Dance review: Atlanta Ballet’s ‘Carmina Burana’ serves up temptation

Fortuna (Rachel Van Buskirk) triumphs in David Bintley’s “Carmina Burana.” CONTRIBUTED BY KIM KENNEY, COURTESY OF ATLANTA BALLET
Fortuna (Rachel Van Buskirk) triumphs in David Bintley’s “Carmina Burana.” CONTRIBUTED BY KIM KENNEY, COURTESY OF ATLANTA BALLET

Clad in a little black dress, Fortuna appears center stage, blindfolded, in stiletto heels. A full chorus and orchestra charges the atmosphere with insistent rhythms and driving chants as she advances, marking time with menacing steps and hard-edged gestures. Her bold strokes inscribe a sexy and prophetic code as the temptress invites the innocent to pursue their passions, then doles out consequences — reminding us that most every choice is a gamble.

In bold colors, Las Vegas-style glitz and the seediness of a red light district, David Bintley's "Carmina Burana" spins a contemporary morality tale, offering lessons on what can go wrong when three seminarians flirt with Lady Luck. The production features the Georgia State University Singers & Master Singers under Deanna Joseph's direction, with Ari Pelto conducting the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra. "Carmina" opened last weekend and continues its run this Friday and Saturday at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Bintley’s ballet has a history of risk-taking, going back to 1995, Bintley’s first season as artistic director of England’s Birmingham Royal Ballet. Aiming to create a fresh interpretation of Carl Orff’s 1937 cantata, Bintley collaborated with designer Philip Prowse to conceive an edgy work that draws as much from its first authors’ medieval origins as it does from pop culture of Orff’s era and of the present day. References seem to range from Botticelli’s paintings to George Gross’ 1930s pulp magazine covers to Madonna’s music video “Vogue.”

Atlanta Ballet took its chances in 2013, when the company gave Bintley’s ballet its North American premiere. It’s a novelty — in many ways, a rare gem — and evidence of the company’s initiative, during the last several years of artistic director John McFall’s tenure, to build a distinctive and more contemporary profile. The series of simple stories in a plain visual language makes for a musically thrilling evening, whether enjoyed as sheer entertainment or as a symbol of deeper struggles of the human condition.

Rachel Van Buskirk appears as Fortuna in David Bintley’s “Carmina Burana.” CONTRIBUTED BY CHARLIE MCCULLERS, COURTESY OF ATLANTA BALLET
Rachel Van Buskirk appears as Fortuna in David Bintley’s “Carmina Burana.” CONTRIBUTED BY CHARLIE MCCULLERS, COURTESY OF ATLANTA BALLET

“Carmina” follows three priests-in-training through one night on the town. Each yields to a self-gratifying temptation that leaves them by turns heartbroken, beaten up and spiritually empty. First Seminarian Heath Gill wanders into an English youth club, where he grows infatuated with a Lover Girl, enchantingly danced by Nadia Mara. Second Seminarian Alexandre Barros succumbs to gluttony and drink. As Third Seminarian, Christian Clark goes looking for sex in a den of whores. Seduced by Fortuna, danced by a mesmerizing Rachel Van Buskirk, Clark enters a high-stakes contest pitting piety against physical desire.

The ballet clocks in at just under 70 minutes, a relatively short evening at the theater. Atlanta Ballet communications staff have not said whether or not Bintley's "Carmina" will remain in company repertoire, going forward under Gennadi Nedvigin's artistic direction — all the more reason not to miss this chance.

DANCE REVIEW

David Bintley’s “Carmina Burana”

Atlanta Ballet with Georgia State University Singers & Master Singers

8 p.m. Feb. 10-11. $25-$128. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 1-800-982-2787, www.atlantaballet.com.

Grade: B+

Bottom line: A fun and racy night on the town bears up deeper moral questions.