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 V.23 No.33 | August 14 - 20, 2014 

Arts Feature

Face Your Tulle-Wrapped Terrors With Ballet Pro Musica

Ballet de Jalisco won’t judge you for eating peanuts in your underwear
photos courtesy of Ballet de Jalisco
Ballet de Jalisco won’t judge you for eating peanuts in your underwear
Do you know what’s fun? Doing something really uncultured, like eating peanuts in your underwear and then standing up and announcing loudly that you’re going to the ballet. And then you actually go to the ballet!

“That does sound fun,” you say, “except for the part where I have to go to the ballet.”

“What if ballet were as easy to understand as a couple dancing a tango in a bar in Buenos Aires? What if a waltz becomes a story instead of just people dancing a waltz? That is the concept of chamber music ballet, and that is what Ballet Pro Musica is about.”

Alex Ossadnik

I know. Ballet is a fraught artbetween its elitist trappings, acute prettiness and disturbing physics, it can unnerve a person.

Alex Ossadnik, artistic director of this year’s Ballet Pro Musica festival (Aug. 15-17), would like to dispel some of your fears.

Ballet Pro Musica, for those of you out of the loop, is Albuquerque’s annual chamber music ballet festival. Each year a different Mexican dance company (this year the Ballet de Jalisco) and live musicians (La Catrina String Quartet from Las Cruces and pianist Jacquelyn Helin) come together on stage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Journal Theatre (1701 Fourth Street SW) to reinterpret great compositions.

Lest it lose all of its aristocratic luster, there will still be the fancy-pants Kurz Opening Night Gala champagne salon for glamour seekers at $127 a pop. The only problem is it’s not as fun to announce you’re going to the ballet after drinking champagne (at a ballet gala) because everyone expects it.

The first thing you should understand is: This is not your garden-variety Sugar Plum Fairy fever dream. Chamber music ballet is a cutting-edge innovation, a double whammy of classical choreography and small-ensemble music as imagined by late Ballet Pro Musica founder Henry Holth. The aim (as proclaimed by the Ballet Pro Musica slogan) is to merge the two so seamlessly that one can “see the music, hear the dance.”

Now this is an evening on the town.
Now this is an evening on the town.
The other motif of the festival is a devotion to Latino culture and music. Two of the three performed pieces this year are ripped from the dead bosoms of Argentinian composers Astor Piazzolla and Alberto Ginastera. (The third piece comes from African-American ragtime composer Scott Joplin.)

Ossadnik says the choreography will fuse ballet and other dance idioms accordingly but then take it further, exploring the meaning and feeling of the music as well: “What if ballet were as easy to understand as a couple dancing a tango in a bar in Buenos Aires? What if a waltz becomes a story instead of just people dancing a waltz? That is the concept of chamber music ballet, and that is what Ballet Pro Musica is about.”

All of this is to say to any ballet-o-phobes out theremaybe it’s time for some graduated exposure therapy. As Ossadnik says, “Ballet is as ‘high art’ as a good steak or a good meal. There really is nothing not to like about ballet, or a good meal for that matter.”

It’s true. Particularly when your steak has frosting on it, as it does in ballet. This year’s platters are La Muerte del Angel by Piazzolla, Ciao Mama by Ginastera (both choreographed by Ossadnik) and Joplin’s The Easy Winners (choreographed by Kristof Senak).

I, for one, am stoked. Piazzolla, founder of nouveau tango (in which tango meets classical meets jazz), once incited a fight in a Paris performance hall by incorporating bandoneons (accordion-like tango instruments) into the symphony orchestra.

Ginastera and Joplin were also blenders of “high” and “low” arts in their own right. Ginastera liked to dally in Argentine folk themes, and Joplin trafficked in classically polished African-American ragtime.

Ossadnik says he’s going for crowd-pleasing. The Argentine pieces follow a storylinein Piazzolla’s original tango to La Muerte del Angel, an angel is stabbed to death on a Buenos Aires street. Ossadnik’s take, “a reflection on the idea of an angel and dealing with the absence of one,” is more metaphorical.

We’ll have more human drama in Ginastera’s Ciao Mama (an encore from previous years’ festivals), about four sons trying to escape a domineering mother. Meanwhile, The Easy Winners is just ragtime fun, featuring a suite of tunes by Joplin with four dancers.

Ossadnik knows ballet can be intimidating. So he’s pleased that the festival, now in its eighth year, is more community-driven and accessible than ever. After the August 2013 death of Henry Holth, Ballet Pro Musica’s director and impresario, the festival was in danger of discontinuation until a coalition of community volunteersthe Ballet Pro Musica president of the board, Maria Elena Alvarez, the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Mexican Consulatebusted tail to save it. It was this spirit of cooperative devotion that moved Ossadnik to return as artistic director.

Some of the new perks for the Albuquerque community include discounted performance tickets (a mere $10) for all local dance and music students, and a free masters dance class and open rehearsal for professional dancers and musicians. The rest of us can take advantage of deep-discount rush tickets and pre-performance panel discussions with Ossadnik and Dariusz Blajer, artistic director of Ballet de Jalisco.

Lest it lose all of its aristocratic luster, there will still be the fancy-pants Kurz Opening Night Gala champagne salon for glamour seekers at $127 a pop. The only problem is it’s not as fun to announce you’re going to the ballet after drinking champagne (at a ballet gala) because everyone expects it.

With the passing of Holth, Ossadnik says, “Ballet Pro Musica’s future will entirely depend on the support of its audience and its community.”

So step up, Burqueños. Whatever your income bracket or fine-art sensitivity, there’s something for everyone this year.

Ballet Pro Musica Festival, 8th Season

Friday and Saturday, Aug. 15 and 16, at 8pm
Sunday, Aug. 17, at 2pm

National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque Journal Theatre
1701 Fourth Street SW
724-4771, nhccnm.org
Tickets: $37, $47, $57
Rush tickets: $17 (sold 25 minutes before performance)
Kurz Opening Night Gala: $127

Master Class with Ballet de Jalisco dancers

Hiland Theater
4800 Central SE
Thursday, August 14, 4:30-7:30pm
Free to all dance and music professionals
balletpromusica.org
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