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Ib Andersen’s World Premier – Juan Gabriel

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Ballet Arizona is only weeks away from presenting its final mainstage production of the ‘21-22 season, Juan Gabriel, and I am fearful that the production may be ‘flying under the radar’. This new creation seems not to be garnering much attention - or ticket sales - despite having sterling credentials.

Juan Gabriel teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYTEsYdKids

Spoiler(?) Alert: Motivation for this posting was drawn from attendance at a rehearsal not open to the public. It may therefore be in violation of Ballet Alert guidelines, but better to chance it than to let an outstanding effort go unnoticed…

Juan Gabriel (or Juanga, as he was called) was a Mexican singer/songwriter of immense popularity in Latin America. Always the consummate showman, his flamboyant style and passionate voice quickly elevated him to pop icon status. Juanga’s early passing at age 66 in 2016, and the resulting obituary in the NY Times caught the attention of Artistic Director Ib Anderson. It was the musicality and passion of Juanga’s performance at Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes – the first non-classical show to be performed there – that became the seed of Mr. Andersen’s vision for a new ballet – one choreographed to the vocal performances of Juan Gabriel.

"Being in Mexico and talking to so many people about Juan Gabriel, I learned so much. Their love of him could be from childhood memories, or from a romance gone right… or wrong! I have never come across an artist that was and still is, so beloved with such deep and universal passion. I keep thinking, “What is a Dane doing, trying to choreograph a ballet to this revered Mexican Artist? Am I crazy?” I am terrified, but, I think about how much his music inspires me and I am passionate about showcasing his artistry in a completely different medium." - Ib Andersen

Music from the Palacio performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw53gxpI45A

Clearly this is an opportunity to broaden BAZ’s audience by further engaging the local Hispanic population.  Personally, however, as a non-Spanish-speaking Anglo, I have to admit that I was nonplussed by the concept – how could I possibly appreciate the show if I didn’t understand the words? But that concern evaporated once I had the chance to attend a rehearsal. The music was infectious; the vocals were energizing, and the dancing was gloriously Latin and deliciously musical. Not understanding the words was simply irrelevant. Clearly this is shaping up to be a superb example of ‘See the Music’ – made even more enticing since it was an engaging style of music to which I am not normally exposed.

Of course, the rehearsal was in a studio, with dancers wearing rehearsal attire. But a quick whirl through the costume shop hinted at the icing on the cake – costumes by Mexico City fashion house Carla Fernandez. The link below goes into some detail about the collaboration between Ms. Fernanadez, Mr. Andersen, and Costume Director Leonor Texidor. About 80 costumes – a shocking number for a company the size of BAZ – are being created. While much of the costume construction is being done in BAZ’s own costume shop, costumes are also being shuttled back to Mexico City, for beadwork and embroidery by indigenous artisans.



As to scenery, it will apparently be of the projected variety. Those who saw Mr. Andersen’s Firebird will recall the full-stage semicircular rear-projection screen that was used to stunning effect. Juanga’s record breaking performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes was captured on DVD, and this may well be a source of video for the show, but it’s pretty low-res stuff, so it will be interesting to see whether/how it will be incorporated into projected scenery.

Early life and career of Juan Gabriel: https://blog.balletaz.org/the-composer-series-a-look-at-juan-gabriel

So that’s my take on what’s likely to be a spectacular production: Music from a Mexican pop icon, dance from an inspired Danish choreographer, and costumes from a big-name fashion house. As stated on BAZ’s website:

"It’s a new work like nothing seen before; performance as poetry bringing new appreciation to the emotional authenticity of this musical legend, reflecting the color, passion, and vibrancy of Juan Gabriel. Expect to feel love, sadness, joy, all in one great evening as a tribute to a master."

Anyone wishing a preview and additional insights into this production can attend the Studio Spotlight at BAZ studios on Friday, April 22, 2022:


Performances will be at Phoenix Symphony Hall on May 5-8, 2022, to the recorded music of Juan Gabriel:



Edited by fiddleback
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Friday night’s Studio Spotlight attendees got a sneak peek at several of the dances (no costumes, no scenery) from the upcoming Juan Gabriel show. There's little doubt that the full-fledged show will leave the audience wowed. Here, in a nutshell, is what we saw:

The soundtrack is apparently taken directly from Mr. Gabriel’s Palacio de Bellas Artes performance. So each piece is the length of a song, with bursts of applause (from the live recording) between pieces. The recorded applause is a bit jarring at first, but you get used to it, since it provides a natural break between pieces.

While the choreography was uniformly top notch and well attuned to the music, the question of ‘what’s he singing so passionately about?’ continued to lurk in the back of my mind. (I don’t speak Spanish.) The choreography itself, and the tenor of the music and voice generally made it pretty clear. One group of pieces was the ‘it obvious’ and/or ‘it doesn’t matter what he’s singing’ group:

  • One was clearly a party piece, with lots of exuberant dancers, upbeat music, and energetic choreography - including women with floor-length skirts vigorously swishing away. Totally enjoyable regardless of the lyrics. Certainly the entire ballet will end with something of this nature.
  • Another piece featured one very macho guy and four enthralled women, who tended to dance as a group, but then each took a turn with the macho guy. It might be interesting to know what the lyrics are, but I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. In terms of sentiment, I couldn’t help but think of Balanchine’s Western Symphony. (BTW, Abby Philips Maginity does ‘flirty’ exceedingly well!)

But the other group was the ‘Hmmm… I wonder what the words mean’ pieces:

  • For one piece, in particular, I felt that understanding the lyrics might add to my appreciation. Helio Lima danced the leading role, who was an elegant, but rather despondent guy. After a couple of minutes, a couple (Jillian Barrell and Luis Corrales) enter, and perform a short upbeat duet in the background behind Helio – presumably they're the source of the despondency. Later on, four men dance with Helio, attempting to snap him out of it. I couldn’t help but feel that knowing the story would help.

It’s not clear to what extent (if any) BAZ will help non-Spanish speakers to bridge the language ‘gap’ (if there is one). Opera-like supertitles would, I think, be quite incompatible with ballet, i.e. distracting. Perhaps a synopsis of certain pieces in the program would be helpful.

The language topic also came up during the post-performance Q&A session with four dancers. Familiarity with Juan Gabriel (the singer) ran the gamut – Serafin Castro is a native speaker from Cuba. Natalie Ramirez (from Riverside CA) grew up in a home where his music was frequently played, so it was second nature to her. Katelyn May and Ethan Price had done their own independent research into some of the pieces. Ethan in particular volunteered that one of the pieces was especially meaningful to him, and that he had to avoid paying too close attention, lest he miss his cue.

Opening night will be (most appropriately) on Cinco de Mayo at Symphony Hall.

Edited by fiddleback
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Regarding opening night of Juan Gabriel

First of all, as I can be long-winded, let me emphasize this: Don’t miss this show! It is unique, exceptionally good, totally enjoyable, and provides an amazing cultural bridge between classical ballet and Mexican pop culture. The cheers at Symphony Hall have never been so lengthy or so loud.


Just a few impressions on the opening night experience…

  • As you take your seats, you realize that you’ve arrived not at Symphony Hall, but at the Palacio de Bellas Artes – the Palacio’s colorful mural paints the back of the stage, with the silhouette of a singing Juanga superimposed. But, then again, this is also a pop concert venue - the stage is framed by exposed lighting trusses – row after row of them, studded with multicolor lighting instruments covering the sides and top of the stage. As the show starts, overhead spotlights paint roving circles of constantly changing color on the stage floor. No need or desire to hide any of this – so not a curtain, not a border, not a leg is in sight. The “set” has been constructed by simply baring the things that are normally hidden. This effect is especially effective if you sit up close; what you see is ‘walls’ of lighting instruments lining the stage.
  • A side effect of this “set” is that the stage is uniquely open – and it’s humongously wide. Mr. Andersen puts all this space to especially good effect during the ‘all cast’ pieces, by lining his extravagantly costumed dancers across the stage – all the better to ogle the gamut of Ms. Fernández’s costumes.
  • Keeping in mind that I am quite ill-equipped to describe costumes… The keywords here are variety, splendor, and authenticity. The rancher on date night wears an elaborately embroidered shirt. The rock star wears suitably glittery outfit. But it’s the ‘all cast’ outfits (photo above) that are most spectacular. Perhaps 15 different outfits, each worn by a pair of dancers – drawn from all walks of Mexican life – a cornucopia of styles, colors, and textures. These include chaste white dresses adorned with flowers, flowing iridescent tops, space-age-looking multi-layered bloomer shorts, gold lame jackets, flesh colored unitards printed with giant flowers. Photos – even videos - simply cannot to do them justice. Here’s a another hint at the variety of the costumes, but this doesn’t come close to capturing their breadth or splendor: https://www.facebook.com/balletaz/videos/3354461444838995/  And here’s a new interview with Ms. Fernández, who was in attendance on opening night: https://blog.balletaz.org/bringing-fashion-to-the-stage/
  • Projected backgrounds by Jake Pinholster and Daniel Carino provide diverse settings. For one song we see the streets of a small village, with flags or banners fluttering in the breeze. (The effect was so realistic that I had to look twice – I thought I was seeing real flags fluttering on stage in front of a projected image.) The dance with the despondent guy (mentioned above) features a dreary looking town setting with an uncannily realistic rain cascading behind the dancers.  The more spectacular ‘all cast’ pieces had abstract bubbles and kaleidoscope effects. Tasteful, effective, culturally relevant, and not overwhelming.
  • Despite the spectacle of the pop concert milieu, Mr. Andersen admirably sticks to his classical ballet roots – the women are always in point shoes and frequently on point, and the choreography is largely classical, augmented with Latin struts, saunters, sashays, and such. As one observer said, Juan Gabriel is not to be confused with ballet folklórico.
  • The ultimate delight – and irony – for me was Amor Eterno, in which a rock star in glittering outfit (Helio Lima) dances tenderly with a woman (Katelyn May) modestly attired in blouse and longish skirt. See Instagram clip here. The delight is to experience a performance which is so graceful, so poised, and so stately, that it hearkens back to Louis XIV’s la belle danse. This is accomplished only through ideal proportions of movement, posture, grace, countenance, physique, and other intangibles. Kudos to Mr. Andersen for the concept and to Helio and Katelyn for the sublime execution. (The irony, of course is to encounter such refinement in the midst of such pop spectacle.)
  • I think that BAZ does its audience a disservice by not providing the slightest bit of translation of the song (not even titles) performed. As a result, the Spanish speakers can read and understand song titles and understand song lyrics. The non-Spanish speakers are simply out-of-luck. Kudos to BAZ for adding Spanish descriptive materials to the website. Would that the translations worked both ways. But this is a nit in an otherwise compelling show.

Don't miss out. You're unlikely to see anything else like this. The show runs through Sunday, May 8, 2022 at Phoenix Symphony Hall.

Edited by fiddleback
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Here’s a Juan Gabriel behind-the-scenes 5-minute video produced by the local Telemundo affiliate, mostly en español of course. It contains many studio clips (some in costume), interviews, costume shop shots and various scenes of JuanGa performing.

It also includes an interview with the second-busiest person at BAZ, Costume Director Leonor Texidor. Ms. Texidor was responsible for fabrication of the myriad costumes for Juan Gabriel, and she also does costume design for many of Mr. Andersen’s ballets. It was a special delight on opening night to see the always-behind-the-scenes Leonor up on stage taking a bow alongside Mr. Andersen, Ms. Fernández, and the other creators.

Items of particular interest:

  • 1:00 & 1:40 & 5:00 - Interviews (en inglés) with Mr. Andersen

  • 2:54 - Katelyn & Helio in Amor Eterno (very brief clip)

  • 3:10 – Costumes, costume shop, and interview with Ms. Texidor

  • 3:47 – Interview with Ms. Fernández


Also some photos from opening night:


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