The bodies of ballet dancers are sometimes said to flow across the stage like water, and this month at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, the dancers of the American Ballet Theatre will indeed be like water—water for chocolate, that is.
On June 22, ABT begins its summer season with the New York premiere of Like Water for Chocolate, a balletic rendition of the beloved novel by Mexican author Laura Esquivel. (It was also adapted into a hit film in 1992.) Choreographed by Tony Award winner Christopher Wheeldon, the ballet (which was previously staged in London and Costa Mesa, California) tells the story of Tita, who is prevented from marrying the love of her life, Pedro, because of a family tradition that demands the youngest daughter stay single and care for her mother. Tita finds solace in the kitchen—and unwittingly exposes those who eat the food she prepares to her turbulent emotions.
“I’m very grateful to Christopher and his wonderful team for allowing me to participate in this adventure of translating a love story between Tita and Pedro into a language that does not use words to express itself,” Esquivel said during a preview of the show last month. “It was an unforgettable experience. Christopher is a great alchemist of movement, and managed to convey a deep emotion with a simple breath or a complicated twist in the air. The ballet version of Like Water for Chocolate promises to be a visual and emotional feast, with its beautifully choreographed and finely crafted portrayal of the characters and the themes of my novel.”
In one eye-catching early scene, for instance, two dancers twirl around a table, kneading and stretching a cloth as if it were dough for bread, portraying young Tita’s early exposure to the kitchen and the formation of her bond with the family’s cook, Nacha.
“The ballet sort of operates as a play without words,” Wheeldon said at the same preview. “Of course there are big group dances, but the emotional arc is really built through the intimacy of conversation through movement. Particularly for Tita, there were many moments where I tried to sculpt the body to convey the emotion—the anguish, the pain, the disappointment. It was something I really enjoyed, trying to tell this story without traditional ballet mime.”
“It’s very cinematic,” added ABT principal dancer Cassandra Trenary, one of the dancers who portrays Tita. “There’s a vulnerability that’s required of us that I really appreciate.”
While Like Water for Chocolate is a highlight of this summer’s season, if you don’t happen to catch one of the 12 performances (the finale is July 1), ABT is following it up with three classic ballets: Giselle (July 2–8), Swan Lake (July 10–15), and Romeo and Juliet (July 18–22). All of them promise to be excellent, although only one, to our knowledge, features wedding cake seasoned with tears.
For tickets and information, visit abt.org.