“When I choreograph a ballet, I don’t choreograph for that arts audience,” Cunningham explained. “I choreograph for that husband that’s been dragged there by his wife.”
That got this reporter thinking, “I have my own personal husband, a guy who would rather dig a ditch than spend an hour sitting in a theater. Maybe this will be what it takes to get him into ballet!”
Cunningham’s version of Carmina Burana is one of the most popular shows the company performs. It’s been described as sensual, bawdy, erotic, larger-than-life and passionate.
The opening scene is said to make audience’s jaws drop. Ten dancers, holding up five dancers and those dancers holding a giant plate 15 feet in the air, and atop the plate is the character of Fortuna, played by Isha Lloyd, with the booming sound of 100 voices and an orchestra performing the iconic 1937 piece by Carl Orff, “Oh Fortuna.”
“It’s just a powerful image that people just gasp at,” Cunningham said. “It’s a real spectacle in that sense.”
Lloyd retired from ballet in fall of 2013, due to injuries, but couldn’t resist the chance to play Fortuna. Cunningham said Fortuna represents fate and fortune, and mysteriously rules over the lives of the other characters. The ballet is arranged into three sections - the first representing spring awakening and young love, the second is a tavern scene, and the third is entitled in the Court of Love.
“It’s not a story, as in it’s not a narrative, but each song has a point of view and a subtext and I relate the dance to that,” Cunningham explained. “Sometimes it’s pretty subtle and sometimes it’s pretty clear.”
Cunningham didn’t become a dancer until he was 23, which is very late in life in the ballet world. He said this allowed him to bring a different perspective to the art.
“When I choreograph a ballet, I don’t choreograph for that arts audience, I choreograph for that husband that’s been dragged there by his wife.”
He says he doesn’t water things down. He just tries to make it more accessible.
And Jim Hargrove found this to be true when he saw his first Sacramento ballet years ago. He had a close friend who wanted him to attend a ballet. He resisted. She told him they would both pay for their own tickets, and if he didn’t like it she’d give him the money for his ticket and never ask him to go to the ballet again.
“So I go to the ballet and I see these beautiful people - the strength and the detail and how much goes into ballet,” Hargrove said. “It isn’t just dancing around, it’s so much more. It was just absolutely amazing - I said ‘well, I’m hooked.’”
From there he got involved, supported the company, got to know the dancers and he goes to every show. He saw Carmina Burana twice in 2010, the last time it was staged in Sacramento.
“This is something that really hits you right in the gut - it really sucks you in,” he said about the performance. “It’s a majestic production. The music is beautiful, it’s very stirring. It gets the juices flowing when you’re watching all the action.”
This all gave me hope that my husband, Luke Stone, would enjoy this beautiful art form.
So I informed Luke he was to accompany me to the media access dress rehearsal Wednesday night, and that I’d use him for a story. None of this made him particularly happy, but he obliged.
I asked him what is perception of ballet was prior to the show.
“I’m not familiar with (ballet),” he admitted. His parents never took him to the ballet. He grew up with all brothers so he never sat through itty-bitty ballerina performances to support a sibling. He was a blank slate.
Luke said he never sought out ballet before because it didn’t really interest him. “It doesn’t seem fun,” he said.
We arrive at the theatre a tiny bit late, and we find our seats and the curtain rises on the first performance, a 13-minute classical ballet called Allegro Brillante, choreographed by George Balanchine. Cunningham said even though it’s much shorter than the Carmina Burana, it’s much more difficult to perform.
Balanchine has been quoted as saying, “(Allegro Billiante) contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes.”
A 20-minute intermission followed Allegro Brillante. At this point my husband was still skeptical. He admitted the athleticism was impressive – but he didn’t quite see the point.
So, we take our seats again for the Carmina Burana. There were moments when, Stone, leaned over to me and murmured, “this is fantastic.” But as the ballet went on, I could tell his interest was waning.
On the ride home he said he loved the music and wouldn’t stop humming the main refrain from “Oh Fortuna,” and he said it was incredible to see those beautiful bodies and impressive feats of strength – but he decided ballet wasn’t really his thing.
Did he hate it? No. Is it something he’s going to seek it out regularly? No. And that’s ok. You can’t please all the husbands.
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