Dance school spices up ballet with Latin flavor in 'Danzon'
Most days now, you can find an unusual sight at Western Ballet. The sultry sounds of Cuban singer La Lupe float through the studio's open doors and windows. Inside, a group of professional dancers is learning how to move to this music. But they're not dancing tango or salsa; they are rehearsing Latin American-style ballet for a special, one-night-only performance of "Danzon!" at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 23, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
Danzon will feature all Latin American music and choreography in a show that is unique for Western Ballet. It is the brainchild of Artistic Director Alexi Zubiria, who is originally from Venezuela.
"I wanted to show a different way of dancing," Zubiria says. "It's a kind of repertoire that hasn't really been shown in Northern California."
The performance consists of four dances, including "Fiebre," a masterpiece from Venezuelan choreographer Vicente Nebrada, who is one of Zubiria's mentors. Zubiria explains that Nebrada was a master of the pas de deux. The partnering is vital to the expression of the choreography.
"Passion and love are important elements here," Zubiria says. "The interaction between the dancers tells the story."
The dancers, who are hired by Western Ballet during the summer only, are all professionals in local ballet companies. Zubiria says they are all well-trained in classical ballet, but that this style challenges them in new ways. The positions are stretched, the alignment is less upright, and the emotional expression is key.
"You feel your soul," says dancer Mio Takahashi. "You have to feel it."
"The style of this is hard for most dancers," Zubiria says. "It's like dancing salsa en pointe(in pointe shoes)."
In addition to the Nebrada piece, Danzon will include choreography from Yanis Pikieris and Zubiria himself. One of the pieces, "Teresita," Zubiria choreographed as an homage to Venezuelan musician Teresa Carreno.
"It's an abstract piece having to do with different times in the composer's life," Zubiria says. "I was inspired by her music."
The Danzon project is one of the ways that Western Ballet is differentiating itself from other institutions, says board member Camilla Kao.
"I think as an organization we're actually growing at a time when other arts institutions are having a hard time," Kao says. "We're targeting a lot of different, new audiences."
Bringing this diversity to the studio is one of Zubiria's main goals.
"We live largely within a Latin community, and I would like to expose our own community about this thing that's done in Latin America. We're good at what we do over there in ballet," Zubiria says.
Zubiria said he hopes the professional cast of Danzon will inspire his students.
"I want our youth to have a role model," he says. "Maybe some day they will be in a production like this."
Zubiria says he hopes this will be the first of many similar performances, at least during the summer. He is also introducing an audition-only scholarship program for kids beginning in August as another way to diversify the school.
"There's talent out there, it's just that they cannot afford it," he says. "As long as they want to commit to the program, we will find the resources."
Zubiria's forward-thinking efforts to strengthen the local arts community seem to come from a deep-rooted passion for dance. He started late, but quickly fell in love with ballet. He has worked with companies around the world, including eight years with the San Francisco Ballet.
"It was the idea of a friend of mine in high school to go to the ballet school to meet girls," Zubiria says. "I soon forgot about the girls and ballet became my true love."
He seems to enjoy sharing his passion for ballet with others.
"I'm a believer that ballet is good for everyone," he says. "Everyone can benefit from it."
Tickets for "Danzon!" are available at www.mvcpa.com.
E-mail Emily Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.