Akron Beacon Journal – GroundWorks’ ‘Carmina Burana’ epic at Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival
By Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal
Carmina Burana is such a huge, weighty dance, it feels epic.
As it should. The dance, performed by GroundWorks DanceTheater at Glendale Cemetery last weekend, is artistic director David Shimotakahara’s new adaptation of the massive scenic cantata by Carl Orff, which Orff composed in 1935/1936, based on a medieval collection of 24 poems and dramatic texts.
It was thrilling watching this propulsive dance in its world premiere in May that featured 24 dancers, the Akron Symphony Orchestra and two choruses. Last weekend, the arresting dance was adapted for five company dancers and three guest dancers for the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, set to recorded music.
Circular patterns grow fiercer and fiercer as male and female dancers in black tanks or leotards and long black skirts revealing red underskirts whip through turns, run, leap and kneel to the thunderous vocals in the Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi chorus, which opens and closes the dance. This chorus contains the ominous O Fortuna section, which is famously used in commercials, movies and more.
In this dance, a bold black and red color scheme accompanies the work’s theme: the terrible revolution of the Wheel of Fortune, which is a symbol of chance, fate and change. Throughout the 40-minute dance, audience members were brought from one side of the Wheel of Fortune to the opposite, from joyful, gentle dance to others representing distress and mortality.
Shimotakahara’s choreography is a cross between modern dance and ballet in Carmina Burana. The most balletic section of all was an ethereal pas de deux between Damien Highfield and Felise Bagley, she wearing a flowing red chiffon skirt.
On the side of struggle was a vastly different section in which Michael Marquez performed a solo, Olim lacus colueram, representing the suffering of a roasted swan. He wore only bright red shorts as he worked with a bright red rope descended from the ceiling, wrapping the rope around his chest and manipulating it with his foot. In the end, his swan arches back against the rope, with the rope supporting the back of his neck, in defeat.
The sad swan dance is part of the section called In Taberna, which represents the corporeal world. In it, Highfield and Lauren Garson also use the red rope to work in different ways against gravity, with her swinging up to his back with the help of the rope and the other six dancers also pushing Garson as she sits on a knotted section of the rope. The In Taberna ends in triumphant fashion, with all of the dancers coming down to the edge of the stage and raising their fists to the sky.
Carmina Burana also offered levity in a short section of comedic relief in which two of the male dancers, looking as if they were dancing on stilts in long black and red skirts, were actually supported by two more male dancers underneath them as they fought over their coordinating scarves.
The massive Carmina Burana made up the second part of the program, while the spooky Hex, by guest choreographer Adam Barruch, opened the performance. The dance was perfect as performed at sundown at Glendale Cemetery. In it, Barruch, founder of the Brooklyn-based dance company Anatomiae Occulti, creates eerie images of dancers invoking spells from a book with waving, ominous arm motions.
The focal point at the start is a red table with a book at its center — a grimoire of magic spells. The dance heavily features the performers’ upper body and arms as each dancer fights for control of the book and of each other.
Two female dancers hold the book at the same time in their quest for universal power and dancers “control” each other by the gesture of a hand over a head, forcing each other down to the ground or to lie on the table. In another moment, one female dancer controls another’s body, even though she is holding the book.
The arm motions Barruch creates as the dancers harness “power” range from a solo of frenetic gesticulations to a spooky wave that all five dancers (Bagley, Garson, Stephanie Terasaki, Highfield and Marquez) create sideways across the table as the book sits in the center, an ominous white light stretching across the floor behind them.