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The Mobile Ballet opens its 2018-2019 season with “Ovations” Nov. 8 at the Mobile Civic Center Theater.
If you think of ballet strictly in the traditional sense, bodies flowing and leaping to the strains of long-dead Russian composers, then Mobile Ballet Artistic Director Katia Garza wants to change that. She’s opted for a realignment with the company’s 2018-19 season opener, “Ovations.”
“If we have people who think they don’t want to watch 20 girls in a tutu, maybe they would be attracted to other forms,” Garza said. “It’s a little bit of everything, a little modern and contemporary and a little bit of classical, pointe shoes and no pointe shoes.”
In the words of the late, great Chuck Berry, “Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news.”
Garza felt a fresh approach could draw new attendance so she opted for musical fare familiar to the regional culture. That’s why the bill is heavy on jazz influences: Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and George Gershwin.
“I wanted something to go back in your memories and make you think of the past,” Garza said.
She went straight for our regional heart, tapping into some of Gulf Coast native Louis Armstrong’s most popular pieces like “What A Wonderful World” and “When the Saints Come Marching In” to sprinkle in Creole flavoring. The first of those tunes utilizes choreography from Garza’s personal past.
“It’s a ballet I created years ago when we did it at Orlando Ballet in 2002,” Garza said.
Orlando Ballet seems to be the connecting hub for much of the show. For one thing, Garza and her husband, Israel Rodriguez, moved to Mobile after a stint as principal dancers at the central Florida company. Rodriguez is now ballet master for Mobile Ballet.
“Eduardo Pi Iglesias, our ex-ballet master [in Orlando] who is now dancing in Miami, will be a guest dancer for ‘Ovations,’” Garza said. “Another guest artist, Paul Branco, was in second company when I met him in Orlando Ballet. He was a principal at Sarasota Ballet.”
Branco is diversified. Not just adept at creating visual art with his body, he went to a science, technology, engineering and mathematics magnet school and has a burgeoning tech business of his own.
He, Iglesias and Rodriguez each will take the spotlight in suites assembled from the works of Armstrong, Sinatra and Simone. There’s also an Astor Piazzolla piece, “Tango in Hi-Fi,” along with classic Gershwin works including “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “I Got Rhythm,” and work by John Williams.
The choreography is mostly the creation of Garza — save Rodriguez’s work on Sinatra’s “That’s Life” — including the routines of the 30 plus-member company.
The remaining guest artist, Raley Zampieri, is on the Mobile Ballet faculty and brings yet another dance genre to bear in an already varied show. Her resume includes a decade spent with the Radio City Rockettes and in the touring cast of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Her hoofing contribution is perhaps the most authentically American.
Garza herself will slip onstage for a number but her time will be precious. The Nov. 8 show starts at 7:30 p.m. and its 90 minutes are packed with changes to oversee.
The artistic director assembled the musical numbers with the aforementioned goal: a relatable sensibility for the audience. The Simone suite is of particular interest since the musician was known for her nearly unmatchable intensity. Her solemn “Blackbird” gives way to the resolute “Feelin’ Good” and concludes with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The show is unique for Mobile Ballet. Same goes for the opportunity to see it.
“We have the one performance and it’s like a gala because if you miss it, there’s no chance to see it again. I thought it was a good moment to make something for the city that they feel like is their own,” Garza said.
Though in the Azalea City less a year, she’s reveled in the experience. A life previously marked by seemingly endless travel has become less transitory.
“It’s nice being in one place all the time. It’s been a lot of work, a lot of scheduling, a lot of rehearsal because we are doing this and then ‘Nutcracker’ right behind it but I’m enjoying it a lot,” Garza said.
From what she’s said, get ready for more new ideas, more ways to break out of old habits.
“All the big companies do maybe two classical ballet productions and then everything else is neoclassical and contemporary,” Garza said. “I didn’t want us to be the exception. I want our dancers to grow as artists and to offer it to the audience too.”
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