BEIRUT: Question: Where do ads for Carlton Draught beer, Gatorade sports drink, an aftershave lotion, a video game and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1982 film vehicle “Conan the Barbarian” converge? Answer: All have used the music of Carl Orff, specifically his composition “O Fortuna,” as accompaniment.
The piece had a long and noble lineage before the pitchmen got their hands on it.
A medieval ode, “O Fortuna” is one of hundreds of poems and dramatic texts recorded on a manuscript uncovered in Bavaria in 1803, collectively known as “Carmina Burana.” Dating from the 11th-13th centuries, these poems represent contemporary society in irreverent and satirical terms. In all, Orff set 24 of them to music.
“O Fortuna” is the German composer’s best-known choral piece, and “Carmina Burana,” the 1937 ballet it introduces, is his best-known and most-frequently performed, work.
The (pre-recorded) notes of “O Fortuna” echoed through Tayyouneh’s Dawar al-Shams Thursday, the opening night of Terpsichore ballet school’s interpretation of “Carmina Burana.” The stirring music immediately immersed the hall within the epic soundscape it has come to evoke, promising an outstanding performance.
Such was not to be, though the troupe’s performance had its strong and weak points.
In lieu of a narrative, Orff’s work reflects upon the fickleness of fortune, the ephemeral nature of life, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.
The challenge of staging this profoundly profane work has inspired some sumptuous set designs for European and American productions of the work, which nicely complement pop culture representations of the medieval, Latin world.
Audience members who have witnessed these stagings (live or online) might be disappointed by the minimal stage decor of this show, comprised of a few white sheets tacked to the curtain and dropped on the floor.
One of the high points of the performance is the casting of “The Small Novices.” Dressed in blue tutus and white headbands, these performers demonstrated how serious they view ballet to be, notwithstanding their very tender age.
Ecstatic parents applauded the novices’ most miniscule movement.
It was nice to see this sort of family enchantment, but it was hard to shake the feeling that the nonrelatives in the audience were watching an end-of-year school performance.
Proud parents can’t reasonably be asked to applaud their kids any less, but at certain points, it did rather detract from the serious themes Orff pursued.
In their white tutus, the five Nymphs performed airily. Some critical spectators may have noticed a few missteps on the part of the ballerinas, but the more generously minded might chalk it up to opening night jitters.
Overall, the chasse steps, arabesques, entrechat and fouetté en tournant were carried off well.
Terpsichore fielded only one male dancer for its “Carmina Burana,” playing the role of the Satyr. The character was designed to mock society, and generally portray the world’s ugliness, while yearning for tenderness and attention. The soloist clearly savored his role, and his movement was appropriately dynamic.
The dancer depicting the Vestal was also well prepared for her role. Elegantly clad in a silvery gown, her moves were consistently well executed. She seemed at times a trifle intent on the mechanics of her technique but tended to fall back into the music as soon as she closed her eyes.
All of the troupe’s members were allotted an opportunity to strut their stuff in a solo turn.
Some of the performers are unquestionably talented, others less so – a fact particularly evident in the ensemble routines – though the collective pleasure of performing tended to redeem the whole.
By the end of the hourlong show, the audience replied with much enthusiasm, proud parents rising to present their daughters with flowers.
“Carmina Burana” continues at Dawar al-Shams until Feb. 16. For reservations, please call 01-381-290.