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Merilyn Jackson
Previews
Ballet
United States
Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA
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In Philadelphia, Centuries Old Songs Of Lust And Longing Inspire A Dance Spectacle

by Merilyn Jackson
February 20, 2007
Philadelphia, PA
A New Carmina Burana for the Pennsylvania Ballet by one of its veteran dancers, choreographer, Matthew Neenan

Carmina Burana
And Serenade
Pennsylvania Ballet
Academy of Music
Broad & Locust Streets
Mar. 8 - 17, 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees
Tickets: 215-336-2000 or
www.paballet.org
Whether you know Carl Orff's Carmina Burana or not, you've probably heard it — in everything from car commercials to movie battle scenes. Orff premiered his thunderous choral work with its rudimentary rhythms in 1937 during the Third Reich's march to war. As if oblivious to the militarism of the era, or perhaps in spite of it, Orff reached back in time to a thirteenth century Benedictine manuscript of ribald poems for source material for the carmina, or songs. It's a boisterously randy work that lends itself well to dance.

Several choreographers have mounted full-length ballets on Carmina. Ernst Uthoff and his wife, Lola Botka, both members of the famed Jooss Ballet, left Germany during World War II for Chile where he created his 1953 work. With its clean lines of German Expressionism, the ballet's movement is as spare as a Bauhaus chair.

The most often seen version though, is by John Butler. The Pennsylvania Ballet first performed it in 1966 and has been performing it every few years, the last time in 2003. But after 40 years, the ballet's artistic director Roy Kaiser felt it was time for a version with today's choreography. His obvious choice was dancer/choreographer Matthew Neenan, who has now choreographed more than a half dozen works for the company in which he's danced since 1994.

"Roy approached me last time we did Carmina and I said something like "Maybe we should at least update the costumes," said Neenan just before going into rehearsal last week. At the time, Neenan didn't give it much more thought. Then, last year Kaiser said he wanted to do a Carmina again but wasn't sure whether to do the old Butler version or ask Neenan for a new one. There was no budget for new sets and costumes. When funding came through, Kaiser handed the reins to Neenan, intending to create a new tradition for the company.

Neenan gladly stepped in, but "I really didn't have a vision for this until last August," he says. "I knew the music of course and felt it was so big I wanted to expand the cast to fill the music. The Butler version uses eight couples, mine will use all 32 in our company." While in New York at a Julliard residency over the summer, he began looking for designers. "I met Mimi Lien and her design of a rotating mountain with a skin-like fabric represents the wheel of life or fortune and helped me go in another direction," he said. "Romanian costumer Oana Botez-Ban also made the look more futuristic."

This is the second new Carmina to have its world premiere in Philadelphia within six months. Last fall, Leah Stein allowed the soloists' (tenor, soprano and baritone) roles to guide her in her quite spectacular site-specific version at Girard College.

Neenan however, "Got more into the libretto." He asked his key people to read it, noting that when he danced it in the past he didn't really know what role he ought to be channeling. "The libretto makes many references to maidens. So, I have seven brides who are not really of this world. My recent ballet Frequencies is also about spirit and desire and it inspired me too. I reworked some material from that and put some dancers on pointe shoes, some in jazz shoes and many in bare feet."

Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra's Beatrice Jona Affron handpicked the soloists and will conduct the orchestra with The Philadelphia Kantorei Chorus.

Also on the program is George Balanchine's Serenade, the first ballet he made in the U.S in 1934. So, we will have an old chestnut and an old chestnut in a new skin.
Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Photo © & courtesy of Gabriel Bienczycki


Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Photo © & courtesy of Gabriel Bienczycki


Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Principal Dancer Amy Aldridge

Photo © & courtesy of Gabriel Bienczycki

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