‘Frida’: A Ballet Tribute to an Iconic Artist

Catherine A. Jones
 | February 16, 2024

Frida Kahlo stands as a contemporary emblem of uniqueness.

To this day, she’s celebrated for her feminist defiance and artistic perspective. Her life is honored through an on-going plethora of mediums, ranging from operas to documentaries to museum exhibits.

Now, the captivating tale of the legendary Mexican artist, Kahlo (1907 – 1954), is told somewhere new: the ballet stage. Simply titled “Frida,” the ballet turns Kahlo’s tumultuous life into a dance narrative.

“It begins with six skeletons, male dancers in skintight suits and spandex skull head-coverings, who dance around and atop a large black cube,” William Keiser, an arts critic, writes. “Out of the cube pops the young Frida in school uniform.”

It premiered in 2020, pre-Covid, and the ballet is now back with sold-out performances in the Netherlands.

But how did a ballet about a Mexican icon find its home on such a far away stage?

Turns out that a behind-the-scenes European Latina, and Frida Kahlo fan, is to thank.

A Unique Tribute to an Icon

“Frida” the ballet is a “colourful ode to an iconic artist,” according to the Dutch Nationale Opera & Ballet’s website.

Choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, the new ballet invites audiences to witness her struggles, passions, and creativity through the universal language of dance.

Lopez Ochoa, of Colombian and Belgian descent, says she was inspired by the painter’s ability to transform her pain into art. She also says she first fell in love with the multi-layered artist after watching the 2002 movie about her life, “Frida,” starring Actress Salma Hayek.

“I was brought up in Belgium, and the ballet world is a white world — and I was taught that art had to be this intellectual thing, and I could never use my own culture, my own traditions in dance,” Lopez Ochoa told the New York Times. “So it’s such a big thing that I can bring some Latino flair into the ballet.”

The Ballet’s Approach

Lopez Ochoa’s initially presented Kahlo’s life as a short piece titled “Broken Wings” in 2016, by the English National Ballet. It delved into Kahlo’s key life events, like her enduring loneliness and her complex relationship with husband, and fellow artist, Diego Rivera.

Then, at the request of Dutch National Ballet director Ted Brandsen, Lopez Ochoa expanded “Broken Wings” into the full-length ballet, “Frida.”

“I was very interested in this question: How do you deal with someone who has been in bed most of her life?” Ted Bransen, the director of the Dutch National Ballet told the New York Times. “What Annabelle has demonstrated is that you can show that in beautiful ways, in ways that are very captivating emotionally, and in very immediate ways, through dance.”

Exploring Aspects of Frida Kahlo

“Frida” is not a linear A-to-Z retelling of Kahlo’s life. Instead, it weaves together essential events in a succession of impressive scenes. For example, two black boxes symbolizing Kahlo’s many bedridden days.

“Ms. Lopez Ochoa presents Kahlo in 16 incarnations, each played by a different dancer,” the New York Times writes.

With 49 dancers total, “Frida” stands as Lopez Ochoa’s most ambitious creation to date.

Where to Experience “Frida”

The title role of Frida is portrayed by the principal dancer Maia Makhateli, who danced the world premiere in 2020. The music is by Peter Salem; Set and costume design is by Dieuweke van Reij; and the “Dramaturgy” is  Nancy Meckler.

“Frida” is currently playing at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet. It’s approximately 2 hours and 5 minutes long, including one interval. Tickets start at €21. Tickets for all performances have been sold out

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