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A classic reborn: Youth dance troupe presents jazz version of ‘Peter and the Wolf’

Hiland Artistic Director Steven Melendez, right, works with NDI-NM Junior Company member Dakota Bohman. (Courtesy of Audrey Derrell)

Steven Melendez is willing to take a different path.

When he wanted to put on “Peter and the Wolf” with his students at the National Dance Institute of New Mexico, he began looking for something different.

“Making art is art, whether you are doing it with children or for children,” he says. “It’s still art.”

Melendez, artistic director at the Hiland Theater, found an arrangement by Walt Gwardyak, who composed it for the New England Jazz Ensemble, where it premiered.

Melendez reached out to Gwardyak and the New England Jazz Ensemble. Six months later, the rights and music were approved for NDI-NM.

“Peter and the Wolf” has helped introduce generations of children to the instruments of the orchestra and the concept of telling a story through music, fulfilling the goal Sergei Prokofiev set for himself in 1936.

In Gwardyak’s 2018 arrangement, it has an original libretto and features a full jazz ensemble.

The production is choreographed by the new Hiland artistic team – Melendez and Tom Porras.

After finding the arrangement, Melendez asked the New Mexico Jazz Workshop to create the live component for the production.

He then asked Albuquerque poet Hakim Bellamy to be the narrator.

“In New York, getting a partnership with two large organizations would take years and cost millions of dollars,” Melendez says. “The fact that I was able to call each one of these people on their cellphone and get a ‘yes’ before I was done pitching the idea to them is amazing. The artists in Albuquerque and the people in Albuquerque are hungry for arts and culture. And people want to work for kids. It’s about making the community better and growing together.”

There will be three performances in addition to “Peter and the Wolf,” including the world premiere of “Angels,” created for the NDI New Mexico Company XCel dancers by international choreographer Rodney Rivera, who recently started as NDI New Mexico’s Dance Barns artistic director in Santa Fe.

“Angels” is set to the music of J.S. Bach.

“Now on the wings of the angels I fly gracefully to the heaven of heavens, to the embrace of the universe and the eternal light,” Rivera wrote of “Angels.”

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