Ballet West (Salt Lake City, UT)

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      Ballerina leaping, arching back, seen in profile

Ballet West's Stephanie Fenz danced in the company’s 2007 production of Carmina Burana. Photo by Quinn Farley

In the spring of 2006, Ballet West unexpectedly found itself without an artistic director. Planning the 2006-2007 season was tricky -- the company premiere of new work had to be canceled -- but interim director Pamela Robinson-Harris was determined to turn the transition into a golden opportunity. She and the company closed out the season by performing Carmina Burana for the first time in more than ten years. Ballet West was able to use its NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to support the production.

Robinson-Harris was dancing in the company back in 1984, when the choreographer John Butler came to Salt Lake to present his version of Carmina with the company. Set to Carl Orff ’s 1936 secular oratorio of the same title, Butler’s dynamic and muscular movement plays up the bawdy and bizarre lyrics. Orff took his texts from a collection of 13th-century German poems and songs written by monks and minstrels. Frankfurt Opera premiered the music in 1937, while New York City Opera debuted Butler's ballet in 1959. In May 2007, the audience in Salt Lake was hooked from the first "O Fortuna" refrain.

"Carmina Burana has long been a favorite with our audience. People have been asking for it to come back for years," Robinson-Harris said. "The music is just so powerful, and everyone that listens to it has a story that they see going on in their heads … The people who came to hear just the music walked away loving the dance as well."

The NEA-funded Carmina brought together a triumvirate of Salt Lake arts organizations: the ballet, the Utah Chamber Orchestra, and the Salt Lake Choral Artists. Guest soloists included soprano Genevieve Christianson, tenor George Dyer, and baritone David Power. Ballet West also created all new sets and costumes for the performance.

"Everyone rallied," Robinson-Harris said. "We have a beautiful company, and our supporters are very strong. Everyone pulled together to make things work, and we are thrilled to have this ballet back in our repertory."

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)