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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Carmina Burana
By Michelle Pett

Also see Elizabeth's reviews of Recent Tragic Events and Enchanted April

Sexy classical music sells anything from broccoli to Buicks. Car commercials are notorious for linking legendary songs with the visual promise of a vigorous sex life on the open road. Carl Orff's sensual Carmina Burana sells cars, big time. That's the reason I was thinking about them while watching the new co-production of Carmina Burana by the Minnesota Dance Theatre (MDT) and Theatre de la Jeune Lune: sexy music, sexy voices, sexy dancers in tighty whiteys ... sex would be nice right now ... how about a new car instead?

Carmina Burana is based on a collection of poems and songs written by defrocked 13th century Bavarian monks. These dirty-minded monks knew that sex sells - their traveling productions of religious plays were augmented by songs of lust, love, gambling and drinking. Medieval audiences came for the naughty bits and stayed for the moral message. Orff set their material to music from the mid-1930s, dividing it into four movements: "Early Spring," "On the Green," "In the Tavern" and the "Court of Love"; these movements are book-ended by the famous ode to Fortune that sells cars, "Fortune, Empress of the World."

This Carmina, collaboratively created by MDT's Lise Houlton and Theatre de la Jeune Lune's Dominique Serrand with Loyce Houlton's original choreography, is an impressionistic piece; there are no subtitles, so you have to let your mind run free to capture the emotional rhythms of the show. Director Serrand sets Carmina on Jeune Lune's bare stage. Brick walls, massive columns and a trio of doorways create a classical backdrop upon which Houlton's choreography comes to life. It is an enormous production with 50+ people on stage, including soloists Bradley Greenwald, Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Justin Madel; MDT dancers; a chorus from the Minnesota Chorale; and a quartet of musicians co-directed by Barbara Brooks and Tom Linker. In a feat of traffic management, Serrand interweaves dancers and chorus to create ever-changing stage pictures; Chorus, quartet and video projections are sculptural elements within which the beauty of the dance unfolds. The video, while initially intriguing, ultimately became an annoying diversion from the rest of the tableau.

Serrand's regulars each take a star turn: Greenwald's baritone shines in both the tavern scenes and in the "Court of Love"; Madel's solo takes place on a mobile turntable surrounded by undulating dancers - he enters looking like the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland; Peden, dressed in a white bustier and prowling the stage like a high school girl looking to lose her virginity, finally cuts loose her soaring soprano in the "Court of Love".

Houlton's choreography is a frankly erotic, sometimes comic, occasionally brutish physical shorthand for the rough and tumble nature of human existence: men posture, women choose men then change their mind, couples couple, men fight. MDT's company tackles Carmina with the youthful exuberance it deserves. Their performances are commendable, although some areas (such as lifts) lacked the snap of impeccable execution.

Marcus Dilliard's lighting design is a stunning element of this production. With lighting instruments on both walls and ceiling, he washes the set with a range of mood-setting color: a lovely gold greets five couples as they dance their first infatuation in "Early Spring"; striking red illustrates testosterone-filled aggression in the tavern scene; and sleepy blue sweeps over lovers as they roll lazily upon each other in the "Court of Love."

Costumes by Tulle and Dye were a mixed bag. The MDT Company was clothed (and unclothed) in an array of white and nude cami's, underwear, mini skirts and shorts - an attractive, practical choice. The soloists' attire was in a similar vein (only with more clothes!), allowing them to simultaneously blend in and stick out. The chorus, on the other hand, was costumed in a distracting mish mash of clothing, including overalls, lab coat, and an outfit like my 7th grade gym teacher used to wear. Puzzling.

This co-production of Carmina Burana is worth a look; its visual inventiveness matches the sheer beauty of the music and sensuality of the dance.

Carmina Burana Now - September 26, 2004 at Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis. Thursday - Sunday evenings; show times vary, call for details. Seating is general admission; tickets: $30 adults, $15 children, $25 seniors. Call 612-338-0627 for reservations.

Photo: Eric Saulitis

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- Michelle Pett

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