The Kansas City Ballet opened their second season in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts with “Carmina Burana,” a program of works inspired by fate’s inexorable hold over mankind, evoking our futility within the universe.
This grand scheme was gently touched on by the opening work, Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s “Mercury,” set to selections from Haydn symphonies. The dancers, arrayed in bright, rainbow hues, moved airily, with explicitly musical phrasing that was at turns flirtatious, somber, cheery and regal.
Ben Stevenson’s “End of Time” was a severe, beautiful contrast. This pas de deux imagined the dance of the last two people on Earth, performed by Angelina Sansone and Geoffrey Kropp. They seemed to glow against the starry backdrop, projecting a sense of longing and humble resignation, performed with on-stage cello and piano.
The evening’s title work was Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” choreographed by Toni Pimble.
The production brought to mind the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch: busy vignettes, a palette of faded colors from aged tapestries, and the basest of human desires mixed with spiritual allusions and emotional torment.
An on-stage chorus served as visual commentary and backdrop to the dancers, costumed as monks, villagers and courtiers. The rest of the Kansas City Symphony Chorus and choirs from Liberty High School were in the balconies flanking the stage.
The ballet closely followed the text of the medieval manuscript, the scenes changing as the wheel of fate spins. Dancers emerge from within the cowled chorus, writhing, anguished. Then it’s spring and the dance was more light-hearted, with a festive round dance and playful partnering.
The tavern scene, full of drinking and gambling, featured the lament of the roast swan, the dancer tethered to a spit by a harness. This elegant, strange solo, performed by Jill Marlow, was accompanied by tenor Casey Finnegan and the clatter of cutlery from the presumptive diners.
Love’s many forms — from its first flush to the culmination of desire — were explored in intimate pairings, with an exchange of solos by soprano Sarah Tannehill and baritone Chris Carr, who was exemplary throughout the performance.
The orchestra was generally competent, though not overly delicate; the sparse orchestral writing caught some individuals off guard. There were phasing issues from the choral members in the balcony, especially from the men.
But the conclusive “O Fortuna” had the accumulated force of the piece, the dancers shrugging off their robes for a spirited finale.