“Carmina Burana with Serenade” Captivates Audiences

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Ballet West dancers captivate audiences mid-air
Beau Pearson

CORRECTION: Due to a casting change that has just come to our attention, the names of dancers Sayaka Ohtaki and Adrian Fry have been changed to match the actual casting of the Nov. 4 performance.

Ballet West opened its 54th season this past weekend with an exceptional production of “Carmina Burana with Serenade.” Arguably one of the most ambitious productions in the company’s history, Ballet West exceeds and excels in this dynamic and challenging duo and solidifies the status of a must-see show.

“Carmina Burana” finds its origins dating back to the 11th century in the form of literature, primarily a poetic text. Rediscovered in 1803 by a Bavarian monastery, “Carmina Burana” intrigued many with its compelling story of curious monks who explore the world outside their own monastery and experience sensuality, anger and debauchery, as well as goodness, beauty and joy. This alluring story later piqued the interest of musician Carl Orff, who wrote music to the poem in the 1930’s. Orff’s music was novel and quickly became classic in usage and frequency, appearing in film, television and eventually ballet.

The ballet was first performed in Utah in 1974 and was met with wild reception. It has since been performed over 100 times, making it one of the most popular productions in Ballet West’s repertoire.

This particular rendition is a debut of resident choreographer, Nicolo Fonte’s new version of the classic program. “Fonte, has an amazing gift for taking well-known pieces of music and illuminating them with his exciting and unexpected vision,” said artistic director Adam Sklute.

“Carmina” is the season opener to Sklute’s 10th season with the company.

“Carmina is much more than just a ballet, it is a mammoth and exciting music and dance theater experience,” said Sklute.

A mammoth indeed. The production features 18 Ballet West dancers on stage with a 76-member choir (Cantorum Chamber Choir), backed by the 50-member Ballet West Orchestra, as well as three soloists (Melissa Heath- soprano, Eric Taylor- tenor and Christopher Clayton- baritone) interacting with the dancers amidst song.

In co-production with Cincinnati Ballet, “Carmina Burana” is gripping and thrillingly unpredictable. This large-scale oratorio is phenomenal in relation to its exhilarating drama. Following the monks through their reflective journey is both amusing and confusing. However, it can be argued that the very dissonance of such a journey is truly what sets “Carmina” on such a high diversity scale for Ballet West.

A particularly enthusiastic number is the second to last vignette, “Ave formosissima,” in which dancers Chase O’Connell and Beckanne Sisk (cast for the night of Nov. 4) captivate with stellar precision and gorgeous chemistry. Their duet alone deserved a standing ovation.

The second half of the night was Balanchine’s “Serenade,” set to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings.” Beginning at the American School of Ballet in 1934, Balanchine included a random string of inconsistent incidents that occurred during practice into the final product, such as hair coming undone and a dancer showing up late. These additions remain today and added to the charm and human depth of the piece.

“Serenade” has become a staple in ballet, known for its ethereal choreography and melancholy emotion. Despite having no concrete storyline, “Serenade” tells a story as Ballet West and company succeed tremendously as captivating story-tellers with shocking athletic abilities.

Costume and lighting in both pieces were impeccably on point, however, the true heroes of this performance (besides the dancers, of course) are the orchestra members. Crashing from menacing bellows with deep reds and blacks in “Carmina” to a gentler transition of floating on white and blue clouds with delicate strains and harmonies in “Serenade.” The skill of Ballet West Orchestra in these pieces has likewise displayed their versatility and endurance in this jam-packed night.

Can enough words be said about this production? “Carmina Burana with Serenade” singlehandedly displays the diversity, talent and athletic ability bursting from Ballet West as well as captivates audiences with two completely different, yet deeply substantial stories that leave you wanting more.

“Carmina Burana with Serenade” is running at the Capitol Theater Nov. 3-11. Tickets are available by calling (801) 869-6920, or online at balletwest.org. Don’t forget that student rush tickets are available for $15 the day of the show for every Ballet West performance.

l.randall@dailyutahchronicle.com

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