Professor J. Calvin Jarrell can't help but speak in dramatic terms about a music and dance production that's being staged at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville this week.
"It started as a labor of love and then it became of project of passion and then it turned into an object of obsession," he said.
"Carmina Burana" pairs SIUE students in choral, orchestra and dance programs with a choreographer, conductor, singers and dancers from Cuba.
Jarrell, 61, of Edwardsville, director of the SIUE dance program, has been planning it for two years.
"Nothing like this has ever been done at SIUE," he said. "I'm not even sure any institution in the United States has ever attempted anything like it. It was like a giant monster with tangled hair that didn't want to be combed."
Jarrell was referring to red tape involved in bringing Cuban artists to a country that has enforced a commercial, economic and financial embargo for more than 50 years.
"It was incredibly complex," he said, noting he couldn't even send money to the Cubans directly for transportation.
"Carmina Burana" (Latin for "Songs from Beuern") originated as Medieval poems and dramatic texts discovered in a Bavarian monastery in 1803. German composer Carl Orff turned 24 of them into songs in the 1930s.
"His selections cover a wide range of topics, such as wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of spring and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust," according to a press release.
"Much of his 'O Fortuna,' the opening piece in his master work, is easily recognizable by most people as one of the most often used pieces of music in the 20th century."
Choreographer Alfredo Velazquez Carcasses gave the dances a Cuban-Caribbean flavor for the SIUE production. Jarrell added a prelude with four Cuban pieces, which will be performed by an orchestra conducted by Cosette Justo Valdes, followed by Cuban and American dance numbers.
Valdes noted that Cubans know much more about U.S. culture than Americans know about Cuban culture, and that people at SIUE have been friendly and eager to learn.
"I have a very nice impression (of the United States)," she said. "I like the people very much. I love the music."
Jarrell has traveled to Cuba 18 times in six years to do scholarly research on that country's culture, specifically music and dance.
"I fell in love with the place the minute I stepped off the plane," he said. "It's just alive with energy and passion and the arts."
Jarrell quickly got acquainted with Oscar Julio Mesa Menzies, a representative of a Cuban artists' union in Santiago. They became close friends.
Menzies later helped Jarrell plan the "Carmina Burana" production at SIUE. They saw it as tool for multi-cultural, cross-disciplinary learning.
"I wanted to bring the experience to the region," Jarrell said. "Most people know very little about Cuba. They don't know how rich the culture is, how wonderful the people are and how beautiful the country is."
Tragedy struck in January, when Menzies died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage at 59. It dampened Jarrell's spirits, but the show had to go on.
The Cuban artists arrived in Edwardsville last month. Things seemed to be going smoothly until April 2, when Jarrell suffered a stroke. It was treated quickly but caused him to miss a week of rehearsals. Carcasses had to substitute.
"Everybody pulled together to make this thing happen," said Jarrell, who is well on his way to recovery. "It was almost like divine intervention because the multi-cultural cooperation that I wanted in the first place happened because I wasn't there."
At a glance
What: "Carmina Burana"
Who: SIUE dance students and Cuban artists
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday (tonight's dress rehearsal at 7 also is open to the public)
Where: Katherine Dunham Theater on the SIUE campus
Admission: $24 ($12 for tonight's dress rehearsal)
Tickets: Call the SIUE box office at 618-650-2774 or email firstname.lastname@example.org