Carl Orff’s cantata “Carmina Burana” is one of the most recognizable pieces in choral music, employed liberally throughout popular culture as the go-to dramatic music for movies, TV shows and commercials. Its popularity, however, does not diminish the music’s power, as evidenced by Minnesota Dance Theatre’s thrilling production of the work.
Under the musical co-direction of Barbara Brooks and Tom Linker, who both play piano in the show, and featuring singers from the Minnesota Chorale, soloists Bradley Greenwald, Jennifer Baldwin Peden and David Echelard, and percussionists Bob Adney and Heather Barringer, the show’s dizzying musical talent would itself be an attraction. Add the dancers from MDT, and a refreshing video design by Dominique Serrand, and the evening becomes a dense explosion of passionate art.
Directed by Lise Houlton, using her mother Loyce Houlton’s original choreography from the 1970s, the piece employs the Lab Theatre’s cavernous space to its full effect. The large cast of singers and dancers create patterns and shapes in the different playing spaces, breaching the boundaries of “on stage” and “off stage,” and using the theater’s staircase and balcony to create height.
Projected onto the brick wall and onto the bodies of the performers, Dominique Serrand’s video design adds to the scale of the work. The live camera feed offers a perspective that the audience can’t see from their seats. The video shows the dancers moving through the rows of singers, for example, and displays close-ups of the singers’ faces. In one scene, Baldwin Peden seems to be embraced by one of the dancers, an effect created by the video footage of the dancer projected on Baldwin Peden’s body.
The soloists often interact with the dancers, and the choir moves around, intertwining with the main action. Greenwald even dances in the show, showing off his talent as a physical performer in addition to being a marvelous singer.
There are no translations of the 12th-century Latin poetry (originally written by monks, and then published later by Johann Andreas Schmeller), but there’s plenty to experience without knowing the exact words. Houlton’s choreography captures the heightened emotions of the various movements — from despair to frolicking love, and from Dionysian lust to despair again. It’s pretty accessible stuff.
Sheila Regan is an arts writer and critic.