Cutting wood, not fingers, trying a good new Italian restaurant, and enjoying the Carolina Ballet’s Carmina Burana, but worrying about the dancers’ low pay

by Rob Tiller

On Friday afternoon a group from the Red Hat legal department worked on a Habitat for Humanity house in eastern Raleigh. It was a warm, sunny day. I managed to work up a good sweat nailing boards together, and pulling apart ones I didn’t line up properly before I nailed them.

I also spent some time cutting boards with a circular saw. My father was a passionate woodworker, and the sound of the power saw brought back childhood memories — of trying to watch TV and not being able to hear it because of the power saw. Dad was always worried that his or someone else’s children would hurt themselves with his power tools. He did not generally encourage visits to his wood shop, and managed to implant in me the idea that little fingers can be sliced off very easily. This is a particularly horrifying thought for a pianist. Thus I was probably a more deliberate sawer than most.

Afterwards, after knocking off some of the sawdust, a few of us had a beer at Sammy’s, a sports bar. We learned that Barrett is coming into the home stretch towards his wedding day, with a Caribbean honeymoon in St. Lucia to follow, and Madeline had decided that her next vacation will be in Curacao. I encouraged them to try some scuba diving. Madeline said that she had some claustrophobia issues and a dread of fish bites, and so she was not overly keen, but Barrett seemed game.

That evening Sally and I tried Tuscan Blu, a new Italian restaurant in the warehouse district. We got there at 6:20 with a view to finishing in good time for the ballet by 8:00, and were the first ones there. It was empty, but we quickly got a good vibe from the friendly staff. When we asked about wine, our server summoned the owner, a big, gray-headed, Italian guy, who, instead of discussing the matter, brought us out a bottle of Italian chardonnay that he said we would like. We did. People began to come in, and the place started buzzing. The olive oil in the salad dressing was excellent, as was the pear and ricotta fiochhi. We’ll be going back.

The Carolina Ballet featured a revival of Carmina Burana and three short new works inspired by a local exhibit of the art of Alexander Calder. This was our fourth Carmina, and I’ve liked it better each time. It is a rich, complex work. Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s choreography melds with Carl Orff’s powerful, strangely ancient-yet-modern choral music in a way that seems organic: it feels as though the music and dance were created together, instead of sixty some years apart. . The performance on Friday had a quasi-orchestra (two pianos and percussion) and the 140-voice Raleigh Chorale, well conducted by Al Sturges, made a big, pleasing sound.

The work opens with a group of male dancers in business suits with leather briefcases, which is both humorous and disconcerting. We quickly realize that it’s about our society, with a range of characters from Wall Street operators at the top to laborers at the bottom. The theme is the power of the goddess Fortuna — in other words, luck. Characters from all walks of life excitedly scratch lottery tickets, and are disappointed, and scratch again. Suddenly, one wins! And his life and the group’s is reorganized. One lover is discarded, another appears, then a child, who a moment later is a young woman. Temptations (lust, greed, etc.) arrive, and corruption develops, followed by pain and loss. The wheel keeps turning, with more rounds of the lottery, and eventually, there’s a new winner.

Yevgeny Shlapko played the Man Who Wins (the first lottery winner) with grace and maturity, and stylish athleticism, and paired well with Melissa Podcasy, who had beauty and depth as Woman Who Yearns. Their Daughter Who Dreams was played for the first time that night by Lola Cooper, who was both funny and graceful in conveying the excitement and storms of adolescence, including having a first cigarette. Marcelo Martinez was Man of Darkness, a personification of evil that was both frightening and seductive. I was very happy to see Alicia Fabry back after her injury as A Lost Soul, a role in which (against type) she projected a tragic neuroticism.

The first half of the program had works by Timour Bourtasenkov (a principal in the company), Zalman Raffael (a member of the corps), and Tyler Walters (now on the faculty at Duke). I particularly enjoyed Lindsay Purrington and Yevgeny Shlapko in Raffael’s piece, The Ghost, with music by Darius Milhaud. Walters’ I Mobile to music by Prokofiev was an intricate, modernist work that connected well to the mobile idea.

Afterwards, we met Lola at Humble Pie and caught up. She told us that there had not been much time to put together Carmina Burana, and she hadn’t had a chance to rehearse with the orchestra. She said she hadn’t tried smoking until the night before, and worried that she might have a coughing problem in performance. We talked about the problem of the extremely low salaries of the dancers, and particularly those in the corps.

This is something that has bothered me for a long time. These extremely gifted young people have spent most of their lives in sustained dedication to their art, and have overcome enormous odds to join the few who are paid professionals. They’re incredibly successful — sort of. They get the satisfaction of practicing their art at the highest level, but get paid at a level that is ridiculously low. Paying for the rent, the car payment, and groceries is difficult, or perhaps just not possible without a second job (which is very difficult to put on top of the time demands of the company) or help from parents or elsewhere. If we care about dance, we need to care about the dancers, and figure out a way to pay them a living wage.