What Would Frida Do?

Nelson Reyes choreographed Frida.

Using several pieces of music ranging from folk-like ballads to post-modern dissonance, costumes including colorful traditional skirts and dry office attire, Asheville-based Cuban choreographer Nelson Reyes made his homage to Frida Kahlo as unpredictable as the artist it honors. The 24-minute dance explores the controversial life of Kahlo, the Mexican surrealist painter renowned for her autobiographical self-portraits that explored cultural questions about race, sexuality, feminism, and tradition. It’s presented locally by Ballet Spartanburg as part of its Década anniversary celebration.

Frida Kahlo the dance, like its namesake, defies classification. “She was living very ahead at her time,” Reyes says. “The way she was acting and thinking was very rebellious at that moment in history” — the 1930s and ’40s. “Frida was able to see beauty and art where others saw fear.”

But it’s just one of many dances collected in Década, the show that marks Ballet Spartanburg’s 10th year of presenting “DanSynergy” — artistic director Carlos Agudelo’s annual program that accents diversity, multimedia collaborations, and new works. A few dances will be taken from such high classics as Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. Another piece by Reyes, 24/7, is an edgy social comment on humanity’s relationship with modern technology.

As part of its “Something Different” series, Tryon Fine Arts Center “is focusing on dance performances from opposite ends of the spectrum,” explains Michelle Fleming, the venue’s marketing manager and technical associate. Hip-hop collective Soul Street Dance opened the series in October, “and now we’re moving to ballet,” she says.

“The idea is to expand the number of people who develop an appreciation of different styles of dance that includes classical ballet, contemporary ballet, and modern dance,” offers Agudelo. His hope is a performance “that is both entertaining and stimulating.”

Pushing the envelope just a little further is Passages, a contemporary piece that contains no narrative at all. “I am only communicating an idea through the body to touch the audience in some way,” says the troupe’s Ballet Mistress Lona Gomez, who talks about “the criticalness of communicating an idea through movement.” This dance is all about the process, not the drama and the dénouement, and it can’t happen without input from the other dancers. Thus, says Gomez, “the piece unfolds, mirroring life.”

Ballet Spartanburg (balletspartanburg.org) presents Década at Tryon Fine Arts Center (34 Melrose Ave.) at 7pm on Thursday, January 18. $20/adults, $10/students. For tickets, see tryonarts.org or call 828-859-8322.

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