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The Carolina Ballet opened its 10th season with Lynne Taylor-Corbett's Carmina Burana, which the company first presented in 2001, and revived in 2005. While the choreography holds up well on third viewing, not all of the dancing was as exciting during the Friday performance of this run as it was two years ago — though some of it was better.
The company will reprise several of its popular works during this anniversary season — and that is one of the wonderful things about having a local ballet company. Ballet is so rich that you are not likely to take in everything the first time you see a piece — and it is very difficult to tell the dancers from the dance in a single viewing. Each performance is different from every other, and the more extensive the cast changes, the wider the variation. For instance, the emotional temperature of this performance was not as fervid as previous ones, but there was more true pathos.
Taylor-Corbett created a modern day narrative to accompany Carl Orff’s rhythmic, roaring music (1937) to which he set a group of medieval German secular songs on some of life's great themes — longing, love, lust, greed, temptation, corruption, redemption, and, not least, luck. This Carmina is set in New York, with its layered societies of the glossy rich and the working poor, and it takes moral choice out of the realm of the religious and puts it squarely into everyday life. The Man Who Wins, danced here with intelligence and delicacy of feeling by Attila Bongar, is just another working stiff until he wins the lottery. Next thing you know he's a slickster in a sharp suit, working Wall Street. He's not corrupt yet, but his wife is. The Woman Who Yearns (Melissa Podcasy), exhausted by the daily struggle as a waitress, threw over her true love, the Man Who Waits (Timour Bourtasenkov) for the newly rich winner. For a long time, there seemed to be no price…the happy little family prospered, and their pretty daughter (gorgeously danced here by newcomer Barbara Toth) grew to charming womanhood.
Enter the Man of Darkness, and his sidekick, the Siren of Temptation, with predictable but dramatic results. After he takes their lures, they spin the winner on the wheel of fortune until he loses everything. Marcelo Martinez of Paraguay, who joined Carolina Ballet this season from the Washington Ballet, demonstrated as the Man of Darkness that he is a dancer to watch. His suave performance was authoritative and thrilling, and long-time company member Margot Martin was right there with him. The very air around her seemed to spark with malicious sexuality. Caitlin Mundth also deserves special mention as the Lost Soul, a blowsy little platinum blonde junkie dragged by the wheel of fate through the mud of humiliation and torment.
Melissa Podcasy and Timour Bourtasenkov have led Carolina Ballet as principal dancers since its inception, but their performances were muted on the 26th. There is nothing particular to complain about, but the volume wasn't quite high enough, as it were. The same was true of the North Carolina Master Chorale, led by Alfred Sturgis. The singers face the Memorial Auditorium stage, so the sound is somewhat muffled for the audience. I don't think there is a solution to this problem in this venue, but one does long for clarity.
There is no way to follow Carmina Burana with anything, so "dessert," as artistic director Robert Weiss termed it from the stage, came first in the form of his Petit Ballet Romantique. Set to music by Leo Delibes, this a pretty, pretty, pink and gold confection, led by the delightful Margaret Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez. If it was any sweeter, they'd have to cut it in half or hand out insulin. You don't have to think about this dance, analyze it, or draw meaning from it — all you have to do is enjoy every delicious frothy minute of lovely bodies in lovely costumes denying gravity to lovely music under lovely lighting. That is very easy to do. Neither company nor audience could survive on a steady diet of this, but a slice of cake with sugar roses always goes down well at a birthday party.