By Stephen Vargha
There are more firsts coming for the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra as they will present a ballet that most in the city have never seen. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the symphony and Cuenca dancers will perform George Balanchine’s “Apollon Musagète” and “Jewels” at the Pumapungo Theater.
“It will be a little different,” according to Gabriela Pagliaricci. “People are used to the well-known ballets, such as Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ and “Swan Lake’.”
Pagliaricci is directing the ballet dancers for the performance. The Argentinean has been in ballet since she was five years old. At nine, she went to Escuela Superior de Danzas Buenos Aires. She was so talented that when she was 14, she became a ballet and flamenco teacher, a role she continued for eight years. After that, she took ballet lessons from a Russian dancer at Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.
Her Cuencano husband brought Pagliaricci to Ecuador thirty years ago. That is when she opened her ballet school, Estudio de Ballet Classique, one of first in Cuenca.
With her extensive experience and expertise, Pagliaricci is teaming up with Maestro Michael Meissner and the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra to offer Cuencanos a new musical experience. The first ballet will be Apollon Musagète. It is presented in two scenes, with music by Russian-born composer, pianist and conductor, Igor Stravinsky. Apollon Musagète premiered in June 1928 at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater in Paris.
The ballet is Balanchine’s first collaboration with Stravinsky and one of his earliest international successes. Apollo is the Greek god of music, poetry, light, prophecy, and medicine. He is one of the Twelve Olympian gods who live on Mount Olympus. In the ballet, Apollo is a young god ushered into adulthood by the Muses of poetry, mime, and dance. The Muses are minor goddesses of the Greek pantheon and are the personifications of literary arts, music, visual arts and science.
Upon his encounter with Calliope, Polymnia and Terpsichore, Apollo grants a gift to each of them, making Calliope a Muse of epic poetry and eloquence, Polymnia a Muse of lyric poetry and Terpsichore a Muse of dance. They show their art to Apollo, who in the end leads them, with Terpsichore at the head to Parnassus, their home from then on.
Stravinsky’s biographer Robert Craft wrote: “Apollo, the sun-god and god of music, is Stravinsky’s homage to the Greek concept of the unity of music, dance, painting, and poetry. It is also likely that Stravinsky saw the theme as an allegory of his own religion: Apollo, as a god-man, born human but with a divine ascension.”
Pagliaricci says the ballet dancers perform with the symphony about once a year and it is usually works by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. “Stravinsky is different. He does not make music for ballet. Tchaikovsky makes music for ballets.”
The second performance is only one part of Balanchine’s “Jewels.” The 1967 masterpiece was inspired by displays in New York City at the French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels. It is made up of three separate ballets: “Emeralds,” “Rubies,” and “Diamonds.”
“Emeralds” is influenced by the French style of ballet as the music is by the French composer, organist, pianist and teacher Gabriel Fauré. His music has been described as linking the end of Romanticism with the Modernism of the 20th century. When he was born, Frédéric Chopin was still composing.
This portion of “Jewels” that is being performed is decorous, restrained, and pristine. Experts say this ballet is the most reserved of the three separate ballets. A “bracelet” solo begins with a series of arm and wrist gestures, as if the woman is wearing a bracelet. Further in, a ballerina enters at a stately walk with her partner, hands touching, but never grasping. The ballerina’s passion and confusion are slowly and subtly tamed by her partner.
Born in 1904 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Balanchine (his original name was Georgy Melitonovich Balanchivadze) was one of the most influential 20th century choreographers. Considered the father of American ballet, he co-founded the New York City Ballet and remained its Artistic Director for more than 35 years.
Pagliaricci says Balanchine’s two ballets are totally different. “Balanchine is more male classical in Apollo; it is not romantic. In Emeralds, it is more like a French romantic classical ballet.”
Ten ballet dancers will be part of the performance. One of them is Cuenca native Andrea Bustos. As the owner of Balletti Centro Artístico and Escuela de Danza for seven years, Bustos is also the coordinator for this week’s performances. Her career began when she started dancing at Escuela de Danza at the age of seven.
Meissner approached Bustos in August about performing and asked her if it would be possible to make another performance. Bustos quickly found ten dancers, including Pagliaricci’s 27-year-old daughter Julieta Ordóñez.
The performers are excited about finally performing in front of a live audience again. “I find it very interesting during this difficult time,” Bustos stated. “We haven’t danced since The Nutcracker last December.”
Pagliaricci concurs. “The dancers are very happy and glad to be dancing again.”
The performances will be on Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m., and on Saturday at 6 p.m. All will be at Teatro Pumapungo, Calle Larga and Huayna-Capac and are free to the public. With health protocols in place, occupancy for the theater will be limited to 30 percent.
Photos by Stephen Vargha