Fernand Nault, a pillar of ballet and an emblematic figure in the world of dance, spent many years with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens as co–artistic director and resident choreographer. He is known particularly for the immense success of his The Nutcracker, which has been staged now for over 50 years, his Carmina Burana, which was a sensation at Montreal’s Expo 67, and Tommy, the first “rock ballet” created in the country. It was his arrival on the scene that allowed the company to launch its international career, in addition to attracting a new generation thanks to the fresh breath of modernity that marked his creations.
Carmina Burana, or “Beuern Songs,” is the name given to the manuscript containing some 250 mythic poems written from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. The authors, whose names are unknown to us, would have been troubadours, deserter monks and wandering students. Decrying the religious and political bodies of the time, these free spirits brought to life what would one day rank with the most renowned of works.
The collection was rediscovered in the Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuern in 1847. The work was taken up by Carl Orff and presented for the first time in his version at the Frankfurt Opera in 1937. From the complete collection of poems in the manuscript, twenty-five were selected by the artist.
It was in 1966 that Fernand Nault revisited Orff’s musical selection and used it to create a ballet with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. His Carmina Burana was staged at Montreal’s International and Universal Exposition in 1967 and became one of the company’s most striking presentations. Its success led to the company’s presenting the first additional shows in its history, and to its introducing its art abroad. Since the 1960s the work has been recognized internationally, and acclaimed around the world.
In the view of Gil Boggs, artistic director of the Colorado Ballet, “Fernand Nault’s Carmina Burana is an extremely well-conceived ballet, and beautifully portrays the emotion and joy needed for this piece…. The way he incorporates the choreography to match the music highlights the experience of hearing it.”
Carmina Burana is intended as a hymn to love and desire, to spring and hope, to taverns and wine. The story speaks to us of life, of fate, of that wheel of Fortune that rules over the uncertain future of human existence. Cold-shouldered by the upper crust, the work touched the hearts of its true target: it is ordinary people who love it. Carmina Burana, powerful and humanizing, has become an indispensable work, and unfettered itself everywhere: on the stage, on the screen and in music. Its enthralling melodies, such as the popular O Fortuna, have remained part of our collective imagination to this day.
The year 2020 will see the 100th birthday of Fernand Nault, a towering figure for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and for the heritage of dance in Québec. A generous artist of immense sensitivity and creative versatility, Fernand Nault always paid careful attention to the best interests of his dancers for his creations and to the artistic heritage being passed on to Québec audiences. Mr. Nault was an outstanding dancer, a prominent artist on the cultural landscape and a great creator both here and elsewhere.
In tribute to him, the new 2019-2020 season will be inaugurated with Carmina Burana, in a rereading by eminent choreographer Edward Clug.