Image: Begoña Cao © Jason Bell.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, her ballet on Frida Kahlo, returns for She Persisted, our upcoming triple bill of female choreography.

Before seeing this “heartfelt testament to a major painter and the emancipatory power of art” (The Daily Telegraph), find out more about the Mexican painter’s life and work, and how they inspired and are represented in this beautiful dance piece.

FRIDA KAHLO, THE LIFE

There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.
Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was born in July 1907 in Coyocoan, Mexico City, and contracted polio at the age of 6. This made her right leg and foot grow much thinner and shorter than her left one and caused her to limp when she walked. Throughout her life, she wore long skirts and dresses as well as prosthetics.

In 1922 at the age of 18, she was in a tragic accident when a bus she was on collided with a streetcar. A steel handrail impaled her, crushing her foot, and breaking her spinal column and leg. This led to chronic pain, many surgeries throughout her life and, later on, miscarriages. It also resulted in her needing supportive bodices and spine braces.

To help her pass the time while convalescing, her parents rigged a special easel to her bed, with a mirror above it: she then began to draw and paint. In the ballet, the bed is symbolised by a cube in which her character is enclosed yet free to move – her spirit allowing her to fly with her art.

In 1928, she began her relationship with famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who became her husband a year later. “I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life. And would continue to be, up to the moment she died, 27 years later,” said Rivera, while she called him “my child, my lover, my universe.”

Their marriage was difficult; they often lived apart, and Diego had many affairs, including with Frida’s younger sister Cristina, which led to divorce. They would remarry a year later and remained together until her death. In Broken Wings, their tumultuous love story is told through beautiful pas de deux full of playfulness, devotion and passion.

Tamara Rojo and Irek Mukhamedov as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Broken Wings © Laurent Liotardo
Tamara Rojo and Irek Mukhamedov as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Broken Wings © Laurent Liotardo

FRIDA KAHLO, THE ARTIST

Frida Kahlo “knew how to convert her pain, sorrows and drama into art”, says Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, so more than portraying key moments in her life, Broken Wings takes you on a trip through her creative spirit.

I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.
Frida Kahlo

55 of Kahlo’s 143 paintings are self-portraits, so it is fitting that a number of colourful Fridas should appear in the ballet and relate to some of those self-portraits: one has antlers in her wig, another wears a resplandor around her face (a ceremonial lace headdress), while another carries a monkey on her shoulder.

For Broken Wings’ costume designer Dieuweke van Reij “they represent an enlargement, an extension of Frida herself, all the sides of herself that she feels or longs for”. From her bed, the dancing Frida appears to give them life and command them.

Check out this extract from the piece.

Video: Tamara Rojo as Frida in Broken Wings by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa © Laurent Liotardo
They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.
Frida Kahlo

Kahlo’s art is full of symbols, some of which made their way into the ballet.

For The Guardian, choreographer “Lopez Ochoa and her designers bring that art to fantastical life, as Kahlo dances with a chorus of brilliantly outfitted monkeys, flowers and birds of paradise”.

Look out for a deer (the animal is especially sacred amongst the Huichol tribe of central Mexico, and associated with spirituality and fertility), exotic birds (Kahlo included hummingbirds in some paintings: they are considered good luck in Mexican folklore), and more.

Tamara-Rojo-as-Frida-in-Broken-Wings-by-Annabelle-Lopez-Ochoa-(c)-Laurent-Liotardo-(6)
Tamara Rojo as Frida in Broken Wings © Laurent Liotardo

Kahlo was also a proud Mexican. She is famous for wearing and adapting traditional Tehuana outfits, and for saying she was born in 1910 (instead of 1907), the year the Mexican Revolution began. Broken Wings features long colourful dresses, and its surreal touches include a chorus of Mexican skeletons appearing throughout the ballet.

Watch Broken Wings come to life as part of She Persisted, at Sadler’s Wells from 4 – 13 April 2019. Book now.

She Persisted is sponsored by Cunard.

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