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Cincinnati Ballet in “Carmina Burana” by Nicolo Fonte. Photograph by Hiromi Platt

Purity and Power

Cincinnati Ballet's “Carmina Burana” and “Extremely Close”

Performance
Cincinnati Ballet: “Carmina Burana” and “Extremely Close”
Place
Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, November 4-6, 2022
Words
April Deocariza

Cincinnati Ballet’s “Carmina Burana” and “Extremely Close” formed the second program of its 2022-2023 season, led by new artistic director, Jodie Gates. Pairing Nicolo Fonte’s powerful “Carmina Burana” with Alejandro Cerrudo’s tantalizing “Extremely Close” was a match made in heaven, showcasing the breadth and versatility of the company’s dancers. 

The evening began with “Extremely Close,” described as “part art installation and part movement drama.” The curtain opens to white feathers slowly falling on stage with dim lights in the background, giving the illusion of being in the middle of a city during a snowfall. Suddenly the feathers fall in earnest, making one feel as if they have just been submerged under water. The choreography, set to music by Philip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran, features the dancers weaving throughout the stage while manipulating three large moving panels. Dancers would disappear behind the panels, and then reappear again after the panel shifted to another area of the stage. 

Jhaelin McQuay in “Extremely Close” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photograph by Hiromi Platt

The beauty of “Extremely Close” is how it showcases the power of silence. There were moments during the piece where dancers moved without any musical accompaniment. It serves as a reminder that silence forces the audience to pay closer attention; to feel more; and most importantly, to experience some vulnerability. The vulnerability isn’t just on the dancers part, but from the audience as well. And in that space of silence and vulnerability lies connection. That connection was deeply felt in a solo by Jhaelin McQuay, where, while moving in complete silence, one could notice the articulation of his every movement and the accentuation of each muscle, that by the time he disappeared behind the large panel it left the audience yearning for more. 

Sirui Liu in “Carmina Burana” by Nicolo Fonte. Photograph by Hiromi Platt

The delicate tranquility of “Extremely Close” was juxtaposed with the boldness and grandeur of “Carmina Burana.” Accompanied by more than 70 singers of the May Festival Chorus suspended above the stage, solo vocalists on stage, and Carl Orff’s score played by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the dancers were gods among men. From the first sounds of “O Fortuna,” the dancers displayed quick and endless stamina, with exaggerated hands, hips and upper bodies. It was strong without being overdone. The integration of the solo opera singers within the choreography made for a cohesive production. There were also moments of lightness and playfulness, particularly in a scene where corps member Chandler Proctor was flanked by the ensemble women gleefully vying after him. Principal Sirui Liu was clean, controlled and consistent throughout the entire ballet. Even in a signature moment where she performed with one wing and one pointe shoe, she appeared to portray a broken bird, but was no less beautiful. 

In her new role, Gates said she hopes to leverage the collaborative arts partnerships within Cincinnati. “Carmina Burana” was one strong example of what can come out of that collaboration and how Cincinnati Ballet’s dancers are ready to rise to the occasion.