his usual brightness and athletic energy, and delighted the crowd.

The strongest dances were powerful because they worked to convey the emotional weight of the music through the deeply relatable fusion of Mr. Hill’s choreography. His movements clearly drew from a vast knowledge of the history of dance, with a bit of classical portebras here, a bit of 20th century en face there, and an overall attention to the dancer’s bodies (sometimes quite bare) without any over-adornment or elaborate sets to detract from the movements themselves.

Some pieces, such as the women’s ensemble piece Chramer, gip die varwe mir (dance 8), drew upon pastoral ballet to embody the playfulness of young milkmaids discussing boys. The group of women used movement that were modernized version of the classics to express the joy in these lyrics, beautifully performed by the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park:

Hail, world,
so rich in joys!
I will be obedient to you
because of the pleasures you afford.
Look at me,
young men!
Let me please you!

Other pieces were more challenging in emotion and theme, especially Circa mea pectoral, which presented viewers with shifting pairs of dancers that had a male-male pas de deux, a female-female pas de deux, and the usual one. Watching men dance together in an intense and supportive pair made me almost wish that ballets had gender-blind casting. (Imagine how interesting that would be?)

My favorite piece was the relatively quiet In truitina (dance 21) with Robichaux and Daniel Benavides dancing out a nuanced love story. Benavides (whom I remember from Romeo and Juliet as an especially evil and incestuous Tybalt) felt like a responsive and respectful partner embodying the push and pull of these words:

In the wavering balance of my feelings
set against each other
lascivious love and modesty.
But I choose what I see,
and submit my neck to the yoke;
I yield to the sweet yoke.

It’s nice to see a complex expression of partnership on stage, and always wonderful to see Robichaux open up her emotions.

I was not as taken with the all-company ensemble dances, in this case the opening and closing O Fortuna pieces. I feel that Mr. Hill’s choreography is strongest when danced with attention to ensemble-wide precision to make the architecture of the whole group of dancers work — and when dancers are slow to a mark or out of synch, it made bits of the piece seem confusing when it could have been powerful. Perhaps next time.

Although I am not as familiar with choral work as I am with ballet, I thought that the singing of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, and three soloists, was vibrant and stunning — there’s nothing like a wall made of singers to make the whole artistic expression seem fresh and real, and the union of art forms made for an excellent show.

See you in December for the Nutcracker!

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