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Andalucia @ the Alhambra!

Carmina Burana (the songs of Beuren) started life as a series of poems written by medieval monks. Given the somewhat worldly themes of the songs, not the sort of things monks should have been thinking about at all, writing the songs was probably something the monks did to pass the time. The songs lay around for a few hundred years until they were discovered in a monastery sometime during the nineteenth century and published. Set to music by German composer Carl Orff, Carmina Burana was first performed in 1937. Nowadays Carmina Burana is usually performed as a concert piece but it seems Orff always saw it as a combination of music, mime and dance. Now Spanish theatre company La Cuadra de Sevilla has risen to the composer’s challenge. As performed at the Alhambra, the production is named Andalusian Images of Carmina Burana but if you are expecting the sort of scenes that greet you when you get off the ‘plane at Malaga, you will definitely be in for something of a surprise. flamenco dancer Forceful flamenco! Author-director Salvador Távora mixes Orff’s seemingly religious music with Andalusian flamenco songs to create something which is very different to anything we usually see here and which some people might even find quite disturbing. The production opens on a happy enough note with Spring, maidens and dancing. Very soon though the Virgin comes down from the sky and this sets much of the tone for what is to follow. This is the stuff of Spanish – or even Catholic – iconography. Suddenly we see this statue or replica of the Virgin is actually shedding tears. Most of the action centres around a crucifixion scene but here a woman takes the role of Christ. The programme notes explain: “The song refers to the Catholic duality of Christ and the Virgin Mary. A crucified woman is the symbol of her historical place in traditional southern Europe, and this scene’s purpose is to disturb the mind.” The “little monks”, as they are referred to in the programme, are a direct allusion to Carmina Burana and this somehow adds to the baroque feel of the production. The monks drink and try to catch the maidens. Later they go some way to tearing off the dancers’ costumes. But this is Andalucia where for hundreds of years Moslems, Jews and Christians lived peacefully together as neighbours. Not only the cross but the half moon is present as a symbol and (you will need the programme to discover this) one of the Flamenco songs translates as: “Maria is crying for the moon stolen from her, for the land of Andalucia. She is Christian, Moorish and born Jewish.” It is the flamenco that gives the production such energy and, above all, such passion. This is dancing that is so forceful it can’t be ignored. Every movement made on stage is deliberate with performers often mirroring each other’s actions. Soprano soloist Alicia Murillo’s memorable performance is also central to the production. While we are on the subject of memorable perfomances we shouldn’t forget the presence of the two white stallions. How often do you see horses on the Alhambra stage? They certainly bring even more of a flavour to Andalucia to Bradford but I wasn’t entirely convinced they needed to be there to advance the plot. However, it seems Salvador Távora used to be a bullfighter and the company has something of a tradition of working with both bulls and horses. I’m not entirely sure how all the ideas fitted together but I don’t think that really matters. Despite a somewhat minimalist set this performance was, for the most part, visually stunning. Watch out for the scene with the flags and the wind machines! And, talking of the horses, Andalusian Images of Carmina Burana has one of the best stage curtain calls I’ve ever scene. We seem to have come a long way from the music of Carl Orff but at the end of the show the audience is clapping along to his famous tune which was still playing in my head long after I left the theatre. Andalusian Images of Carmina Burana is at the Alhambra in Bradford until Saturday July 1st 2006.