Coming off of a wonderful Spring Season and record-breaking It Takes Two Benefit, it’s exciting to share what we’ve been up to in the way of making new dance!

Today we’re sharing notes from a recent conversation with Executive Artistic Director, David Shimotakahara. He and the dancers are in the midst of the creative process of creating a large-scale new piece set to the much beloved music of Carmina burana.

“For us, this was an opportunity to re-imagine with dance one of the ‘lions’ of  the Classical Music Repertoire,” says Shimotakahara. “I think it’s wonderful that Christopher Wilkins [Conductor, Akron Symphony Orchestra] keeps wanting to reach out with his productions – to engage people in different ways. It’s an important choice to keep working this way with dance & live orchestra as these collaborations are often few and far between due to the resources and coordination necessary to put this all together. I’m very grateful to him.”

This work is the second project in which GroundWorks has collaborated with Akron Symphony Orchestra. Shimotakahara admits that the scale of a production like this – boasting a 75-piece orchestra, 75-voice orchestra chorus, 45 voice children’s chorus, 8 professional dancers plus a 16-member ensemble of Akron-area student dancers  – made the idea initially feel monumental, like a giant a puzzle to be solved, but one which Shimotakahara was interested in figuring out.

“There are some pieces of music that capture people’s imagination. This is one of those pieces. As a matter of approaching it for dance…it’s challenging. It’s written in such a way that it often feels like it is telling you what it wants to be, what it wants to do. When Orff wrote it he had a scenario in mind – he wanted the piece to bring up themes related to some of life’s eternal questions. How do change and fate affect life experience? ”

For the company, dance is not about telling the audience what to think, its about what it makes them think of. This often happens by expanding imaginative possibilities for the audience, rather than restricting it: “The music has so much thematic imagery in it – we want to augment it, and for the dance to add another dimension to their experience of the music.”

Part of that process, for Shimotakahara, was finding a visual language to bring the piece to life without being literal – setting the stage for a truly impactful experience: “I wanted the piece to be theatrical. We didn’t want to rely on set design to support what we’re creating. I had to think about a concept that would work & be scalable. I was trying to think of ways that we could use a costuming element that would give us a lot of range & flexibility to create lots of different scenarios. I decided to work with skirts – the flow, the way they fill space in this very beautiful way – I imagined the impact when seen on all dancers. That was one of our starting points.”

The piece is coming together in a way that Shimotakahara feels will achieve a “wow factor” – taking the audience along a path of experiencing a deep range of emotions. He comments: “We are in a very fractured time. There are huge changes that are happening at a mega level – climate, technology, issues that change our views on how we want to or have to live. We can’t go back. And these shifts destabilize a lot of structures that we knew from before. Change, fate what ever you choose to name it  is either something you fear or you learn to accept and ultimately to celebrate. How do we find common ground? A piece like this is very comforting in that context. Regardless of your country, religion, identity – human nature is universal and when faced with the unknown we all feel the same things at some level.  For me, this is why Carmina is as relevant today as much as ever.”

Experience Carmina Burana on Saturday, May 7th at 8pm at EJ Thomas Hall in Akron. Secure your tickets here.