Opening Nights: Apollo and Carmina Burana at PNB

Balanchine strips down while Stowell gets zesty and fecund.

George Balanchine famously liked to tinker with his prior work, and he returned to 1928's Apollo, one of his earliest creations for the Ballets Russes, over and over. Set to a Stravinsky score, the piece originally included opulent scenic and dramatic effects, with golden tunics and decorative wigs. Later, though, he kept stripping away everything he thought extraneous: Faux mountain scenery jettisoned in favor of a simple ladder; elaborate costumes became just tunics and tights. As for the story (the birth of the Greek god, his awkward first steps, his education and final apotheosis), Balanchine kept paring away at the choreography, too: The birth scene and early lessons were axed and the ascent to Mt. Olympus replaced with a simple walking pattern.

A longer version of Apollo was last seen at PNB in 2005. Peter Boal's new staging retains Balanchine's fleetness and extension of neoclassical ballet, though the narrative arc is dimmed by the loss of the opening. We first meet Apollo as a young god, meaning that his tutorial relationship with the Muses is changed; the idea that he must first learn from them, then lead them, is more difficult to follow. Even so, this is still a role most male dancers covet, and the alternating leads (both debuting in the part) show different aspects of Apollo. Batkhurel Bold uses his significant control as a metaphor for godhood, making Apollo's transformation an interior process. (He was already more than halfway there when the curtain rose.) Karel Cruz is all elegance in his opening pose, but reveals several traces of Apollo's lanky boyhood—and these "awkward" bits emphasize the drama of his transformation.

Among the Muses, Sarah Ricard Orza's quiet poise is a good match for Bold's rather stern demeanor. Also dancing as Terpsichore, but opposite Cruz, Laura Gilbreath takes a more active approach to divine education. The power repeatedly shifts between them during their pas de deux. At one point Cruz seems like a child, hoping that a butterfly will land on his finger. But as Apollo's authority grows, they become more equal—as in the signature "swimming lesson," when Terpsichore balances on his back and both seem to paddle in the water.

After such a cerebral Apollo, Kent Stowell's ever-popular take on Carmina Burana is a huge contrast, set to Carl Orff's big, raucous score. Stowell's faux folk dances emphasize Orff's rhythmic drive. Beneath a huge golden wheel designed by Ming Cho Lee, the stage is packed with roiling bodies—many of them in nude unitards. It's a zesty, fecund production, with standouts including Carrie Imler (as the Harlot during "In Taberna") and Lucien Postlewaite and Lesley Rausch as the main romantic couple. At the end, with the onstage Seattle Choral Company singing about the fickle nature of fate, the entire cast circles endlessly, like an orgy in spring.

 
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