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Carmina Burana [1965, Chicago, Civic Opera House]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0175
Run Time
0h 49m 0s
Date Produced
Ruth Page choreographed two versions of Carmina Burana, both set to Carl Orff's original music. This film depicts a rehearsal of the first version, which was premiered in Chicago, at the Civic Opera House, on November 12, 1965. The performance was a joint endeavor between Page's Chicago Opera Ballet and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, including a children's chorus. None of the singers were present for this rehearsal, nor was the scenery (by the House of Sormani, Milan) set up. Some of the Casa D'Arte Cerrstelli's costumes (from Florence, after the designs of Emmanuel Luzzati) are worn. The second version, with designs by André Delfau, was performed in Kalamazoo, Michigan on January 9, 1967 by Ruth Page's International Ballet.
The film opens with a view of a stage with a single female dancer (Presumably Fortuna) standing in the middle, wearing an elaborate medieval-inspired costume. As she begins to walk in a circle (to the dramatic sound of Orff's "O Fortuna"), she reveals a solitary figure (presumably Death) standing behind her, dressed in a black cloak and covering his eyes with his hands. Next, he begins to walk the stage, miming the placement of a crown on his head. Soon five additional figures slowly begin entering in the back, all in elaborate costumes which appear variously aristocratic, regal, and religious. They follow Death in a wide circle around the stage, eventually reaching a half-circle formation, and Death 'chooses' the male figure (a nobleman?) to his left, furthest downstage. He performs a brief solo, often disappearing off the side of the frame, and apparently overcome by the power of death: he falls to the ground. Next, Death chooses the woman to his right (a prostitute?), also furthest downstage. They perform a brief pas de deux, and she, too, falls to the ground. Death then chooses the man behind her (a king?), taking his crown and causing him to fall next. Presumably this is the point where the curtain would go down, because all scurry off stage once he falls. The introduction thus complete, Act 1 of the ballet commences: Spring/Primavera. Four female dancers, in the roles of innocent young girls, enter stage and begin an ensemble dance. They are soon joined by four young men, who offer them flowers and initiate pas de deux. These four couples then exit as four more enter, also with flowers, and dance similarly. This time, however, the men leave alone, such that the women and their flowers remain onstage, frozen, as the music changes. Afterward, a single man joins them and the group moves to center, soon joined by three of the other maidens. Once this cluster exits, a single couple enters and takes center stage. They perform a quite modern pas de deux and exit; three more couples then enter and perform the same choreography. As they finish it, all remaining couples then reenter (with the solo couple returned to front and center) and perform the choreography a third time. Once all strike their final pose, a trickster figure (perhaps Death in disguise?) enters from the back and causes a commotion. The women separate from their men and scurry in two rows around the stage, only to hide again with the males collapsed on the ground. They take turns timidly approaching the figure and gingerly touching him, only to scurry away again. The men then get up and follow with their own version; afterwards, all circle curiously around the figure and follow him to the edge of the stage before then breaking back into merry couple dances. Suddenly, the men exit and leave the women to dance alone briefly, before then reentering and galloping through, as if on horseback. This seems to leave the women sad and lonely; as if in response, the men gallop back onstage, surround the women, and draw their partners out for a final ensemble of merry couple dances (repeating earlier choreography). Again, the men run off and leave the women alone, gallop back through, and this time they don't come back. The women begin galloping themselves, eventually exiting. Then a trio of women enters from the back, performing a gallopy ensemble dance. They are joined by a peddler who offers them various fine things: a scarf, sweets, jewelry, etc. As they enjoy these riches, others trickle onstage and watch. Eventually, the peddler and the trio exit, leaving most of these spectators to seat themselves and watch a couple who begins a variously calm and intense pas de deux at center. Eventually, this pas de deux ends and all the couples reenter as the female partner exits. The male partner is soon surrounded by the trio of women from before. All dance energetically with cancan-inspired steps and dramatic lifts. When the dance is complete, all exit frenetically. The film then cuts to the beginning of Act II, apparently set in a tavern. A group of six men sits at a table, bouncing. Soon two more bring in a large barrel of ale, and all of the men begin circling the table while swigging from their mugs; they then sit back down and continue to imbibe. Eventually, the music changes and a man dressed comically as a large bird stalks in, while those at the table try to hide from him. Before long, though, they stand up and march around him, bow to him, rustle his feathers, and otherwise mock and tease the bird. They then raise him above their heads and begin to cart him off (presumably to be slaughtered) before returning to drink at their table. But soon an elderly man enters and immediately commands their attention; they kneel and clasp their hands together before him before helping him to stand atop their table and drink with them. The young men then begin a drunken dance (largely allegro) as the older man watches from the table. When they've finished their carousing and collapsed into their final poses, the film cuts ahead to Act 3, a medieval court Four female dancers enter the stage and wander around slowly. Then a fifth, apparently of some aristocratic rank, enters, and the others bow to her. The entire group then slowly huddles together downstage, where it seems to hear men offstage. The excited women are soon joined by three men, one of whom attempts to flirt with two of the women. The film then cuts forward a bit: the men are joined by a fourth, costumed as a lord or aristocrat. The four attending women then begin a simple ensemble dance around their lady. As they begin to repeat it a second time, the four men upstage also dance, as if to mirror their steps and formation. The groups then take terms dancing and watching each other; first the men dance, then the women. As they do so, a solitary male figure enters downstage, standing opposite the lady. The groups playfully intermingle for a moment, and then repeat their call-and-response pattern. After the second intermingling, all split off into couples and a fifth couple enters, taking center and beginning a pas de deux while the rest watch. Next, the other four couples join them and all dance but the lord and lady, still standing at opposite sides of the stage. Afterwards, all freeze in place; the main couple then begins a much slower pas de deux and the others disband into their gender groups before the music switches to an allegro and the man from the main couple dances a brief solo. Following this, the woman dances her own solo. The men then perform for the women; the women return the gesture. All couple off again but once this final dance is complete, the lord and lady downstage finally begin to walk toward each other at the same moment as a cloaked figure enters in the back. He comes forward and brings them together, as if in matrimony, and does the same for the rest of the couples, who then walk offstage one at a time. After the figure, last, exits, the characters from the first scene reenter and reprise the 'O Fortuna' theme. The film ends with Death standing at center beside Fortuna, the rest of the characters spinning in place around them.
Main Credits
Witt, Josef (is director)
Additional Credit
Orff, Carl (is composer)
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Kreutzberg, Harald (is performer)
Klekovic, Patricia (is performer)
Johnson, Kenneth (is performer)
Schick, Charles (is performer)
Grimmer, Margot (is performer)
Lipinski, Dolores (is performer)