Annabelle Ochoa Lopez on Bringing Eva Peron To Life in Ballet Hispanico's Doña Perón

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It's a natural question to consider - if commissioned to create a new work for Ballet Hispanico about Argentina's controversial, if altogether fascinating, First Lady Eva Perón - "How do you do it without 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina", admits choreographer Annabelle Ochoa Lopez. After all, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita was her initial introduction to the world of the Broadway musical at age 20, a life-changing event for certain for anyone active in the creation of the performing arts.

When her boundless imagination was challenged some eight years ago to create Doña Perón, the acclaimed ballet that depicts the life of Eva Perón - known as Santa Evita to her beloved descamisados and for people all over the world who first became intrigued by her via Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical Evita - it was up to Ochoa to create a vivid portrait of the legendary, if still-controversial woman who died more than 70 years ago.

This weekend, Ballet Hispanico brings Doña Perón - which just two weeks ago was presented on PBS's Great Performances - for two performances Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's James K. Polk Theatre.

After initial research into her subject, the main question that propelled Ochoa forward to create the ballet was the consideration of "what does power do to you?" From a poor young girl who was denied her birthright by her father and his other family, Eva Duarte grew into the woman known as "Santa Evita," one of the world's best known - and, perhaps, most misunderstood - women, looked on with contempt by the aristocracy of Buenos Aires (and much of the world), yet beloved and revered by the poor for whom she strived to make a better life.

"Once you get the power you've wanted all your life, what happens to you?" Ochoa queried. "The audience wants you off the pedestal."

The descamisados essentially worshipped Eva because she finally gave them a voice, Ochoa contends. "And for her to keep her power, she had to maintain that connection."

When she began her study of Eva Duarte de Perón as a character for an artistic interpretation, Ochoa found that "I didn't have to love her, but I have to try to understand her. I'm not there to judge her."

While Ochoa could easily understand the controversial nature of Eva Perón's life and times and the changes with which Argentinians had to contend - for example, a best friend's father was Argentinian and a Peronista; yet his best friend was anti-Peronista, yet somehow the two men were able to overlook their political differences to create a deep bond.

"I understood all the pros and cons," Ochoa recalls. "But as a choreographer, I like to put complex characters onstage. I wanted to inform the audience about who Eva Peron really was and to do it by showing just how much dance and movement can tell her story and convey who she was."

Of course, Ochoa read Eva's memoirs -- which no doubt painted a rosier picture of her than others might have: "She makes herself so much better than reality."

Yet it was through her memoirs that she discovered the deep and affectionate relationship Eva had with her stylist. "She would confide in him, especially about how she was treated by the aristocracy," Ochoa says. "'They don't love me; they will always see me as a poor girl.'"

And it was this mistreatment that prompted Eva to pursue loftier goals and to portray herself as above the fray. The result? Evita became an almost mythical figure in the post-war world of the late 1940s and until her death in 1952.

In Dona Peron, Ochoa hopes to demonstrate the various factions that dominated Eva's life: "She looked beautiful in her amazing gowns, yet she thought of herself as the savior of the poor," she suggests. "So I hoped to show all sides of her personality, not just the glamorous Evita we've come to know, but to show her connection to the descamisados."

About the show Fresh from its world premiere, Doña Perón is an explosive portrait of Eva "Evita" Perón, one of the most captivating and controversial women in Argentinian history. Even as she rose from dancehall performer to Argentina's First Lady, Evita's advocacy for women and the working class raised skepticism as she indulged in the opulence of a high-class life. Was she a voice for the people or a deceitful actress? Internationally renowned Latina choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa explores these diverging legacies in this seminal full-length work for Ballet Hispánico.


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