Although usually presented as a concert piece, Carl Orff's 1936 "Carmina Burana" was always intended to be theatrical, with some mimed action and "magic tableaux." The first performance in Frankfurt in 1937 was fully staged, in fact, with dancers, sets, and costumes.
"O the tango is done with a thin black moustache a wide scarlet sash, black boots and a whip." When Jerry Leiber wrote those lyrics for "The Tango" (recorded in 1975 by Peggy Lee), he was reflecting the darkly sensual reputation this dance, with its historically murky origins, has had for over a century.
"Diavolo," writes the company's Artistic Director Jacques Heim in his program notes, "is a fusion of many different movement vocabularies such as everyday movement, ballet, contemporary, acrobatics, gymnastics, martial arts, and hip-hop." On stage, that translates into genre-bending theatre pieces that are a mashup of dance, Olympic-class athletics, and circus arts that are sometimes thrilling and always mesmerizing.
When you think of the music for the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," the first names that probably come to mind are Harold Arlen and E. Y. "Yip" Harburg. Their songs "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "If I Only Had a Brain" have been firmly ensconced in the Great American Songbook for decades. If you're a film music fan, you might also think of composer/arranger (and Broadway veteran) Herbert Stothart, who combined Arlen's tunes with original material into a seamless, Oscar-winning score.
There were many remarkable things about The Shanghai Ballet's production of "The Butterfly Lovers" that Dance St. Louis presented at the Touhill this weekend. The colorful costumes, the incredible athleticism and skill of the dancers, the incisive way artistic director Xin Lili's choreography illuminated character and defined action, and the powerful emotional pull of the tragic story were all reasons to take notice.
So: Take the 40 dancers of the Nashville Ballet; add 120 singers and 60 musicians, including The University of Missouri-St. Louis Orchestra and Singers, The Bach Society of Saint Louis, and The St. Louis Children’s Choir; then set them loose on Carl Orff's 1936 "Carmina Burana" on the Touhill Center's big stage. What you get is an impressive piece of dance theatre that succeeds both as Spectacle and as Art.
Every performing arts organization has its share of potboilers—light entertainments designed to reach a popular audience and boost box office revenues. Most have a short shelf life but some, like Verdi’s “Aida”, exceed expectations and wind up as part of the standard repertoire.