Southern Comfort

Founded in 1993 by Venezuelan dancer Maria Eugenia Barrios and Israeli dancer Offer Zaks, the Ballet Contemporaneo de Caracas is becoming one of the most innovative dance companies in South America. And it's not surprising, considering both of its founders have worked with dancers such as Alvin Ailey and Anna Sokolow. Barrios and Zaks now bring their dancers to Phoenix for the first time, along with an extraordinary piece of music.

The Caracas ballet has chosen Carl Orff's opera Carmina Burana for its debut performance in Arizona. Carmina Burana was first performed in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1937. Based on a manuscript of poems found in a Benedictine monastery called Benediktbeuern circa 1280, the opera's title literally translates to "songs of Beuren."

The characters ("Life," "Death," "The Man," "Youth," "Him," "Her," "Death masks," "Trio I" and "Trio II") explore ideas of freedom, love, wine and fortune throughout the work. "While Death rides his mythical horse' and Life weaves another chain, we struggle in the prison of our body, searching for the freedom of our dancing spirit," Barrios explains.

Perhaps our favorite part of this opera (taken from "In Taberna") is the apt disposal of teetotalers by drinkers sitting in a tavern: "May those who slander us be cursed and may their names not be written in the book of the righteous."

This extraordinary performance not only includes Contemporaneo de Caracas' twist on Carmina Burana, but also a work called "Mozart Mambo." An eerie fusion of Mozart's piano concertos and George Gershwin's "The Man I Love," it promises to make clear how universal melody can be.

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Maidi Terry