Clap! Clap! Internationally acclaimed Argentine choreographer Mauricio Wainrot signals the large assembly of dancers to stop. Three women are hoisting another skyward on her back, limbs akimbo, but it's not yet perfect. Troubleshooting is required.
It's a warm afternoon in the Cincinnati Ballet studio. Wainrot is polishing his version of Carmina Burana, a challenging contemporary work with a recognizable, spine-tingling score by Carl Orff — one that will be performed live featuring the Xavier University Concert Choir.
Indeed, the dancers' demands are lofty for Carmina — literally. The piece explodes with countless daring lifts, complex group action sequences, sharp balances and precarious partnering.
"Mauricio takes risks in his choreography and expects his dancers to do the same," says dancer Dawn Kelly, who spends her share of time in the air.
Describing his Carmina, which has been performed more than 100 times across Europe and sold more tickets than The Nutcracker last year in Winnipeg, Wainrot says, "It's a very strong piece and it's very contemporary in movement, but the structure is very classical.
I like the combination because I love also to work with groups ... and as a result, the dancers are always very thankful because they have to dance a lot."
Wainrot, who currently serves as artistic director of Ballet Contemporáneo del Teatro San Martin of Buenos Aires, says his work is always strong in movement.
"Even when I'm doing a piece that has a subject, above all there is a lot of dance, a lot of group sections," he says. "It's a dialogue between the principal characters and the group that also acts as a character."
Given that his original training roots were in theater as an actor before discovering dance at age 20, it's natural that Wainrot thinks in terms of characters, of drama. He takes risks with subject matter, too, creating ballets around such diverse, even surprising, material as A Streetcar Named Desire, Shakespeare's The Tempest, The Diary of Anne Frank and a piece about Janis Joplin.
When asked how he avoids literal interpretation, Wainrot says he collaborates closely with his "great advisor" Carlos Gallardo, a set, costume and production designer Wainrot has worked with on more than 40 ballets.
"We always try to find the concept and the way we are going to tell a story, because even when we are doing Shakespeare, Shakespeare is the structure of Shakespeare, but because we are not doing the words of Shakespeare, we are not doing the text, but we are telling a story. And then I try to tell the story in a way that people will understand. There's a link between the real story and my way of seeing that story, even if it's Tennessee Williams or Shakespeare."
Dance might be universal language, but it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Speaking about how his Argentine heritage influences him, Wainrot says, "Argentina is a land made of immigrants. My parents came from Poland, Jewish refugees that escaped from the war.
"Our society is very mixed," he continues. "The division of rich, medium class and poor class, but we were together: Italian, Spanish, Jewish, Arab, German, French, English, and it was a 'melt pot.' I do the work of all this kind of cultures: I do tango pieces, I do Stravinsky, I do Janis Joplin, I do whatever I feel is close to my heart."
Clearly, theater lies close to his heart.
"For me it's very important to start with theater," he says. "It gave me another vision of dance. I don't think dance is movement. I think dance is everything."
Cincinnati Ballet performs CARMINA BURANA and SERENADE Friday-Sunday at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.