For 40 years it was hard to find echt -European modern dance, out of favor as it has been with totalitarian regimes and public taste. Now, though, there are reports of new activity in Germany and even here the "classic" works of Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss, Sigurd Leeder and immigrant choreorgraphers are being discussed again and revived. An example -- though also a family affair -- is Ernst Uthoff's "Carmina Burana." The Hartford Ballet, directed by Uthoff's son Michael, performed the three-act piece at Richmond's Mosque this weekend.
Singers and symbolic figures were grouped in tiered pews, on platforms and in Gothic niches at the periphery of the stage. They were dressed appropriately for Carl Off's music -- a setting of profane verses written by medieval monks -- but their static mass dominated the dancers. Nor was the choreography mobile. Ernst Uthoff thinks in terms of poses; movement for him is a transition between stylized stances. Jets of dancing occurred rarely and failed to develop into continuous streams. Stillborn as a ballet, this "Carmina" was yet subtle and impressive as a masque.
Though premiered in 1953 in Santiago and danced for many years exclusively by the Chilean National Ballet, Uthoff's work is typical of the dominant German school of European modern dance, in which he came to prominence. The Hartford dancers, the Richmond Symphony (conducted by Jacques Houtmann) and its Chorus (led by James Erb) were disciplined in conveying Uthoff's understated conception of Orff's literal score.