It's no surprise all performances of "Carmina Burana" by the School of Dance at the University of Arizona were sold out last weekend.
The choreography by James Clouser is full of drama and mystery. The music composed by Carl Orff in 1935 never fails to stir within us some subconscious link to medieval deeds performed by cloistered monks in pursuit of the devil's pleasure.
Orff selected 24 of the poems included in a large collection of secular works written in a 13th century manuscript discovered in a Bavarian monastery in 1803. This is the original "Carmina Burana" anthology, which included drinking songs, political satires and bawdy love songs. In Orff's hands the subject matter took on more sinister tones.
It is Clouser's intent to use his dancers to further the feelings of both Orff and the medieval monks. Calling on ballet language he adds muscle and conflict, creates rituals of ominous ceremony, presents three dimensional images of torment and joy, sacrifice and triumph. But his resolution in the end, like life itself, is bittersweet.
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There is no absolute winner who can walk away without a care, leaving behind the struggle of others. Fate is the last figure to remain standing, yes, but finds little comfort in directing the pursuits of humans.
In an orderly universe someone has to be in charge, of course. Clouser shows us how Fate recognizes and accepts her responsibility even as she grows sadly aware that life is always lonely at the top.
When Fate looks down at all the humans cavorting around on Earth, sometimes Fate wishes she had a boyfriend.
The choreography itself is so intense in this full-length, two act ballet that Clouser prepared three casts of dancers. At the performance on opening night, Gretchen LaWall wore the tiara of authority to dance the role of Fate.
In the beginning she is in control of all she surveys, and gets respect accordingly. But there is a soft edge to that imperious attitude. Just like with those Greek and Roman gods, it is the human qualities that make her interesting.
Countering Fate is the feisty Woman in Red (Candace Bergeron), who has a nice boyfriend and is determined to keep him.
It was the male dancers who gave this production of "Carmina Burana" its muscle, and in turn its power to be a dominant force onstage. To be sure, this is ballet for guys.
Clouser has provided roles for daemons and devils, as well as witches, filling the stage with men who mean business. Brightest among them on opening night was Anthony Raimondi, dancing as the Fool. He was jumping a bit higher, stretching a bit farther, becoming a totally believable presence as the one human willing to defy Fate.
Raimondi's brash character set the tone for a full-bodied performance from all the men. Even though Fate would prevail, what made the most lasting impression was that stage full of male dancers adding the weight of their moves to Clouser's choreography and Orff's dark music.
University of Arizona School of Dance in performance of "Carmina Burana," Feb. 10-13 at the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre.
Chuck Graham has written about the Tucson arts scene for more than 35 years. Read more of his arts coverage at "Let the Show Begin," www.tucsonstage.com