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Man who mixed ballets with live chamber music dies at 86

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HOLTH: His process "wasn't always easy"

HOLTH: His process “wasn’t always easy”

Henry Holth, founder and general director of Ballet Pro Musica who produced festivals that merged original ballets with live chamber music, died of a heart attack on Thursday. He was 86.

The weekend before he died was the seventh weekend-long Ballet Pro Musica performance produced in Albuquerque, “The Spirit of Romance,” held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

It combined the music of La Catrina Quartet, a 2012 Latin Grammy Award-winning musical foursome from Las Cruces, who played selections from Vivaldi, Prokofiev, Massenet and Dvorak; the ballet dance of about a dozen members of Compañía Nacional de Danza, Mexico City’s classical ballet company which has danced with Pro Musica for five years; and Santa Fe pianist Jacquelyn Helin, with whom Holth had collaborated since 1997.

“It was a high point in all of these festivals,” Helin said Monday of the production, which ran Aug. 9 – 11, with each show lasting more than two hours. “It was a fabulous weekend. The audiences could not be more enthusiastic, and the performances were first-rate. I’m just gratified for Henry’s sake that he was able to see it.”

Originally from New Jersey, Holth began his career as a ballet dancer, performing in companies in Chicago, Germany and France, according to B.J. Myers, president of the board of Ballet Pro Musica.

When he retired from dancing, he launched a career in the management of ballet companies, and had leadership roles in ballet troupes in cities including Boston, San Jose, Calif., Cleveland, Dallas and Houston, Myers said.

“He always had this vision, he absolutely felt the only way you get the true sense of ballet is with live music,” Myers said. “This was his life dream.”

Holth mounted a similar festival in Santa Fe, then teamed up with collaborating choreographers Peter Anastos and Alex Ossadnik and co-founded Ballet Pro Musica. It played for one year in Savannah, Ga., and then found a permanent home in Albuquerque in 2006, with the first season debut in 2007.

Creating a festival as specific as what he sometimes called “chamber ballet” was always done with a great deal of concentration and tenacity.

“He was very focused, and he knew exactly what he wanted to produce, and found ways to do that, and that wasn’t always easy,” Myers said. “It has been a lot of work over the last seven years, and this year, it finally turned the corner in all sorts of ways. While it was always good, this production this year, everyone said, was incredibly beautiful.”

In an article in the Journal earlier this month that previewed the festival, Holth explained that his passion was to make the music as vital as the dance.

“We are devoted to music,” he said. “… it has to be live, and from that we commission choreographers to make the music incarnate.”

In last year’s festival, in which he worked with the same dancers and musicians but used music by different composers, Holth “continues to fulfill his mission to hear the dance and see the music with new eyes and ears,” according to a review in the Journal .

After this year’s festival wrapped up earlier this month, he was already looking ahead.

“Just Saturday night he called us into the office, and he wanted to know what our ideas were for next year,” Helin said, speaking of herself and the first violinist from the quartet.

Now that he won’t be here to produce another, “It’s a huge loss for New Mexico,” said Maria Elena Alvarez, a member of the Ballet Pro Musica board of directors.

“He brought high art that originated in Mexico to Albuquerque with the festival that he produced and created for us, and he exposed New Mexicans to Mexico’s finest artistic expression through ballet and chamber music.”

A funeral for Holth, who lived in Albuquerque, is being planned for the near future, according to Jane Blume, who does public relations for Ballet Pro Musica.

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