Ballet Arizona celebrates iconic Mexican singer Juan Gabriel with new production

AZCentral | The Arizona Republic
AZCentral | The Arizona Republic

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Can you imagine experiencing the many love ballads composed by Juan Gabriel, México's iconic singer-songwriter, through ballet? Now it's possible.

The music and memory of the late musical icon will be celebrated in Phoenix at the hand of Ib Andersen, artistic director of Ballet Arizona.

For more than six months, Ballet Arizona's company of dancers has focused on the new work dedicated to the Mexican legend. The world premier of the production that celebrates the artist's "color, passion, and vibrancy" will take the stage on May 5 at the downtown Symphony Hall.

The production intends to give life to the stories told through Juan Gabriel's compositions, sentimental ballads that have long been covered by artists across the globe.

Juan Gabriel, lovingly known as JuanGa or "Divo de Juárez," died from a heart attack in 2016 , at the age of 66.

His showmanship was one packed with camp and unapologetic flair. Juan Gabriel was proud of his music and adored his fans, and he made that known every time he recorded an album; every time he took to the stage.

The man was one of the greatest songwriters México ever produced, crafting a long string of sentimental ballads and bouncy, uptempo numbers that are instantly familiar to fans of Latin music. "No Tengo Dinero," "Hasta Que Te Conoci" and "Mañana, Mañana" are among his best-known tunes, familiar to both fans of pop music and traditional-flavored mariachi songs.

His greatest composition, "Amor Eterno," is a heartbreaker about the loss of a mother. It has become a standard that is often played graveside at funerals.

“Andersen had the original idea to bring this presentation to life. Although Ib did not discover Juan Gabriel until after his death, he was immediately inspired by the videos of his performances, especially the JuanGa concert at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1990,” said Mallory Porter, director of marketing at Ballet Arizona.

According to Porter, the director saw an article published by the New York Times when Juan Gabriel died. He was interested in his history and began to investigate and listen to his music. According to Porter, Andersen said he was captivated by his voice and at that moment he knew that he wanted to compose a production based on his music.

On Cinco de Mayo, viewers of all ages will be moved by the story of Juan Gabriel, who broke cultural and social barriers, and will be able to experience a range of emotions exhibited in his lyrics — love, sadness, joy — from songs he performed in 1990, in his infamous performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in México City.

“The beauty of the music and the choreography will be an added feature to the costumes designed by the dressmaker from México City, Carla Fernández. Her designs pay homage to the indigenous and mestizo communities of México, using sustainable fabrics and cultural accuracy,” said Porter.

Representing his songs via dance

For some in the company of dancers, listening to Juan Gabriel's music was part of growing up — even if they had no idea they were listening to him until this production came around.

Sarah Diniz was born in Argentina, and while she recalls now having listened to his songs growing up, at the time, she had no idea who he was.

“I didn't know who (Juan Gabriel) was. After I found out that we were going to do a production on him, I went looking for articles on him and started hearing his music more,” she said.

On the other hand, Cuban dancer Serafín Castro said an all-time favorite song of his is "Amor Eterno," or "eternal love," because of how sweet and beautiful the melody is.

Luis Javier Corrales grew up listening to the Divo de Juárez's music in Havana, Cuba. He recalled his grandfather and father getting together on weekends to play dominoes and drink rum, while playing Juan Gabriel's many hits.

"My favorite song in the production is 'Amor del Alma,'" Corrales said. "It is a song that has many meanings for me. It can be referring to carnal love, a family member or a saint or God. It means a lot to me because I miss my mom a lot ... so whenever I hear this song it reminds me of her and that's what I try to represent in my dance."

With a completely new production like Juan Gabriel's, the dancers and production can take up to a year of work. But for Diniz it is worth all that effort, since she thinks it is a very nice way to show art and learn about new cultures.

“While the world premiere of Juan Gabriel may naturally speak to the Hispanic community that is familiar with JuanGa's music, Ballet Arizona hopes to introduce the artist to new audiences, inviting them to experience JuanGa for themselves,” said Porter.

And while the production intends to bring in Latino audiences who are well-versed in JuanGa lyricism, according to Diniz and Porter, the goal is also to share something new with people who have yet to hear of him.

"The world will learn of the honor that is Juan Gabriel's music, and learn of his art through ballet ... we are trying to pay tribute to his music and his legacy," said Diniz.

Ballet Arizona's Juan Gabriel at Symphony Hall

When: May 5 thru May 8. See website for specific show times.

Where: Symphony Hall, home of Ballet Arizona. Located at 75 N 2nd St. in Phoenix.

Tickets: Pricing starts at $35, with discounts offered for seniors, students, military and groups. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-381-1096 or visiting


Former Republic reporter Randy Cordoba contributed to this article.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Ballet Arizona celebrates iconic Mexican singer Juan Gabriel with new production

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