Carmina Burana: redefining the medieval manuscript

A contemporary and refreshing approach to the iconic ballet

The first time I heard Carl Orff’s interpretation of the medieval manuscript, Carmina Burana, was on the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film The Doors. My best friend and I were creating the Blink-182 logo with Hama beads, small hollow colourful cylinders that could be used to create designs on plastic plates covered in little pegs. The design would then be ironed, buffered by parchment paper, leaving it solidified. Before ironing, the design is quite delicate and any movement can cause pieces to fall out of place.

The Blink-182 logo was quite a difficult project, with its arrows and paint splatters, but we were ambitious. The moment we picked up the plate, that very intense part of O Fortuna came on and we quickly, but carefully, returned the plate to the floor before we buckled down laughing ourselves to tears.

O Fortuna is incredibly triumphant and epic. So very different than our childish crafting.

Outside of The Doors’ soundtrack, I wasn’t aware of Carmina Burana, even less so of the incredible power the verses carried.

Carmina Burana” is latin for “songs from Benediktbeuern,” Benediktbeuern being a district in Bavaria, southern Germany. The original document is a collection of 254 medieval poems which was found in a monastery in Benediktbeuern, dating back sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries. In 1936, 24 of the 254 poems were reinterpreted as cantatas by german composer Carl Orff. These verses have since been performed in orchestras and ballets internationally.

This October, Les Grands Ballets de Montreal presents 150 artists (dancers, musicians, chorists and vocalists) to bring Carmina Burana and Stabat Mater to life once more, choreographed by Romania’s Edward Clug.

Stabat Mater , a 13th-century Italian-Christian hymn, opened the performance on Oct. 3. Forty dancers walked slowly onto the stage, 20 women and 20 men in matching uniforms. The men wore black shirts and pants, and the women wore beigey-pink long sleeve dresses. The fabric was light and emphasised their movements. I was immediately reminded of The Handmaid’s Tale, the young daughters wearing their pink spring dresses and the dark Angels and Eyes opposing them. Stabat Mater rejoices the Virgin Mary, recounting her suffering upon Jesus’ crucifixion.


Their first movements were almost silly, exaggerated head tilts while in deep, strong squats, stiff, total vibrations of their bodies. The two groups moved in conversation with each other, as if arguing. Mimicking each others’ movements in response.

I had expected something different from a ballet, not traditional organza tutus, but graceful, soaring leaps and strong men holding equally strong, but delicate women.

Clug’s choreography was so contemporary, so refreshing. Maybe I could move that way if I wanted to. Their movements were performative versions of rather relatable action; sharing an oversized jacket with someone larger than you, lying on your partner’s stomach, trying to melt your body into theirs, waiting in line.

In one moment, so much movement and noise would be happening on stage, and the next, complete silence, low chorus, each dancer frozen but a few. The others would fade out, and the story would continue, focusing on a new couple’s journey.

Orff’s cantatas, selected to represent quarters of the original manuscript, recite tales of romance, morality, spirituality and pleasure. Clug outlined an imaginary village, telling the stories of its occupants, stories of birth, love, loss and moving on.

In one memorable scene, the men and women were lined up on opposite ends of the stage. The men would fall slowly, drunkenly, and the women would chase across to lift them back to their feet. They did this in pairs, then all at once. Jetting across in their striking outfits, they had added thick black pumps and headwraps that matched their dresses.

The second half began with O Fortuna. I expected chaos, but there was none. Instead, there was an incredible synchronicity. The dancers were now wearing red and black ombre dresses and footed leggings, the costumes worn by women faded black to red and men wore the opposite. Over time, they removed their layers, their bodies glistening as if nude. The group moved with power. Supporting each other as one organism, it was mind-numbing and awakening at the same time.

Carmina Burana will be performed at Place des Arts until Oct. 19, tickets are 40 per cent off for youth under 30 all season long.





With files from Les Grands Ballets de Montreal and the public domain.


It’s a beautiful world

The city is subtly splattered with his delectable images promoting Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Metro stations and billboards throughout the city are adorned with the product of his vision and search for beauty. His photographs are deep, sensuous images full of movement, flow and sentiment. They succeed in proving that beauty is all around us, even where we least expect it.
Beauty is an aging man or woman. Beauty is a straight, gay or transsexual person. Beauty is respect and understanding towards difference. Beauty is drama and a story as it unfolds. Beauty is transforming negativity into positivity. Beauty, for Damian Siqueiros, is omnipresent.
“When you treat beauty not as commercial beauty, as what a top model would look like, but beauty in the sense of having a positive view on things and transforming negativity into happiness; for me, that’s beauty,” said Siqueiros. “And finding that beauty in people or in places […] that’s what moves my work.”
With both art and photography as part of his education, Siqueiros doesn’t consider himself merely a photographer, but a blend of a photographer and painter—a photopainter, as he calls it. Painting is an essential part of his process; he pays close attention to makeup, set designs, lighting and retouching. He compares his work with that of a Renaissance painter, applying several transparencies and layers to his photographs, almost like brushstrokes. The final product is a photographic image with the aesthetic of a painting.
“I would say that even though I have both, as a photographer and as an artist, the aesthetic is always a very clear view of where I wanted to be as an artist,” said Siqueiros. “It’s strange because I think that’s one of the hardest things as an artist: to find your own voice.”
Siqueiros comes from a close, science-driven family from Baja California, Mexico. In 2009, he moved to Montreal with the hopes of starting a new life in a city where topics such as gender equality and gender diversity were being discussed regularly. In fact, these are two things Siqueiros speaks about a lot; one of his goals is to motivate people to be respectful and understanding with other people and with other people’s differences.
“Gender diversity is an intrinsic part of the identity of every person,” said Siqueiros with a thick but charming Spanish accent. “But it’s not the person. There can be good or bad people that are straight or gay or transsexual and it really doesn’t matter that much.”
Siqueiros, who specializes in artistic and editorial photography, is fascinated with movement. It’s no mystery why his favourite subject to photograph are dancers. He says movement inspires him because of the drama; not drama in the sense that something negative is happening, but that something is happening.
He seeks to tell the story behind a person as it develops through his work, and for him, movement and emotion are the perfect combination to do that. He tries to portray emotions that make people feel alive and connected to his work, even if they may be sad ones. He compares the feeling to the aftertaste of listening to an Adele song—although it is sad, it doesn’t make you feel bad, it makes you feel good and alive.
His latest series, part of this year’s Art Souterrain, is called The Journey of Flowers. Siqueiros draws a parallel between the life of a flower and the career of a dancer, both significantly short.
He aims to connect with his public on an emotional level rather than an intellectual one, something he thinks contemporary art has forgotten how to do.
In the series, Siqueiros also exposes the limits people feel they have when they age or if they suffer from a chronic illness. He wants people to overcome the preconception that being old or ill means not being able to be active or fulfilled and not being able to contribute to society.
He photographed renowned Quebec dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis, and Bobby Thompson, Montreal’s well-known Argentinian tango dancer, both in their fifties and still very active and popular, in order to exemplify how he would like people to see life when they hit that age.
”If tomorrow I can’t walk as fast as I used to do, then it means that I have more time to look at my environment and the place where I live and contemplate more,” said Siqueiros. “I want people to take this seemingly bad thing as an opportunity to become better people.”

Art Souterrain runs until March 11. Siqueiros’ work will be exhibited at Square Victoria metro station. For more information on Art Souterrain, visit For more information about Damian Siqueiros, visit

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