Interview with Alexa Capareda about MARIA AND THE MOUSE DEER,Oct 15-23, 2022, by Dr. David Glen Robinson


A slender figure wearing a mouse deer headdress rushes over to a prostrate man who looks like a crocodile. The man snaps at the figure but she leaps away….


A vast tempest blows through the forest. Animals and human beings flee and suffer, finding unity in the shared struggle for life…..


A delicate being in flowing garments repairs the forest, righting trees, restoring their leaves, and making flowers bloom…..


A man captures a tarsier, a tree creature, to keep as a a pet. Animal friends and the forest spirit convince him to set the tarsier free to enjoy life and real friendship……


These and many more scenes form the bright and colorful Maria and the Mouse Deer, each one a teachable moment for teachers, parents, and wondering, curious children of all ages. The ballet for youth is a brand-new work by Ballet Austin II, born of the creativity of Alexa Capareda—teacher, choreographer, and rehearsal director with the company.


Capareda created Maria and the Mouse Deer as part of the company’s  ambitious plans to choreograph both canonical ballets and newly choreographed works. Capareda wrote the book and choreographed the show, premiering now at AustinVentures StudioTheater, the downtown home base of Ballet Austin.


Maria and the Mouse Deer is the premiere production of the new series Fables of the World, prepared for touring to mid-sized cities and towns in central and west Texas, in schools and other public venues. After the Austin opening the show will be performed in Manor and AISD before its wider peregrination through Texas. It will become part of the repertory of Ballet Austin II. Fables of the World will be ongoing , with new ballets to be created every two years.


As in most ballets for youth, the story of Maria and the Mouse Deer adheres to a narrative, descriptive storyline, like those timeless monuments Peter and the Wolf and The Nutcracker Suite. Ballet Austin II productions of Nelly van Bommel’s Snow White and Jimmy Orrante’s The Ugly Duckling have toured to Texas districts such as Glen Rose, Stephenville, and Graham. The new young choreographers find inspiration in fairy tales, children’s books, folk tales, and myths, ad did choreographers of old, but with different material and different themes, most notably the protection of the earth and Nature. “People are pulling from all over,” Capareda said in an interview at Ballet Austin. The creative winds of ballet blow freshly, and as always, the children lead us.


Of course, stories in modern ballets for youth and children are a bit didactic but full of things of interest to kids. “I love kids coming up after the show and asking questions, like ‘Where do the lights come from?’ or ‘Where did the sound come from?’ They just haven’t had the experience of a production yet. And [they want to know] what it’s like to have a career as a dancer. The shows are usually under an hour long, to fit into teaching programs. That makes it easier when we involve education programs. So our shows are easily digestible for kids, and they always have a sort of a moral.”


Narratives, their forms, and meanings evolve as life and time flirt with the quantum universe and throw us down different pathways. One of those pathways is the creation of the new by exploring the realm of myth, coming to us—ironically— from deepest antiquity. Maria and the Mouse Deer hails from Philippine and Southeast Asian folklore, stories that enriched the Alexa Capareda's childhood. Her ballet gives us Maria, the mouse deer, a tarsier, a snake, a crocodile, a dwarf buffalo, townspeople, and at least two birds. All strive and interact, play tricks on each other, and show great and deathless purpose. Even the forest trees interact. Maria is a forest spirit, a guardian of the animals, and her mouse deer companion is occasionally a trickster. The lessons for children are abundant and overflow the stage. The ballet is a composite of several stories clearly told, their color enhanced by the set, lighting, and extremely clever costumes by Miriam Jurgensen and character headpieces by Benjamin Taylor Ridgway.



“Most cultures in Southeast Asia seem to have a flood myth, and all seek to explain the existence of things; the world and how it is put together. Many early cultures were animist and saw the world as alive.” This has all been prologue to Maria and the Mouse Deer (a mouse deer is a ruminant, not really a deer, but it'scherished by children and figuries prominentlhy in many Southeast Asian folk tales. 


“So that comes from my desire to share that part of my culture. It checks all the boxes, too. Respect for nature, respect for others; and it’s learning something new, and at the same time it’s a ballet.”


While studying ballet passionately in the Philippines, Alexa also took a required minor in Philippine folk dancing at the Philippine High School for the Arts. Much later, in 2015 as she was finishing her English degree at the University of Texas at Austin, she worked on a group term paper surveying the folktales, mythic roots, and lore of Southeast Asia. She identified similar elements over a wide area of that continent, including animals and story themes such as the trickster.


And then Ballet Austin II and Alexa found each other. She has assisted and staged work for Ballet Austin II since 2015. Alexa still performs in various Austin projects and contemporary dance works, most recently with Jennifer Hart’s Performa/Dance in the groundbreaking The Mad Scene. As if that weren’t enough, she has delved into avant-garde dance with Frank Wo/Men Collective, “the Frankies”, as a founding member. There she has performed as grass, yes, grass, inanimate objects, and characters.


Now picture Alexa standing on a low-arcing oak tree branch in Pease Park, about 2018 or 2019. She is telling a Philippine folk tale about the Monkey and the Turtle. Before that arboreal story she danced on the branch and nearby on the same theme. Is there a connection with this ballet?


“I was thinking about this then. I 'd been looking at all of these folk tales from my Philippine childhood that would contribute to this ballet. There are so many stories about the animals tricking each other and outwitting each other that they had to make a great ballet. This story was pulled from all that. I was very much thinking ‘What would this story be?’ So it is not one thing but what I put together from many tales; sort of like I put it together from all these sources.”


This writer was privileged to attend an early run-through rehearsal of the show when almost all its pieces were brought together (full costumes and some of the stage props were still to come). The story scenes followed on each other chock-a-block, the young dancers making all their cues and hitting their marks unerringly. The dance proceeded for about 45 minutes non-stop, telling all the stories in the beautiful ballet movements the world has loved for centuries while incorporating a vocabulary recalling traditional Philippine folk dance.


Alexa Capareda, the proud parent, was apologetic for the “roughness” of the run-through. A few comments by Alexa and others after Vthe performance addressed details this observer hadn’t even noticed. Capareda’s eyes shone with pride as her complex vision of art started to become real on stage.The ultimate blessing on the lives of creative choreographers and all artists comes when their visions and mighty strivings finally create art that stands up in the world and moves through time. Maria and the Mouse Deer bodes fair to achieve that strong semblance of life.

Photos by Anne Marie Bloodgood.


Video from Ballet Austin



Feature by Jeanne-Claire van Ryzin, Sightlines magazine, October 7, 2022



Maria & the Mouse Deer
by Alex Capareda
Ballet Austin

October 15 - October 23, 2022
AustinVentures Studio Theatre
501 W. Third Street
Austin, TX, 78701


  • Saturday, October 15, 2022, at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 15, 2022, at 4:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 16, 2022, at 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 16, 2022, at 4:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 22, 2022, at 2 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 22, 2022, at 4:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 23, 2022, at 2 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 23, 2022, at 4:30 p.m.