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Tulsa Ballet

'Carmina Burana,' 'Serenade'

by Gretchen Collins

September 24, 2006 -- Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa Ballet stepped gracefully into its 50th anniversary season with a pristine production of George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” and then exploded with the incendiary “Carmina Burana,” newly choreographed by TB principal dancer and choreographer, Ma Cong. The Chapman Music Hall of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center was at capacity for this show-stopping pleaser.

Often paired with “Carmina Burana,” “Serenade” was the opening act, but it also provided the yin to Carmina Burana’s yang. It delivered its own technical punch in crystal clarity. This is a ballet born of the practice studio, without story, but beautiful in its simplicity. The women of the corps rose to the heights of Balanchine’s choreography and created balletic heaven. Soloist Alexandra Bergman was fairy light in her execution. The team work was flawless in this piece. Boston Ballet’s costumes glistened under Les Dickert’s lighting.

“Serenade” showed off the prim and proper – classical ballet at its best – but it was the hot and debaucherous “Carmina Burana” that held center stage. A community effort, it included the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus, a classical staple in Tulsa since 1992, and the Tulsa Children’s Chorus. These combined 200 voices raised the roof. Nancy Ross, who stepped in at the last moment, and performed the soprano solos with strength and lucidity. Andrew Skoog sang his one selection in a clear, bright tenor. Baritone Gerald Dolter had great range and articulation.

The newly formed Tulsa Symphony Orchestra made a strong performance from the pit (TSO is receiving kudos of its own for its new brand of orchestra management that utilizes its musicians’ combined talents. Each participates in the management of the orchestra while contributing creatively). Conducting was Maestro Carmon DeLeone, Music Director of The Cincinnati Ballet.

Although Ma Cong came to TB from China, he might as well be from Tulsa. The city has embraced the talented and exuberant Cong as its own. He has become the local boy who made good. The world premiere of his choreography of “Carmina Burana” inspired on-their-feet enthusiasm from audience members, making this a very satisfying dance experience.

Cong’s early love, Chinese folk dancing, was combined with small helpings of classical Spanish and steps straight out of Rio’s Carnivale. With a small dash of ancient Egyptian movements and a few subtly erotic positions, Cong’s creation was received with deafening applause. His choreography utilizes feet, hands and bodies to their max in his athletic style. The only problem with the frenetic pacing is that sometimes it was a bit too busy. Quiet moments in dance can be as golden as in conversation.
Although the story of earthy delights was danced with great abandon, one couldn’t miss the religious symbolism of crosses, praying hands, uplifted steepled arms. It was a careful balance of family hour and molten, heaving bodies.

Cong communicated admirably the yearning and wonder of young love through his dancers who shyly held flowers while dancing happily around an imaginary maypole. The women of Tulsa Ballet were as fresh as spring petals in the early scenes.

Spaniard and principal dancer, Alfonso Martin, who returned to Tulsa after a stint with Boston Ballet, gave a gutsy and lusty solo. When Alexandra Bergman joined him on stage, it wasn’t just the lighting that heated up. Even when the spotlight was on Bergman, who is a phenomenal modern dancer, it was as if Martin was stalking her. This was a powerful scene.

Jo Wimer’s costumes were lovely, but those with the most impact were the flesh colored shirts and brown pants the men wore during one of the Tavern scenes. The costumes reflected the vulgarity of fighting as the men locked arms in macho struggle and eventually dragged the women off in a show of Stone Age-like virility.

There comes a moment in “Carmina Burana” when the tone changes, the dancers portray newly gained wisdom and maturity. The pacing slows and the mood becomes contemplative. The players have accepted Fate and will return to their religious ways. But in a moment of surprise, the dancers pull out a bright fabric (the width of the stage) from the apron, and then recant it all in the flow of yellow silk.

In the final scene, the dancers appear in monks’ robes. Maybe we were wrong. Maybe they are returning to the straight and narrow. But in defiance of Fate, the robes are ripped off and flung to the stage floor. Cong had one more surprise. The dancers formed two pyramid-shaped human piles awash in golden light. Are they repentant? Or just hedging their bets?

Cong fulfilled, in his interpretation of “Carmina Burana,” the promise of his earlier works: “Folia,” “Samsara” and “Melodia.” Rather than summarize the story of the wayward monks through dance, Cong followed Carl Orff’s music. It was an exhilarating path.

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