Carmina Burana and “Bolero are two vastly different ballets currently combined in one performance at the Cairo Opera House. Accompanied by the Cairo Opera Ensemble and the Munich Percussion Ensemble, the work is part of the German Cultural Week.
The performance is presented under the auspices of an initiative to launch networks between Germany and Egypt.
And so it began, with a choir and orchestra of mixed nationalities, singing a rousing canata by famous German composer Carl Orff. Assembled within “Carmina Burana are a haunting series of songs based on medieval poems, set to Latin and Greek melodies. The songs are performed skillfully; they hit like sharp bells with strong, clear vocals. The choir, invisible in the orchestra box below, is soon joined by the Cairo Ballet dancing in tandem.
Swathed in cream colored leotards, with scarves that change according the color of the backdrop in any given scene, the scenery evokes medieval rites of spring and courtship.
The set is stunning. A beautiful, simplistic wave creates a stark yet elegant background in the style of neo-classical art-deco, appearing resplendent against the music. The dancers are often aided by it. When they perform the rare lifts, it is the backdrop that gives their movement an added majesty. In this section however, the choreography seems superfluous, an addendum to the music, with no particular meaning or expressive necessity.
For the most part, the choreographic performance of “Carmen Burana is underwhelming for a few reasons; firstly, the majority of the company is unable to rise to the technicality of the choreography. Where unison movement is required, the dancers interpret timing individually. Similarly, they seem to be making rote movement rather than anything of any personal or emotional significance to them. In this case, they cannot be faulted: The choreography itself is uncharitable; a collection of passionless symmetrical gestures and leg lifts.
In the third scene of Act I, as if to prove the wallpaper-like nature of the dance performance in relation to the music, the dancers all sit down on stage, welcoming a solo vocalist to a corner of the platform. His is the first of three such cameo appearances by German soloists. The two men in this case, are drowned by the greater orchestra; it is only until Swiss born Carmela Conrad takes the stage that we get a glimpse of the efficacy of this gesture.
With a deep capacity as a performer, the stationary soprano outshines the now moving dancers. A true vocal artist, her notes were like a sweet lullaby.
After intermission, the curtain opens on a vastly different scene. A young woman is illuminated by a single spotlight. Wearing a simple leotard, she is standing on a table with bright red edges. Twenty-five young men surround her, watching her from below on red chairs. She moves her hands seductively across her body. The men, mirroring her actions, move their hands along their sides, and sit like hungry animals in rapt attention.
The atmosphere is tense with eroticism.
The choreographic progression takes its base from a pulsating pelvic gesture, which all of the dancers employ, keeping a kinetic time with their hips. The music in this instance is fantastic. The reverse of Act I, it is a subtle aid to the dance – it spurs it on.
The choir has left, and the orchestra has taken its place to perform “Bolero, the popular Spanish dance in triple meter. We come to understand that this woman, high on the table, overt in her sexuality, is Carmen, the mythical heroine of George Bizet’s 1875 opera. In this case, the pulsing music and dance are related by nature, not by force.
Originally choreographed by Maurice Ravel, Act II is gracefully administered by Erminia Kamel, artistic director of the Cairo Ballet Company. The dance is infinitely simple, but the staging and presence of the dancers elevate the scene to an epic and absorbing level.
The relation of the dances in Act I and Act II is unclear. The first is stiffly romantic, relying on the tropes of classical ballet; the second a modern and steaming overture to passion. The music of “Bolero is performed deftly; the constrained repetition of the singular melody increases in layered intensity to a climax. In contrast, the dance of Act I ended predictably – masses of dancers flooded the stage in a compulsory ensemble piece.
“Carmina Burana may be worth enduring for its music, though a musical concert would have been a better choice, and provided better acoustics. In Act II, the musical presentation of “Bolero and dance of “Carmen unite in a cohesive entity, seductive and compelling on both fronts.
Catch “Carmina Burana and “Bolero tonight, 8 pm, at the Cairo Opera House’s Main Hall.