Once again, the Cincinnati Ballet has taken classic, iconic musical stories and made them their own. Their premiere double-billing of George Balanchine’s “Serenade” and Nicolo Fonte’s “Carmina Burana,” brought to life in historic Music Hall (Feb. 8-11), could easily have been presented as separate performances; the two are utterly divergent in tone and style, and excellent on their own. The combination is a superb, passionate ode to the power of dance and music that transcends to a new level of brilliance. The inspired decision to incorporate three world-class Cincinnati arts organizations (Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the May Festival Choir & Soloists) into one performance evokes a powerful experience. But you must ask yourself if you are brave enough to take a journey—one that will reach deep into your emotions, fire up your spirit and make you wonder if those beautiful creatures on stage are truly part of our world or something else entirely.
“Serenade,” well-known to ballet aficionados as a time-honored classic, is performed first. Set to the beautiful and haunting notes of Tchaikovsky, George Balanchine choreographed a masterful performance that celebrates the synchronization of beauty, balance and bounty of women in the Cincinnati Ballet. The curtain rises on a breathtaking ensemble of sixteen female dancers in long translucent dresses, their elegant bodies on pointe with their arms raised to the heavens, held in suspension until you begin to wonder if they are even real. When they begin to move, you still wonder at their ethereal nature as they flutter, float and flow in sync with one another and the music. In the minor moments when they are not in perfect harmony, you find yourself appreciating their mastery of technique even more. While there are a few excellent male performers, this piece is all about female power and their seemingly effortless ability to evoke emotion from every graceful movement (the simple extension of one more centimeter from an already fully extended finger was stunning). If you were not already convinced of the talent that the Cincinnati Ballet female ensemble possesses, then Sirui Liu convinces you when she rises above her fellow dancers and leads them in a magnificent finale.
Following a much needed intermission to catch your breath, the Cincinnati premiere of “Carmina Burana” opens with the full force of the May Festival Choir from above and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from below. The breath that you thought you found is once again stolen, as you are plunged into a fiery, passionate, Medieval-era underworld depicted by a full ensemble of dancers in flesh-colored tights that remind us of the perfection of their finely-honed bodies. While you may not remember this music off the top of your head, once the first note of Carl Orff’s music drums into your soul, you’ll find yourself immediately in tune with the well-known score that is almost always leveraged as a catalyst toward an emotional precipice or glorious action. Nicolo Fonte’s choreography is superb, and the clever costumes with flashes of gold highlight their bold movements and emotional interplays. The dancers’ interactions with the operatic soloists will leave you emotionally invested and just on the edge of disturbed (in the most effective way). It is not an easy nor pretty piece, but resonates with a fury and passion that make you appreciate the artistry even more.
If “Serenade” was all about female power, “Carmina Burana” provides the balance with a showcase of masculine strength and beauty. Long-time masters and fan favorites, Cervilio Amador and Rodrigo Amarales deliver an intertwined performance that leaves you wanting more. While relative newcomer, Luca De-Poli, is the absolute star of each scene he is in, not just because he is the tallest performer (by far) but because he brings a surreal grace and power to every movement. The piece culminates where it began, taking you on a breathless journey of emotion and appreciation for a multi-faceted performance that is on a level that we have never seen before.
This transcendent performance will compel you to be a part of the brilliance that is the Cincinnati Ballet. With the ArtsWave 2018 Community Campaign currently in progress, this is a good reminder of how blessed our city is to have such world-class arts in our region. Upcoming performances include the ever popular “Director’s Cut,” “Beauty & the Beast” (part of their new family series), and “Bold Moves.” So take a chance and run (or leap), do not walk, to ensure you get the opportunity to experience a dance company that is quite simply one of the best in the world and will always take you on a powerful emotional journey.
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls 10 and under, best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on innovation insights and analytics. She enjoys and participates in art of all kinds, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie predilection, and delights in spending time with family and friends.