With a North American Premier, and a new artistic director, excitement is in the ocean air at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts for their resident company American Ballet Theatre (ABT). This collaboration brings to Southern California the United States Premier of Like Water for Chocolate ballet by renown choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, based on celebrated Mexican novelist and screenwriter Laura Esquivel’s story. The Segerstrom Center and, originally based in New York City, ABT have culminated a seamless alliance which has formed over the years. Wheeldon’s Like Water for Chocolate will run March 29, 2023 through April 2, 2023 in Segerstrom Hall. Tickets are on sale now.
This perfect partnership provides the Golden Coast with world class professional dancing, training, sets the stage for high caliber productions, and thrilling premiers. ABT’s newly appointed and remarkably talented Artistic Director Susan Jaffe is on the forefront of innovation as she paves the way for diversity, women empowerment, and artistic excellence, all in a finely held ballet balance.
Ms. Jaffe as a former principal dancer with ABT has been gracing the West Coast for some time. She remembers fondly her performances, roles, and premiering ballets on the Segerstrom stage. Jaffe recalls, “I did some of my own premiers there. The Segerstrom was one of my favorite theaters to perform in,” she comments, “The architects when they built it really thought about the dancer and their needs backstage.”
In her newest role as ABT Artistic Director she explains, “I not only see the artistic vision of the company, but I also oversee the entire company [of] dancers, guest répétiteurs, rehearsal directors, conductors, artistic staff, etc. etc. considering everyone. There are many areas that I must make sure are in balance, I take great responsibility in that. That our dancers are thriving, that our production team has everything they need, and we have everything we need from them. Since I lived and experienced it firsthand as a dancer, I know what dancers need. And, I know Ballet Theatre, I know our culture, our sensibilities, our values, the kind of productions that we need to put on and the type of level that needs to happen. All these things helped inform me as Artistic Director to be able to direct well. There is a lot to manage on a day-to-day basis and even on a minute-to-minute basis. It’s not necessarily in my job description to oversee all of that, but I want to make sure everyone feels safe and well taken care of because that is where everyone will thrive the best, while we are getting up these amazing productions.”
On a personal note, Ms. Jaffe says that she looks forward to coming to our wonderful sunny weather twice a year, eating great food, visiting museums, and catching up with her family in Southern California. For American Ballet Theatre’s future, Ms. Jaffe is invested in a strong partnership with the Segerstrom Center. Jaffe includes, “I have wonderful choreographers lined up for the future and full lengths [ballets]. I am focused on women choreographers and artists of color – creating an equal playing field.”
Ms. Jaffe is a perfect choice to lead the ABT organization, she has an impressive artistic operational resume of former artistic directorships. As Ballet Master, teaching at top companies and schools, and for eight years, was the Dean of Dance at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts. She is well suited to provide guidance in professional dance making and education as she collaborates in producing the next generation of dancers with The Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts’ ABT William J. Gillespie School and The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York. Jaffe describes, “We are very much involved and vested in tying together the two schools. I do want to be able to pull talent from the school, and with parent’s permissions, when they’re old enough, bring them to New York as well.”
Formally, from 2010 to 2012, Ms. Jaffe was appointed Rehearsal Director for American Ballet Theatre in New York. She remembers working closely with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Jaffe notes, “I was Christopher Wheeldon’s Rehearsal Director on Thirteen Diversions, so I was very involved with his process, on dancer crossings, writing down musical counts to steps, and the intention of his movement.” Now, Ms. Jaffe and Christopher Wheeldon are bringing in a wonderful surprise for California audiences with the U.S. premier of Like Water for Chocolate production. Jaffe proclaims, “Christopher’s ballets are so intricately woven, musical, creative, he is absolutely one of the top dance makers for classical ballet and for ballet in general in the world.” She includes, “Chris is very detailed, every single gesture has precise meaning and is exactly on the music. The story is told in a seamless way. I think that people are going to get a lot of emotion out of Like Water for Chocolate and get taken away with the beauty of it, so many moments are just breathtaking.” She is often in the practice studios during the preparation of the show. Jaffe includes, “I look at these beautiful steps and how Christopher has woven the story together. It is spectacular, I can’t wait for people to see it!” She hears from the dancers that everyone believes they have the best part, and they all are so happy to be a part of the production. Jaffe gleefully describes, “There are so many meaty roles in this ballet. So many principals on stage at one time. The ballet is jam packed with principal dancers.” She remarks, “We will have a synopsis, but if you have read the book, you may have an even deeper experience. It is a great spiritual story that includes family ancestry, traditions, and cultures.”
In a private invitation for donors, I was invited to listen in via New York, as Mr. Christopher Wheeldon talked about his development of Like Water for Chocolate being a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and ABT, the sharing of sets, and moving it over to America with all its moving parts. Dance maker Christopher Wheeldon, originally from Somerset, England trained at the Royal Ballet School and joined the London based company. Then jumped at the chance to move to New York City to join the New York City ballet where he eventually became resident choreographer, which opened the door to choreographing works for major ballet companies from all over the world. The Royal Ballet was the first to do the World Premier of Like Water for Chocolate. Mr. Wheeldon described his restaging process as he remarked, “In London, I got the chance to watch the audience see what they respond to and what they don’t. I am constantly adjusting so that I can truly connect with the audience.” After the west coast performances at Segerstrom Hall, ABT will perform the full-length ballet in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera. Wheeldon goes on to explain his creative alliances with set designer Bob Crowley, his love for the Mexican culture, creator Laura Esquivel’s insight, and the ballet’s musical composition. Mr. Wheeldon depicts the music for the ballet Like Water for Chocolate as, “contemporary but melodic.” He continues, “There is use of indigenous instruments, the incredible conductor Alondra de la Parra is leading the Pacific Symphony, and we have an extremely gifted guitarist named Tomás Barreiro. It is really my favorite score.”
The successful book by Laura Esquivel Like Water for Chocolate takes place during the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920. Since the book’s publication in 1989, the story has been of great Mexican cultural significance. The story, on film, released in 1992, by 1994 became one of the most widely popular foreign films ever released in the U.S. Now with the full-length ballet, the Segerstrom for the performing arts center is providing their audiences with this groundbreaking work. Jaffe announces, “It’s been an absolute dream to have this partnership, we have had so many premiers at the Segerstrom. They give us the time and space to be able to do that properly, putting up Like Water for Chocolate is a gigantic production.” She finishes, “It is important to me what stories we are telling. I believe this ballet will enrich the viewers life and be etched in your memory for a very long time.” This history making event is not to be missed, ABT’s Like Water for Chocolate Ballet performances will run Wednesday, March 29, 2023, through to Sunday, April 2, 2023, with a total of six performances at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa, California.
For more information and to purchase tickets for Like Water for Chocolate, please click HERE.
To see the full season line up at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, please visit their website.
For more information about American Ballet Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: ABT – Like Water for Chocolate by Christopher Wheeldon – Pictured Cassandra Trenary and Daniel Camargo – Photo by Fabrizio Ferri