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'Looking out my window': Alexa Capareda's ballet 'Maria and the Mouse Deer' draws from her culture

Maria and the Mouse Deer
Anne Marie Bloodgood
/
Ballet Austin

Alexa Capareda is the rehearsal director for Ballet Austin TWO, and was also the first choreographer that came to mind when Ballet Austin’s associate artistic director, Michelle Martin, was starting to plan the new series Fables of the World.

“We’ve been involved on a national level with this ongoing conversation – a really important conversation – about racial equity and diversity within our industry, within the classical ballet industry,” Martin says. “Because there’s just a really difficult legacy of exclusion. It’s been a very Eurocentric, white-focused industry for centuries.”

Ballet Austin is hoping to address that legacy in a small way by launching Fables of the World, a proposed series of new ballets for kids and families that draw inspiration from the wider world that exists outside Europe. The first work in that series will be Capareda’s Maria and the Mouse Deer, which draws from two fables — one of which originates very close to her home.

“I was born and raised in the Philippines,” Capareda says. “My family moved to the States when I was fourteen years old. And I grew up in a town called Los Baños, Laguna, which is at the foothills of a mountain called Mount Makiling, which, according to legend… the slope of it is shaped like a woman lying down. And it brought these stories and legends about a nature spirit, or what we call a diwata in the Philippines, that has, you know, supernatural powers and a really strong connection with nature and a connection with the animals and the flora and fauna, and is able to also take care of the townspeople.”

The lore of that spirit, Maria Makiling, is a story that Capareda grew up with, and it makes up part of Maria and the Mouse Deer. But the ballet also draws from stories that Capareda studied in college. “In my final year at UT Austin, where I got a degree in English, I spent a good amount of time on a big project that surveyed Southeast Asian folktales and their commonalities,” Capareda says. “And one of the things that I connected to the most was this delightful character called the Mouse Deer that appears in a bunch of Maleo Indonesian cultures as a trickster character, that frequently outwits larger animals and demonstrates resourcefulness.”

The Mouse Deer character lends itself well to humor and playfulness, which have always been an important part of Capareda’s choreography. But she also worked to include an environmental message, Capareda says. “We need to take care of these animals, we need to take care of the environment,” she says. “It’s all we have. And that personification of Maria as nature… it’s been done before, but this is a story, another way of telling it that comes from something that I literally grew up looking out my window [at].”

When it was time to find choreographers for Fables of the World, Martin says that Capareda was an obvious choice. “I really could not think of a better way to start than to give Alexa the opportunity, because I can see in her choreography… just a deep understanding of humor and connection,” she says. “And being able to get that out of dancers as well. She creates a whole world in her ballets, and so this just seemed like the perfect opportunity and the perfect way to launch this Fables of the World series.”

“Yeah, I think there’s something inherently playful about the style of the choreography that I do,” Capareda says. “And I find worldbuilding really important. And humor isn’t necessarily easy, and it’s especially hard when you’re forcing it. So I think it just comes from my personality and kind of what I find funny. It’s sort of in my body and in my person, and so translating that… to other characters and other movers, I think, comes pretty naturally.”

Martin hopes that when families and children come to see Maria and the Mouse Deer, the ballet will spark in them a curiosity about other cultures. “I hope that it provides a window into a different culture,” she says. “Or just to come in and enjoy and be inspired by the movement and the humor in the story. There are just a lot of different layers. So really connection is what I hope people take away – connection to the culture, connection to dance as a means of expression. And just a general love of being connected to art.”

'Maria and the Mouse Deer' runs October 15 - 23 at Ballet Austin's AustinVentures Studio Stage

Mike is a features producer at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for KUT.org. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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