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‘Groundbreaking’ premiere: Robert Mirabal, Festival Ballet Albuquerque join for live performance, film

“Courtship Song” with Festival Ballet Albuquerque dancers and Robert Mirabal in “Sacred Journeys II – Live Stage Performance Video.” (Courtesy of Pat Berrett)

A hybrid of music and dance performed live and on film is part of a collaborative production that will premiere at Motorama at the Downs Santa Fe.

The special event will take place on Friday, April 30 and Saturday, May 1. Both nights, two-time Grammy Award winner Robert Mirabal will perform live at sunset alongside Festival Ballet Albuquerque dancing a newly choreographed piece by New York City ballet icon Jock Soto. The piece is set to Mirabal’s song “Memoir Chaco.” It will be followed by the premiere of “Sacred Journeys II” a live stage performance film made in collaboration among Festival Ballet Albuquerque, Mirabal and Soto.

“The funny thing about the film, the irony of it is that the last performance that we did of Sacred Journeys II, I did a three-camera shoot,” said Patricia Dickinson Wells, director of Festival Ballet Albuquerque. “And the plan at that point was to use it as a background to build a documentary about putting this collaboration together because it was so groundbreaking. … And so the plan was that we were going to start building a documentary and it was going to be last spring. Well, then the pandemic hit and we were waiting.”

It has been more than a year since Festival Ballet Albuquerque has performed. The troupe is happy to be performing again at some capacity as well as finally being able to premiere the performance film.

“Although it is a small group, it is exciting,” Dickinson Wells said. “The film is a fully edited and colorized performance video of the last collaboration with Robert Mirabal and Jock Soto as the spring 2020 planned collaboration/performance was obviously canceled.”

The performance film “Sacred Journeys II” features choreography by Soto, Dickinson Wells, Vladimir Conde Reche, and Dominic Guerra. The film features 35 dancers and took about five months of preparation. The pieces were choreographed to Mirabal’s music. One of the dances, choreographed by Dickinson Wells and performed to Mirabal’s song “Little Indians,” incorporates American Sign Language in the movements.

“I admire sign language,” Dickinson Wells said. “First of all, it’s beautiful movement in and of itself. … I think that the beauty of the movement of ASL would work well with this particular story.”

Mirabal, who is from Taos Pueblo, has been described as a Native American “Renaissance man” with many titles to his name, including musician, composer, painter, master craftsman, poet, actor, screenwriter, horseman and farmer. Dickinson Wells knew she had to work with Mirabal after seeing a special presentation on PBS in 2005 that featured Mirabal’s “Music From a Painted Cave.”

“It was just glorious,” she said. “And I loved every part of it. And I always thought of, you know, working, choreographing to his music. And the years went by, and then actually in 2017, I contacted him. And he left me a voicemail that yes, he would love to collaborate. And so we did our first performance.”

Soon after Dickinson Wells met Mirabal, she met Soto, who later became part of the collaborations. Soto was born in Gallup to a Navajo mother and Puerto Rican father. At age 11, he began dancing at the School of American Ballet. He has performed in more than 100 ballets during his 24-year career.

“(Soto is) another internationally known ballet star, and he had retired to Eagle Nest,” Dickinson Wells said. “And so I was bringing him in to guest teach the master classes, and we got to talking and so he came in on this project as well.”

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