Review: “Carmina Burana” at Clowes Hall

Kenoth Shane Patton in "Carmina Burana"

Last Sunday afternoon, I met a friend at Clowes Hall on the Butler University campus on the north side of Indianapolis to see and hear a six-group collaborative presentation of “Carmina Burana,” by Carl Orff.  It was a transformative experience.  This might sound silly, but it’s true: at one point in the program, I could actually feel my chakras clicking into balance.  Bliss!  After the show, I happily walked into walls a bit until I found my way back to my car. 

My friend loved the show, too. When we met back up at a restaurant downtown for an early dinner, we both said that we hadn’t wanted to turn on the radio while we were driving because we were so enjoying the music from the show that was still running through our heads.

Neither of us had had any first-hand experience with “Carmina Burana” before this, but my friend said that when he lived in Germany, everyone he knew was very familiar with it.  He was glad to have a chance to finally experience it for himself.

I hadn’t known a thing about it except that Dance Kaleidoscope was involved with this production of it, and it had been too long (last January!) since I had seen a DK show.  When I heard that there would be live musical accompaniment to the dancing, I thought, “Well, won’t that be nice.”

I was unprepared for – but exhilerated by – the level of stimulation that a stage filled with powerful, graceful dancers gorgeously costumed and lit and framed by overflowing banks of live, talented musicians would provide.  This was definitely a case where the sum was even bigger than its parts.

Multiple Artistic Contributions (besides the composer)

In addition to Dance Kaleidoscope (more about the dance component in a moment), the collaboration included the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, whose artistic director is Dr. Eric Stark.  Dr. Stark conducted “Carmina Burana,” too.  I read in my program (and a “well done” to whoever wrote the program, by the way: I appreciated the concise but interesting mix of information it provided)…

…I read in my program that the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir is the choral partner of the Indianapolis Symphonic Orchestra “having been founded in 1937 at their request in order to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.”  The Choir has approximately 160 volunteer singers.  “In addition to serving as ‘guest artists’ for the ISO, the Choir produces its own concerts and events each season…The most recent addition outreach program, ‘Hallelujah – What’s it to Ya?,’ is an educational and engaging look at Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ complete with choir members leading an audience sing-along.”  That sounds like fun!

At “Carmina Burana,” the men and women of the Choir wore all black and stood in rows on risers on both the edges of the stage and the edges of the orchestra pit.  In the second half of the show, their vibrant bouquet of voices was joined by the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.  The children filled several rows of the house left balcony.  It was lovely to have their sweet voices drifting down over us as we watched the dancers.

Down in the orchestra pit, two pianos nestled in each other’s curves like kittens.  Two men from the American Pianists AssociationStephen Beus and Michael Sheppard – masterfully played the pianos while facing each other.

I should stop here and confess that I use the word “masterfully” as if I know what I’m talking about, but I really don’t have the vocabulary, training, or experience to write about music (or dance, for that matter) in any authoritative way.  However, “masterful” is the word that came to my mind as I listened to these two men play their pianos, so I’m using it.

Six percussionists from the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra – Tom Harvey, Jeff Nearpass, Jon Crabiel, Craig Pare’, Matt Roberts, and Rares Caluseriu – played their various drums and other instruments in locations around the pianos.  Another confession:  I have a soft spot for all percussionists because my father, brother, and I (to a much, much lesser extent) are all percussionists.  I love the very specific, often surprising layers that percussion can provide to any aural experience.  Quoting my program again, this time from Dr. Stark’s notes, “Carmina Burana” is “a sort of percussion concerto due to the aural prominence of the drumming, clanging, crashing and scratching.”  In other words, this “chamber version” of a piece that can also be performed with a full orchestra instead of with “just” two pianos, six percussionists and a gazillion vocalists, is a treat for a percussion fan.  The contributions of the six percussionists in “Carmina Burana” confirmed my belief that percussionists have both the hardest job and the most fun.  The percussion contributions to this piece all sounded perfectly placed and perfectly executed to me.  They richly enhanced the overall storytelling of the piece.

Three vocal soloists – Marcy Richardson (soprano), Zachary Colby (tenor), and Ryan De Ryke (baritone) – performed from a slightly elevated row of music stands on the stage-right side of the orchestra pit.  I’m not sure which arts group brought them into the mix, so I am giving them their own category: The Soloists.

My only disappointment with this show is that I couldn’t see the soloists very well.  They each sounded wonderful, and maybe that should have been enough, but the fact that they each sounded so good made me want to watch them do their thing, too.  And when I scrunched over and looked left through people’s shoulders and managed to catch a glimpse of Ryan De Ryke when he was singing in the second half of the show, his mischievous, sly, flirtatious facial expressions did give me a delicious window of meaning into what I was hearing in a language that was foreign to me.

I am not complaining about our seats, though.  I loved being far enough back to get the full visual of the Dance Kaleidoscope dancers as a group but also close enough to see the expressions on their faces and the subtleties in the movements of their individual bodies.  These dancers!  So strong!  So beautiful!  So expressive!  I could have watched them for DAYS.

The dancers included Kenoth Shane Patton, Liberty Harris, George Salinas, Jillian Godwin, Mariel Greenlee, Melanie Schreiber, Tanner Hronek, Caitlin Swihart, Brittany Edwards, Timothy June, Zach Young, Carly Whitehead, and Brandon Comer.

They danced the choreography of Dance Kaleidoscope’s artistic director, David Hochoy, who originally worked with the Martha Graham Dance Company.  To me, with my admittedly limited experience, “Martha Graham style” means that the lines and visual compositions in the piece are strong and cohesive but unexpected.  Sometimes the word “geometric” comes to mind, but not always.  Sometimes the words “popping” and “swirling” come to mind.  Anyway, I like David Hochoy’s choreography very, very much.   

In “Carmina Burana,” Mr. Hochoy incorporated large pieces of silky fabric or long, wooden poles into several of the segments.  This made the choreography even more dramatic and exciting.

Six arts organizations came together to create this production of “Carmina Burana,” but I want to give the DK lighting and costume designers their own paragraphs, too, because they were each outstanding.

Laura Glover designed the lights.  According to my program, she is DK’s Resident Lighting Designer and Production Manager.  Her designs for “Carmina Burana” took us from warm, peachy day to cool, glistening night, but also into green woods, smoky bars, airy clouds, a stained glass sanctuary, and more.   The lighting for this show was fabulous.

Barry Doss designed the costumes, with additional costumes by Cheryl Sparks.  I have many, many favorites, but I will just mention the shaggy haunches of the satyrs – so randy and wonderful!  I loved the way the hairs moved.  Oh, and the swirly, colorful panels of everyone’s “skirts.”  And the golden helmets!  And the women’s golden breast cups.  They must have had to use super-glue to hold those on, which must have been painful to remove, but they looked great! 

Yes, the costumes and the lighting were as much treats as the music and the dancing in this show.

The Story

There were actually two pieces in this program.  First, as a sort of appetizer before all of the arts leaders came on stage to introduce themselves and thank the sponsors, there was a short piece called “Pie Jesu” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Choreography by David Hochoy, lighting by Laura Glover, and costumes by Cheryl Sparks.)  Four dancers – Brittany Edwards, Mariel Greenlee, Timothy June, and Zach Young – danced gracefully in pairs.

After the introductions, “Carmina Burana” began.

All the program tells us about the story of “Carmina Burana” is that there are two acts.  The first act is called “The Day” and it includes three segments:  “Fortune, Empress of the World,” “Spring,” and “On The Green.”  The second act is called “The Night” and it includes four segments:  “In the Tavern,” “The Court of Love,” “Blanchefleur and Helen,” and “Fortune, Empress of the World.”

At intermission, I overheard someone telling someone else that she thought there was no German-to-English translation of the lyrics in the program because David Hochoy had choreographed the piece based purely on what the music had made him feel.  She thought he probably wanted the audience to have the chance to interpret it for themselves, too.  Something like that. 

I don’t know if that’s true, but her words made me think, “Whew!  No other newcomers know what is officially going on here either, and it’s okay.  I still have no idea who Carmina is or was, but I can just relax and enjoy whatever I’m thinking and feeling.”

For me, then, the piece is about transformation.  As I mentioned earlier, I felt physically transformed by it, myself, but I think the themes of the piece are related to transformation as well.  E.g., the transformation of day into night, but also the transformations that come from creation, from playing in nature, from sex, commitment, birth, torture, longing, and more.  The piece includes “small” stories of transformation within a larger story of the transformation – or maybe “evolution” is a better word – of a people from a beautifully gilded but highly structured and warlike community to a more flowing and colorful community that is loving and beautiful to the point of ecstasy.

I am sighing again, remembering how satisfying this show was.  I wish I could experience it again.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

One thought on “Review: “Carmina Burana” at Clowes Hall”

  1. Hope,
    So glad that you enjoyed this concert so much. It was truly overwhelming to perform in as well – I thought I spotted you out in the house. As an ISC tenor, THANK YOU for coming to the concert and for your glowing review. And next time there’s a Hallelujah – What’s it to ya around, check it out. Fun and informative!

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