Archive for February, 2018


February 7, 2018


Above: Nicolo Fonte, choreographer of  this weekend’s Carmina Burana, half of a double bill from Cincinnati Ballet, explains the expression he wants from dancer Maizyalet Valazques, during a run-through of his new ballet last Friday at the Ballet Center.

It’s Carmina Burana time! Cincinnati Ballet has scheduled six performances of the  Cincinnati premiere of this passionate, massive  and ever-popular work, beginning Thursday. Last Friday, I was able to go into the studio and watch Associate Artistic Director Johanna Wilt and the choreographer for two hours as they ran segments of the work and gave notes to the dancers.

O Fortuna, indeed!

The presentation is a collaboration between Cincinnati Ballet and Ballet West, which premiered the work in November, to accolades. Fonte, who is Resident Choreographer at Ballet West and busy throughout the world, has contributed choreography for the entire work, which joins 18 members of the Ballet with live music from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the pit (under the baton of Music Director Carmon DeLeone), and singers of the May Festival Chorus, who are  amazingly suspended over the Music Hall stage, for a performance sure to be as boldly dramatic as it is physically and aurally powerful. I’m not 100% sure I understand the staging of this amazing creation, but do know the device suspending the singers was built in Tennessee, and is called a truss set! It’s apparently somewhat like a bridge on which the singers are positioned. If I’m correct, soloists at certain points actually are on the same stage area as the dancers with whom they are performing.


Cincinnati Ballet dancer Melissa Gelfin looks ecstatic as she rehearses with Taylor Carrasco and James Cunningham

Carl Orff composed Carmina Burana in 1935. In fact, though the music has always been a popular concert offering, his original intention was that it be sung together with “instruments and magic images.” Orff subscribed to the his own dramatic concept of “Theatrum Munti,” in which music, movement and speech were inseparable. He set Carmina to medieval songs discovered in a Benedictine monastery a few decades earlier by the then-modern world. Though there was rudimentary music notation with the songs, Orff’s music does not draw from that. In fact, he was extraordinarily giddy with his own work. To his publisher, Schott Music, he said “Everything I have written to date, and which you have unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.”

Notable for it’s directness, and abrupt rhythmic changes, and the shimmering orchestration reminiscent of Stravinsky, the score has also been criticized for its lack of harmonic complexity. But no matter, the music’s 1937 premiere in Frankfurt, Germany, was immediately popular to the masses, including (unfortunately) the Nazi movement. Nevertheless, it has become an international staple of the classical music repertoire, and there is some evidence that Orff was left-leaning in his original political beliefs. Today there is no overt political meaning attached to Carmina.

The score is framed with two identical movements. “O Fortuna, Empress of the World,” is familiar at this point to almost everyone, as it occurs frequently in films, television commercials and countless other popular media.

Cincinnati Ballet dancers Cervilio Miguel Amador and Rodrigo Almarales face off in a studio rehearsal of this weekend’s Carmina Burana

Topics of the other songs include the fickleness of fortune and wealth (the first page of the collected songs was a drawing based on the turning wheel of Fortune), the ephemeral nature of life, joy at the return of Spring and, famously, the pleasures and perils of drinking, gambling and lust.


In the rehearsal I am watching, Fonte and Wilt are professionally methodical. At this point, the dancers have been taught all the steps. Wilt has a yellow legal pad, on which she has written what seems like dozens of notes for them, which she scratches through after they have been taken care of. Sometimes a small conversation with the dancers addresses an issue like how to make the choreography work logistically, as well as emotionally. An ensuing run-through of the entire ballet (I saw about half of this process) is once again stopped repeatedly by Fonte, each time he sees something he needs polishing.

There’s no question the dancers are earning their pay. It is late in the afternoon, and they must be tired by now, but they gamely give their all to make Fonte happy.

Repeatedly, he emphasizes that the movements are timed exactly to the music (“we have to wait for the second ‘bam’. No matter what!”). He jokes that what is supposed to look “wild and crazy” seems a bit “out of control. I’m wondering if it could be . . .” he suggests, as the dancers get ready to do it all again, better. During one suspended moment he says “here you are hovering like you are gonna fall over.” During another step he wants performed in close proximity, “it’s like you feel his breath on the back of your neck. A little odd, but you get used to it.”

Wilt reminds the dancers that “you have to fill it [the movement] out. Make is bigger.” She demonstrates a pivot and a throwing arm movement that let’s you know why she has her job!

And I am reminded once again how much time and attention to every detail goes into each main stage ballet performance from Cincinnati Ballet.

I can’t wait to see it all come together on stage!

Carmina hoistingChristian

New dancer Christian Griggs-Drane is hoisted by men of the company