This Spring, four organizations came together to put on Carl Orff’s collaborative masterpiece, Carmina Burana. In the weeks leading up to the concert, Skylight Music Theatre, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Chant Claire Chamber Choir and Danceworks often highlighted that there were 62 cast members who made up the body of this multi-arts extravaganza, and put spotlights on the many dancers and singers who have performed in past works and who have storied careers in the arts. Today, we want to focus on some of the lesser-known – and littlest – artists: the youth performers of Carmina Burana.
“I’m really excited with the casting of the youth performers,” says Danceworks Artistic Director, Dani Kuepper. “They’re super adorable – and talented, not just adorable! Their sense of play is so clear, that it doesn’t look like dancing choreographed to look like playing, it just looks like playing that’s organized in time and space.”
Youth cast member Marcia Olson had previously performed with Danceworks Performance Company in The Quest in May of 2016. “Last August, Dani asked me if I would like to dance in Carmina Burana. I didn’t know what Carmina Burana was,” says Marcia, “and I said yes anyway.”
Many of the cast members both sang and danced on stage, often stepping outside of their comfort zones to do so. “Because Dani asked about it, I thought I would only be dancing. I didn’t know I had to sing, too… In Carmina, I learned I like singing on stage, too,” says Marcia.
Not only were they unexpectedly singing – the concert was performed in its original Latin! “…you can’t understand a word of Carmina, but there is so much story,” says youth cast member Isabel Franco. “Singing in a different language was not only surprising, but also very fun.”
“I knew that [Marcia and Isabel] were good performers and movers, but I had no idea if they could sing or anything,” says Dani. “So they come to the first rehearsal, having never really been to a music rehearsal of any kind. They sit down, they don’t really know the music or anything, and they certainly don’t know that when [they hear] “5, 6, 7, 8…” everyone in the room just erupts! And Isabel actually burst out laughing, like she was giggling so hard her body was shaking. To me, that’s so exciting, that these little kids in the near space, they are really getting an intimate experience, musically.”
“There were many mornings in our house that started with Isabel singing ‘O Fortuna’ in Latin (which I was mainly familiar with as the theme song for The Exorcist movie), and I have to admit that matches my mood on some mornings trying to get kids out of the house and pull myself together for work,” says Isabel’s mom, Marie. “But fortune changes, and we definitely ended up on the happier side of fate with this production.”
“I love how the four companies collaborated on Carmina,” says Marcia. “The way they all worked together is awesome. I love the comradery. Sometimes being a kid around so many adults can be hard, but this was inspiring. The adults were very supportive of us kids. The adults showed support – smiles, encouragement, hugs and high fives, and helped me when I struggled to learn the steps or where I was supposed to be.”
Marie continues, “The cast and directors [were] so warm, and treated Isabel and the other young performers as family… She got to be around a lot of fun, joyful adults who encouraged her to pursue her dreams, and that may be the most special part for me.”
For the rest of the cast, having Marcia, Isabel and the other youth performers be part of rehearsals and performances was a special experience. “They are matching in energy, oh my goodness!” says Janna Ernst, Carmina Burana‘s music director. They’re like, ‘Got it, let’s do this, give me more.’ They are so, so fabulous.”
“I really don’t think Carmina Burana will ever be performed the same way after this groundbreaking production,” says Marie, “and it was a privilege to get to watch that come together from the sidelines… [Isabel] got to know what it really takes to pull off a professional production — the dedication and persistence, the raw talent, the ability to work together, the ability to accept feedback and try again, and to improvise, if needed.”
“It was a lot of work going to all of the rehearsals and performances,” Isabel agrees, “but it was worth it. Carmina Burana was a great experience.” “This was an incredible opportunity for our family, and we are very grateful to Dani Kuepper of Danceworks for inviting Isabel to be a part of this,” says Marie.
“The most exciting thing about Carmina for me is the way we’ve become family,” Marcia finishes. “Carmina Burana was an amazing experience and I hope I have the opportunity to do something spectacular like this again.”
We are so excited to see what Marcia, Isabel, and the other youth performers of Carmina Burana do next!
Stage Photos: Ross Zentner; Cast Photo: Mark Frohna
All photos provided courtesy of Skylight Music Theatre
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.