Picasso, dreams inspire Tampa City Ballet for bold ‘Pulcinella’

The finale of this weekend’s concert is a showstopper. Stravinsky’s opera-ballet Pulcinella will awaken all the senses, with 11 dancers from the Tampa City Ballet, 25 paintings by TFO Visual Artist in Residence Geff Strik projected on a big screen like backdrops, three solo vocalists and, of course, The Florida Orchestra – all live on stage. The whole concert is inspired by the Museum of Fine Arts’ new exhibit, Art of the Stage, on theater design, but these performances also celebrate the 100th anniversary of Pulcinella’s premiere.

Tampa City Ballet has been preparing for these performances since last October. We asked founder and artistic director Paula Nuñez what the experience has been like.

How has Tampa City Ballet approached Pulcinella and these performances?
Preparing for a 45-minute piece is always a challenge, but it has been a wonderful creative process. At Tampa City Ballet we have created a brand-new version of a ballet originally created in the 18th century as the play “Quatre Polichinelles semblables.” Pulcinella is a stereotypical character originating from commedia dell’arte that was first choreographed 100 years ago and premiered at the Paris Opera.

Tampa City Ballet strives to remain innovative and experimental with our work; we like to challenge our audiences with original choreography that merges classical ballet, modern dance and acting. Recreating Pulcinella was a refreshing challenge.

The original story of Pulcinella and Pimpinella, his girlfriend, was of a shameless man, a womanizer with no conscience who takes advantage of the people around him for his own benefit. These themes are timeless, and we saw an opportunity to create something fresh and inclusive, and that connects with the audience.

We also tried to give this piece a more theatrical, avant-garde feel, akin to what we see in many European companies. We always try to position Tampa on the cutting edge of contemporary dance.

What was the inspiration for the costumes, puppets and choreography?
The colorful, geometrical and bold costumes for Pulcinella were created by Veronique Carpio and are inspired by Pablo Picasso’s art (his designs are included in the MFA’s new exhibit).

We had a riot working with the puppets, which came from a dream I had and were created by Irma Gil. We conceived them as a way to exaggerate the larger-than-life personality of Pulcinella while also conveying his hollowness as a person. It was much harder for the dancers to keep a straight face the first time they danced with them!

We have a collaborative way of creating choreography. It comes from an experimental and fluid conversation between dancers, resident choreographer Elsa Valbuena and myself.

Why are collaborations like this important?
The main purpose of collaboration is connecting the artists’ creativity to offer the community the best of different disciplines. Stravinsky, Picasso and Diaghilev did this with the original Pulcinella. Now 100 years later, in a similar way we are collaborating with the amazing conductor Michael Francis and The Florida Orchestra, the vocalists, and the original artwork of Geff Strik. We are very grateful to Michael Francis for inviting us to share in this special concert.

What’s next for Tampa City Ballet?
We need to continue presenting, educating, collaborating and bringing art to the community until we create a legitimate space for dance in our amazing city.

We will present our second program, It’s Been a Minute, on Feb. 22 and 23, and the second part of the Ybor City Trilogy on May 13-17.  We hope to keep growing our audience in Tampa, St. Pete and internationally.

We want to introduce dance about social issues, about the incredible history of our city as we did with 7th Ave and Ybor, about life and philosophy. We would love to have more opportunities to collaborate with The Florida Orchestra and opera as well as the wonderful museums in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay Times Masterworks
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3
In partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
Michael Francis, conductor
Gilles Vonsattel, piano
Orlando Jacinto Garcia: the impending silence (world premiere)
Rimsky-Korsakov: Golden Cockerel Intro/Wedding March
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3
Stravinsky: Pulcinella (Ballet in One Act)
Fri, Jan 17, 8 pm, Straz Center, Morsani (click for tickets)
Sat, Jan 18, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater (click for tickets)
Sun, Jan 19, 2 pm, Mahaffey Theater – Matinee (click for tickets)
Tickets are $18-$48
Kids and teens get in free with Classical Kids tickets, available in advance.
Join Michael Francis for the Pre-concert Conversation 1 hour prior

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