Telling the story of Frida Kahlo through dance
Frida Kahlo – Defining Moments, presented by Teatru Manoel and executed by Moveo Dance Company with choreography by Diane Portelli, recounts Frida Kahlo’s incredible strength in the face of tragedy.
Best known for her artistry and striking looks, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is sometimes reduced to visuals consisting of a single eyebrow and a brightly colored floral headband. But beyond Kahlo’s famous face lies a complicated life story that has had a direct impact on her art – a story presented through dance at Teatru Manoel.
Kahlo only lived to be 47 and her short life was full of pain, but her work will forever immortalize her. The artist was an influential figure in surrealism and his self-portraits are as fascinating in their detail as they are emotionally charged. The broken columnone of his most striking pieces, is the inspiration behind the dance production commissioned by Teatru Manoel and performed by Moveo Dance Company.
Moveo director and choreographer Diane Portelli was inspired by a painting of a nude Kahlo, her body split in two and revealing a crumbling spine instead of her spinal cord. Frida painted this work when she was 44, following a series of spinal operations to correct lingering problems resulting from a serious traffic accident when she was 18. idea of playing with its duality,” shares Portelli. “She showed tremendous emotional strength despite a broken body and heart.”
In fact, aside from back problems from the traffic accident, Kahlo also lived with serious complications from polio, which she contracted when she was nine years old. She lived with chronic pain, managing to turn it into beauty through her art. Kahlo’s turbulent relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera, whom she married twice, was another source of pain for her.
“Nothing was simple with Frida, which makes her life story so relatable and timeless,” Portelli says. “Her relationship with Diego has been filled with as much turmoil as passion. Our show will feature Kahlo herself, her sister Christina and Diego. Diego and Christina have both played pivotal roles in the story of her life, especially because their affair caused Frida great anguish, which is one of the themes addressed in the performance.
Pain is a common thread that ran through Kahlo’s life, but passion was another. “A total cast of six dancers will also play other very important roles – extensions of Kahlo’s pain and broken body, the fetuses she lost in her miscarriages, the brushstrokes of her paintings and the people Mexican who started the revolution,” says Portelli. “The creative process was very collaborative and intense. The only way to convey the intensity of the characters was to truly immerse us in their life story.
Portelli and his colleagues went far beyond studio rehearsals to prepare for this production. “Frida underwent 32 surgeries which were excruciatingly painful and could have caused her to have several miscarriages,” Portelli recalls. “So we held several workshops exploring pain in different circumstances, such as childbirth or fractures. We also found ways to understand his grief through our personal experiences. The dancers were extremely receptive and open to the process.
Another aspect of Kahlo’s life that Portelli hasn’t ignored is the artist’s pride in his Mexican heritage. “For most of her adult life, she insisted on wearing traditional clothes. Tehuana dresses, partly to cover up her deformed right leg, but also to make a strong political statement,” Portelli says. “These elements are also captured in the performance, through the costume design by Ritianne Zammit and the music composed by Albert Garzia.”
If Portelli were to meet Kahlo, she would have a question: “I would like to know what made her stay with Diego despite him breaking her heart,” she wonders. “Was it because he was essential for her to become famous, or was she just a hopeless romantic?” I guess we’ll never know.”
Frida Kahlo – Defining Moments, a Teatru Manoel production, will be executed at Teatru Manoel June 10, 11 and 12. Tickets can be purchased at booking.teeatermanoel.com.mt. For more information, visit teatrumanoel.mt.
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