Ballet to Mexican music and chess; Two companies at the Vail Dance Festival expand their classical roots |

Ballet to Mexican music and chess; Two companies at the Vail Dance Festival expand their classical roots

Nic Corbett

It might be a good idea to open this country’s borders, just so the United States can lay claim to two prestigious dance companies to the north and south. Canada’s Jeune Ballet du Quebec and Mexico’s Ballet de Monterrey both claim classical roots, but they’ve grown in entirely different directions.

Youth and vitality

Chess lovers may find one ballet piece at the Vail International Dance Festival especially riveting.

The Jeune Ballet du Quebec will be performing a piece titled “Jeu d’Echecs,” which means chess game. As two old men play chess in one corner of the stage, the dancers will act as the chess pieces, traipsing around a giant chessboard on stage.

“When I saw them, this is the one that really stuck in my mind,” said Producing Artistic Director Katherine Kersten. “It’s unusually presented and structured. It’s just a not-to-be-missed piece that they perform.”

The piece, one of five the ballet company will be performing at the festival, was choreographed by Mario Radacovsky to music composed by Maurice Ravel.

Kersten saw the Jeune Ballet du Quebec perform in Montreal and Miami, she said.

“I had seen them several years ago, and I made a mental note: ‘I’d love to take this to Vail,'” Kersten said.

The company has gone on 20 tours throughout Europe, South America and North America, according to Hugo Valencia, the company’s manager.

“Jeune” means young. The 16 dancers in the company who are coming for the festival are all between the ages of 16 and 20, but that doesn’t mean they’re students, Kersten said.

“They’re young dancers, but they’re professionals,” she said.

All the dancers in the company were top in their class at the National School of Contemporary Ballet in Montreal, Kersten said. They are all well-versed in both contemporary and classical ballet.

“The key to this company is they’re very versatile in every style of dance,” she said.

Most ballet companies are moving toward more contemporary styles of dance, like jazz and modern, crossing the line between the different styles, she said.

“It’s how dance is growing,” she said.

Classical ballet with a Latino flavor

The Ballet de Monterrey is grounded in classical ballet, but the company has a Latino twist. It’s Mexico’s first and only privately funded ballet company.

“The repertoire they will be performing is classically based, but most of the music is by well-known Mexican Latino composers,” Kersten said. “So, it has a definite Latino flavor.”

The president of the Ballet de Monterrey, Yolanda Santos de Hoyos, founded the company in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Its artistic director, Robert Hill, was the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in New York City.

“Hill is also a very prolific choreographer, so one sees his style also in the company,” Kersten said.

In the dance world, it is well-known that some of the best dancers today are coming out of Latino countries, Kersten said.

“First of all, there’s an amazing passion for dance,” she said. “The culture supports it for both men and women.”

Kersten said there is still a stigma in the United States for men or boys to dance. It is considered “sissy,” but that is not so in the Latino culture.

When Kersten went down to Mexico to see the Ballet de Monterrey perform last year and four years ago, she said the highlight of what she saw was a piece called “Huapango,” performed to the music of Jose Pablo Moncayo and choreographed by Hill. It will be one of the six pieces the ballet company will present at the festival.

“It was just a fast-moving, continuous, energetic piece that is going to leave the audience breathless,” Kersten said.

The company is composed of four principal dancers, 11 soloists and seven corps de ballet. Kersten explained that the principal dancers are the stars of the company and the corps de ballet are like the “meat of the sandwich.” The soloists may become principal dancers someday.

The dancers hale from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil and the United States. They are between the ages of 17 and 35.

“The artistic growth of our dancers and the warm answer of the public are the best (examples) that allow us to affirm that the creation of this company was a great success,” Rosalinda Farias, Hill’s assistant, wrote.

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