The Carmina Burana, a medieval collection of poetry, illustrating the fate of man through life, was set to music by the German composer Carl Orff and was first performed at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1937. Following the Second World War, Ernst Uthoff, a German refuge, created a ballet based on the work for the Chilean National Ballet, which he founded. The production toured throughout South America, and appeared New York’s Lincoln Center in 1962.
In 1972, Ernst Uthoff’s son, Michael Uthoff, came to Hartford and founded the Hartford Ballet. In 1978, the Carmina Burana was the company’s first full-length production, featuring the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and a chorus of 100 voices as well as the dancers of the Hartford Ballet. It was also the first American production of Uthoff’s ballet, which enjoyed great popularity in Chile but had never before been performed in the United States. The production received standing ovations and was praised by reviewers as “fresh and fine.” But despite its popular and critical success, the ballet failed to make money, and a repeat performance in 1979 failed to sell out. It was restaged in 1981 as the Ballet celebrated its tenth anniversary and became something of a signature production for the company, a symbol of the artistic aspirations both of the Hartford Ballet and of its talented and ambitious young director.
Uthoff left Hatford in 1988 and would later mount productions of Carmina Burana at Ballet Arizona and Ballet Saint Louis, introducing new audiences to his father’s work. In 2001, the Connecticut Historical Society was the reception of a large collection of photographs and ephemera documenting the diverse productions of the Hartford Ballet under Uthoff and his successor Kirk Peterson. A poster for a June 1984 performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Hartford Ballet is currently on view in the Nawrot History Nook at the Connecticut Historical Society together with other theatrical memorabilia.