Pacific Northwest Ballet opens its 50th Anniversary Season with triple-bill centered on Kent Stowell’s Carmina Burana

Pacific Northwest Ballet opens its 50th Anniversary Season with triple-bill centered on Kent Stowell’s Carmina Burana

What better way for Pacific Northwest Ballet to launch its 50th “golden” anniversary season than with the return of designer Ming Cho Lee’s colossal 26-foot golden wheel, the centerpiece of PNB Founding Artistic Director Kent Stowell’s Carmina Burana. The energy, spectacle, and exuberant dance of the PNB fan favorite is complemented on this triple-bill by George Balanchine’s passionate Allegro Brillante, and a world premiere by Alexei Ratmansky (Don Quixote, Concerto DSCH).

Pacific Northwest Ballet Founding Artistic Director Kent Stowell’s magnificent rendering of Carl Orff’s 1937 musical cantata, Carmina Burana, has played to enthusiastic audiences since its Seattle premiere in 1993. Uniting sets, costumes, chorus, soloists, dancers, and choreography in a grandoise visualization of Orff’s primal score, Stowell’s Carmina Burana is that “total theater” which Orff dreamed might cut across social, educational, and temporal boundaries to engage audiences in a powerful communal experience.

For his text, Orff turned to a collection of irreverent medieval songs and poems discovered in 1803 at the Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuren. Hence, Carmina Burana, or “Songs of Beuren.” In these profane lyrics of minstrels and monks long dead, Orff heard clearly the voice of the human condition, with its indestructible hunger for the sensual pleasures of the world persisting through the capricious turns of Fortune’s wheel. Setting this text to music of primitive force rivaled in our time only by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Orff married the medieval and the modern in a timeless vision of humanity’s vitality and endurance.

That musical vision takes on corporeal life in PNB’s production of Carmina Burana. Set designer Ming Cho Lee’s massive golden wheel dominates the world of the ballet, as does musically the hymn to the goddess Fortuna, which opens and closes Orff’s score and frames all the various songs between.

Beneath the wheel and subject to its rule, the dancers—cast as commoners, clerics, and aristocracy—express the indomitable yearning for fulfillment in love that persists no matter what life deals us. Within each grouping and, reflecting the medieval interest in numerology as a key to divine order, Stowell has choreographed patterns based on the number twelve, thereby subtly reinforcing the experience of cosmic forces beyond human control. But, for all the limits placed upon our lives, Stowell suggests that the first relationship in paradise, though it eludes us in this fallen world, informs our fantasies and may be experienced by us in moments of grace.

Carmina Burana runs for seven performances, September 23 through October 2 at Seattle Center’s Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Tickets start at just $37. The program will also stream digitally from October 6 through 10. Tickets for the digital access are $35. For tickets and additional information, contact the PNB Box Office at 206.441.2424, in person at 301 Mercer Street, or online 24/7 at

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