The Kansas City Ballet's rendition of Carmina Burana is uplifting.

The Kansas City Ballet: Carmina Burana 

The Kansas City Ballet's rendition of Carmina Burana is uplifting.

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Steve Wilson

The Kansas City Ballet's fall program offers an art-as-life lesson, one that feels both personal and epic. Opening night, it also felt more like spring than something designed for autumn, a welcome respite from fluctuating temperatures and political fortunes.

The dancers found the beat in Franz Joseph Haydn's music, moving fleetly to the evening's appropriately titled first number, "Mercury." Here, the melody and choreography (by Lynne Taylor-Corbett) are fluid and flirty, uplifting and lovely. The piece's movements pass in a rainbow of blue, orange-red, purple and yellow, each of the five characterized by different-colored costumes, all bright and light.

Against a blue background on a bare stage, these dancers could be gliding on ice, competing in skating doubles with acrobatic, aerial lifts and spins, all in sync. A short departure from this unison, during Friday's first moments, was quickly remedied. In a slower-paced pas de deux, the purple-clad Molly Wagner and Michael Davis stood out.

After a brief pause, the starlit background and darkened stage (Kirk Bookman designed lighting for the entire program) drew audible ahs. Rather than the Kansas City Symphony, cellist Susie Yang and pianist Ramona Pansegrau (also the KC Ballet's music director) shared the stage with two dancers, Angelina Sansone and Geoffrey Kropp, who performed an intricate and tightly woven pas de deux. In Ben Stevenson's choreography, set to music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the two figures often clung to each other. In their physical pull, they showed us that they could not live without each other.

The broader, bigger "Carmina Burana" comprises the program's second half, dominating the Muriel Kauffman Theatre with its takeover of audience boxes on each side of the stage to make room for the Kansas City Symphony Chorus and the Ladies of Liberty High School Women's Honor Choir & Concert Choir. Onstage, surrounding the Carmina Burana cast of dancers, members of the Symphony Chorus were staged, in costume, as part of the scene.

The grander-scaled, surround-sound piece begins in darker environs, the Symphony Chorus at first dressed in brown robes, like medieval monks, around a single dancer. Friday this was Logan Pachciarz, bathed in a circle of bright light at center stage yet confined by the light's boundaries. Behind them is the wheel of fortune, spinning and determining fate.

But "Carmina Burana," while beginning in sepia with resonance and drama, isn't bleak and ponderous. Rather, it's mostly festive and pleasing in its examination of how we cope by finding joy and love inside the harder things.

With music by Carl Orff and delicate choreography by Toni Pimble, this ballet is divided into five main sections. It again plants us in springtime, where youth and innocence and romance prevail. Still in simple settings, costumes and lighting bring color and texture to the stage. In addition to the choruses, soloists Sarah Tannehill, Casey Finnigan and Chris Carr contribute to the music's richness and the affecting elements.

It's sung in Latin, and translations are in the program, but we don't need them. We get the drift. In a section titled "In the Tavern," Jill Marlow is a swan dangling and turning on a spit, in an agile performance. Then, in "Court of Love," the set later turns lush, with long white drapes, like a tropical royal palace of old, surrounding women in white, flowing dresses. When the men come to court, the white is partly bathed in color, and the dance of life proceeds, like the wheel that keeps turning. In the end, though, it's just the chorus and a lone Pachciarz, in his small circle of light, bound by its edges, by the human condition.

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