Schola Cantorum, NWA Ballet Theatre collaborate for ‘Carmina Burana’

Schola Cantorum, NWA Ballet Theatre collaborate for ‘Carmina Burana’

The only imaginable word to describe the April 26-27 production of “Carmina Burana” is epic.

The University of Arkansas’ premier choral group, Schola Cantorum, is performing all 25 movements of Carl Orff’s 1936 cantata in “a variety of languages” — from Latin to Middle High German to Middle French — accompanied by pianists and percussionists.

They, in turn, are accompanying Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre as they dance Artistic Director Stephen Wynne’s choreography, which has “Roman deity Fortuna, an impulse driven dispenser of good and ill, at the core of [the] narrative.”

“In my version, Fortuna steps down from the pedestal and promotes itself as an influencer and solicits the affection of the culture,” says Wynne. “Historical depictions often show Fortuna winged, wearing a crown, or bearing a scepter or cornucopia, but my favorite, and what speaks to me as the pinnacle of vulnerability, is the blindfolded appearance signifying how [fate’s] decrees, although not always fair, are at least unbiased.

“That’s a great starting point,” he adds. “In my version, Fortuna will be rebranded. I’m really looking forward to sharing that with our audience.”

“This will be a first for much of the audience,” says Stephen Caldwell, director of Schola Cantorum. “[But] ‘Carmina Burana’ is a famous piece, so it’s an easy sell to both the ballet audience and the choir audience. It is a piece ideally suited for a group like Schola Cantorum, and exactly the level of repertory they should be tackling as young musicians training to do this for a living.”

The challenge for the singers is “nailing the correct tempos every take,” Caldwell says. “Secondarily, with a full ballet on stage, there are ample opportunities to get distracted as a performer watching the dancers, and miss an entrance, etc. So the discipline needed in the singers is that much more fierce.

“The reward is, of course, how cool is it to sing in a ballet?” he adds. “It’s a first for all the musicians involved, but hopefully not the last. Once they see the expansion of creative limits right in front of them, maybe they’ll be more likely to keep expanding them throughout their own careers.

“From the audience perspective, the story/words are compelling, universally applicable, and even dramatic at times.”

“Considering that the entire cast of the production — dancers, vocal soloist, choir, musicians — will only come together for the first time one day before the first performance, and we haven’t worked together before, there is a lot of trust involved,” Wynne says of the challenges his troupe has faced. “That being said, I have the utmost confidence in Dr. Caldwell’s professionalism and artistry…

“The reward? From a ballet dancer’s perspective, it is another opportunity to be brilliant — and NWA Ballet Theatre dancers will be brilliant!”

The collaboration between Caldwell, who came to the University of Arkansas to lead Schola Cantorum in 2012, and Wynne, who joined the Ballet Theatre in October 2022, has been six months in the making. Caldwell approached Wynne, and Wynne “started creating a choreographic concept for ‘Carmina Burana’ in November 2023 and consequently expanded the production title to ‘Carmina Burana: The Conflict Within,’” Wynne explains. “I started rehearsing with NWA Ballet Theatre mid-January 2024.”

“My role as the conductor is to largely stay out of the way of the creative concept, and allow the music to speak for itself, first and foremost,” Caldwell concludes. “That way, the ballet can build with complete freedom … limited only by the space. It will be exciting to see it come together in the end!”



‘Carmina Burana:

‘The Conflict Within’

WHAT — A collaboration between NWA Ballet Theatre and Schola Cantorum.

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. April 26-27

WHERE — Faulkner Performing Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $30-$35, with discounts for students & seniors


BONUS — A Director’s Chat with Stephen Wynne is set for 6:45 p.m. before each performance. Wynne invites the audience to chat with performers after the show.

Categories: Music