Theater archives

Runway Project


This must be Matthew Neenan’s Carmina Burana. The orchestra under Beatrice Jona Affron and the members of the New York Choral Society are certainly delivering Carl Orff’s ringing, thunderous music, but although press materials tell me that Neenan “envisions a simple, universal, and sensual look for the production,” the first-class dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet are performing the kind of nightmare I imagine Tim Gunn having. Costume designer Oana Botez-Ban has eschewed the medieval allusions that marked John Butler’s Carmina Burana (performed in the past by this company): Over flesh-colored unitards patterned with swatches resembling snakeskin, various female dancers layer—in baffling succession—long, ruffled white half-skirts; striped tops, black hats, and spoon-shaped black half-tutus; iridescent white gowns that spring open at the rear neckline into two little wings. Some men and women don transparent beige school uniforms for a spunky frolic.

In Gunn’s dream, he’s rushing around rehearsals, pleading, “Make it work!” And the talented Neenan does give Botez-Ban’s costumes a workout. In one passage, ingeniously cut and draped pieces of stretchy fabric trail from the women’s beige outfits while differently hung ones adorn the men’s. The women spread their arms, and the men fly these mysterious creatures like pale bats. The men put their partners’ trains over their own heads and stand there, hooded; later, they loop them around the women’s necks.

Neenan’s choreography—bits of it intrepid and all of it vivacious—has little to do with Orff’s setting of mostly Latin verses by renegade monks. The songs tell of spring and love and tavern pleasures, but these nimble fashionistas have other, inscrutable agendas. Scene designer Mimi Lien provides a wonderful translucent white tent on wheels for them to spin around and slip into. Before an immense disk hanging in a sky that John Hoey’s lighting turns vivid colors, the women in white ruffles preen and gossip, the schoolgirls naughtily swish their skirts to show their panties, lovers kiss in the white tent and go their separate ways, a woman is hurled offstage to a musical climax, two men wearing black-satin outfits pull the two spiky women around by their stiff tutus-cum-tails. There’s some fine dancing, notably by Jermel Johnson (spiffy in black pantaloons).
When these populations mix, the nightmarish frenzy is intensified, but they’re never as lusty as the songs. At the end, almost naked, they form a tableau that finally says “orgy,” and seconds later, the curtain falls.
The program began with a luminous performance of George Balanchine’s 1935 Serenade, with Amy Aldridge, Martha Chamberlain, Arantxa Ochoa, Alexander Iziliaev, and James Ihde moving amid that heavenly flock of women in plain sky-blue gowns.