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Community members, U of I students celebrate Carnaval at Krannert

Audience members at Carnaval gamble in the Krannert Center lobby on Feb. 21 using fake $500 bills they received with their tickets. Patrons could play roulette, listen to live music and enjoy food before the show began.

URBANA — Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent — a season of fasting, penance and sacrifice. 

But before the austerity began, many took part in one last day of excess with food, drink, music and dancing: what’s referred to by some as Fat Tuesday, others as Mardi Gras, and still more as Carnaval.

In the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, patrons gathered around poker tables, danced to Latin music by local ensembles and sipped drinks in the lobby. 

“It’s like a big holiday of being naughty and clownery before 40 days of depression, I guess,” said audience member Hannah Mauch, who celebrates Carnaval every year. “I think it teaches me that it’s okay to take care of yourself and be selfish once in a while.”

Afro-Brazilian percussion group Bloco Gavião led the audience in a parade down the stairs and into the Foellinger Great Hall, where the show began with performances of music and dance from around Latin America and Spain by Lyric Theatre @ Illinois.

This is the second year that the department has produced Carnaval, though last year’s show focused on the French-speaking world and the festival of Mardi Gras, theater co-director Julie Gunn said. 

Gunn said she originally came up with the idea for the show when she and her students started researching French music from places like Algeria, New Orleans and French Guyana that aren’t represented as often in music education.

“We’re not learning about that so much in school,” Gunn said. “It’d be great if we would. A class I was teaching worked on that, learning about different styles of French music.

“Then we started thinking ‘Maybe we should have a party about that, and wouldn’t Mardi Gras make sense?’.”

This year, the show focused on the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world, with songs and dances from countries like Argentina, Mexico, Cuba and Brazil.

The performers themselves were a big help in putting together the show, Gunn said.

“We, right now, are privileged to have a lot of Latino students, so we’re using a lot of their knowledge,” she said.

Mauch said she was glad to see lots of cultures and traditions represented in the show.

“I love seeing the diversity of Latin American cultures, and being able to experience it with people from all over the world here in Urbana is really exciting,” she said.

Organizing these shows has been a big undertaking, Gunn said, but she hopes to turn them into a yearly tradition.

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Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson covers arts and culture, as well as LGBTQ issues for Illinois Public Media News. He studied journalism, Spanish and theater at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has worked with Illinois Public Media in various capacities since 2021.

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