A new production of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” by choreographer Donald Byrd taps the primal energy of the piece.
Gospel jubilation doesn’t come instantly to mind when you think of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” But in the composer’s scaled-down version of his “scenic cantata” — scored for two pianists and three percussionists, with pianos sometimes dominating — hymnlike rhythms can come into play.
First, however, you need to soldier your way through disillusion and debauchery.
Written in 1935, Orff’s popular masterwork takes as its text early medieval poems addressing the whims of fortune, the bitterness of despair, and the pleasures of love, lust and tavern life. With a reduced yet powerful chorus and three spectacular soloists, Spectrum Dance Theater’s production taps the primal energy of the piece with a fierce, unornamented commitment.
Spectrum Dance Theater, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 24-25, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 26. Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $30-$40 (877-784-4849 or spectrumdance.org).
This is Spectrum director Donald Byrd’s second conceptualization of “Carmina Burana.” As he explains in his program notes, after staging it as “a true spectacle” for the New York City Opera in 1997, he realized he wanted to take a more stripped-down approach. By making the baritone soloist the central character of the piece, Byrd believed, its drama could become “more personal.”
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With José Rubio in that baritone role, this “Carmina Burana” has a charismatic if tormented soul you’d gladly follow to hell and back. Rubio has a melancholy, mobile face that accommodates dark moods, sensual indulgence and spiritual transcendence, as required. And he has a voice that, even in its most pensive moments, rings with a kind of ecstasy.
With strong support from soloists Cynthia Sieden and Aaron Shanks, and an ensemble of seven singers, Rubio anchors the vocal and theatrical aspects of the show with ease. Byrd’s role for Spectrum’s dancers isn’t exactly peripheral, but often feels like a dream projection of what the singers are saying and feeling.
The dance is spiced with jitterbug, burlesque and tent-rival hand-waving, along with the intense, acrobatic-flavored choreographic pyrotechnics that are synonymous with Spectrum. An early sequence of solos by Shadou Mintrone, Davione Gordon and Jade Solomon Curtis foretell the journey Rubio will follow, with their desperate collapses and recoveries. Likewise, Alex Crozier and Madelyn Koch, in an edgy pas de deux, take the lead when seduction is the name of the game.
The ensemble work is impressive, especially when staggering whirligigs of bodies snap into a tight formation in the tavern scene. Byrd draws on humor, too — notably when a clutch of gossips (a female vocal ensemble in sharp, impeccable harmony) sneer at some of the goings-on.
Opening night got off to a rocky start with a strangely missed cue. But this “Carmina Burana” triumphs, both with the concentrated impact of its score and the symbiotic energy flying between singers and dancers.