Thursday, December 15, 2011

Questions for Ballet Master, Houston Ballet II Claudio Muñoz

(Left photo: Claudio Muñoz)

Claudio Muñoz will be choreographing a new dance for Houston Ballet II to be premiered on Musiqa's Jan 7, 2012 concert Free of the Ground. The music for this new ballet, Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Suite arranged by Kyoko Yamamoto for piano, will be performed live by Tali Morgulis.

The Jan 7 program also includes Karim Al-Zand's Tagore Love Songs, Anthony Brandt's Creeley Songs and Philippe Hurel's Tombeau In Memoriam Gérard Grisey.

Claudio Muñoz graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for the MusiqaBlog about choreography, ballet, and music.


Musiqa: Where do you begin when choreographing a new ballet? Do you start the music and let it inspire the movement?

Claudio Muñoz: In this particular case, the music was a given. Putting it on, I start to play around with ideas, shall I say… poetic ideas, the poetry, not of words, but of what’s beyond words. Only ideas though, not steps. Not yet, anyhow. For that, I would wait until I meet the second important element of my art: the dancer. Music first, the human medium comes second. I come last. My choreography is the soul of the music, expressed through the body of the dancer. A tailor doesn’t make a dress until he sees the lady who’s going to wear it. Neither would I make a choreography until I have seen the actuality, the physicality who’s going to put it on, on stage.

M: Are there certain elements in music that you feel ballet dancers respond to? Or can a good dancer dance to anything?

CM: Dancers are music. Period. There’s not even a question of responding. You are music, or you are no dancer. A good dancer would response to even silence, the inner rhythm, let alone music. So I would have already typically gone with a dancer whose response is spot-on, nail-on, dead-on, since the very first second. Nothing else is good enough.

M: Is ballet in Latin America different than what one sees onstage in Houston or New York? Is it, like much classical music, an art form that simply lands in the same identifiable form no matter where it’s performed? Or does it take new shapes and influences as it is developed and received across different cultures?


CM: There would of course be a slight difference in the feel and the look, chiefly because the ballet there has very strong roots in the Russian school. Here in the States, ballet is eclectic, it is pluralistic, it combines many styles. Of course that’s good. But, south of the equator, things somehow stay more resolutely Russian. It would also look different, just because of the feel of it…a certain approach to the roles, how to interpret them, how to get them across to the audience. That’s basically because Latins live life at a different beat than norteamericanos. There is something in the Latin American air, maybe the cultural background, the ambiance, the nuances, that affect the sensibility of the dancers, a much more earthy, physical, abandoned, free, feeling for movement, for the expression of what’s inside. It has helped Latin American dancers capturing the world stage of late.

And no, on the other hand, Ballet itself, with a capital “B” doesn’t pick up on local colors…Swan Lake is going to be recognizably Swan Lake no matter where it is staged. Of course there were variants from the many classical schools, or there will be legitimate variants from the individual artistic choice of a specific choreographer, but never from the geographical location. Ballet is an attitude, not a latitude. Classical art aims for the universal, not the local. You can add nuances, but not change the color spectrum. Aurora in Sleeping Beauty let’s say is a diamond. She can never become a topaz, an amethyst, an emerald…she can be cut into many shapes, but a diamond she’s got to stay.

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