Review: Maria & the Mouse Deer by Ballet Austin
by David Glen Robinson


Maria and the Mouse Deer by choreographer Alexa Capareda, a Ballet Austin II production, had its world premiere at Austin Ventures Studio Theater on October 15, 2022. The youth ballet is the first outing in the series Fables of the World. The company plans to create new youth ballets every two years and tour them widely. This piece is another entry into the world of nu ballet, a movement that seeks to change in the content, themes, and goals of ballet. The aim is to move away from canonical and traditional confinements. Based on Phillippine folk tales, Maria and the Mouse Deer uses region’s folk music. The change is refreshing, even while the show remains a fine arts ballet.


(photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)



The dance itself takes place in the realm of magic story telling. It's set in the forests and villages of the Phillippines. The titular Maria is the personification of Mt. Makiling, a mountain whose horizon outline is said to take the shape of a woman reclining. Interactive trees, rocks, and a fabric representation of a river form the set. The village is no more than an arched doorway. The animals and people dance the story in canonical ballet technique, in which from the time of Louis XIV  young dancers are trained to take moves that look  easy while appearing otherworldly and transcendent. The youthful dancers of Ballet Austin II achieve that look easily. The imaginative young willingly suspend belief triggers from the first few entrances and introductory scenes.


(photo by Anne Maria Bloodgood)Maria is a forest spirit guardian of the trees, animals, and humans who live in harmony with the forest. That is a monumental task, for the forest is suffering from logging, mining, and pollution of all forms, and the animals are sickened. Here we see the quasi-didactic structure of the ballet. Maria dances strenuously, working to correct all the abuses and bring animals and villagers together in a happy ending. She teaches everyone, especially the children in the audience, to take care of the earth. Then ,as an eternal reminder to all beings, Maria transforms herself into Mt. Makiling.


Before that, Maria and her close friend the Mouse Deer work magic to gain her goals. The mouse deer is a common mythic figure (and an actual animal) in Southeastern Asian folklore. The creature is said to be magical, often a trickster, and it is beloved by children of many nations. As Maria and the Mouse Deer is slated to tour to schools widely in Texas, how can it miss?


(photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)The story is a composite of several folk tales. Capareda solved an interesting theatrical problem. The dance had to be narrative for the clear understanding of school children. It had to tell a story easily understood by those used to the traditions of Snow White, Peter and the Wolf, Cinderella, and, yes, The Nutcracker. To that end, the choreographer must fall back on pantomime, the use of everyday gestures—happy faces, sad faces, pointing to compel focus, rapidly crossing arms for negation, and more. These aids help children understand. In case that wasn't enough, voiceover narration by Capareda herself set the groundwork for succeeding scenes. Adults don’t need such help, but the skill of the dancers, the bright colors, the extremely clever costumes, and the crazy abstract birds, created a very satisfying dance experience for everyone, sufficient to garner a standing ovation for the premiere performance.



Music composed for the traditional youth ballets such as those mentioned above took a form called program music, perhaps as early as the nineteenth century.  Through tone, tempo, and rhythm this form of composition helps narrate the story. Capareda made a better choice in Maria and the Mouse Deer by arranging Phillippine folk music and matching it to the staged tales. The strong rhythms after the tempest scenes established with a wide variety of percussion instruments were especially compelling. Some passages were similar in instrumentation to Caribbean steel drum bands. Others resembled Australian aboriginal digeridoo music. The music was a treat, whatever the names of the instruments.


The music and tales so generously danced served  the Fables of the World goals of Ballet Austin II. This first outing certainly worked to bring new source material to contemporary ballet. It sets a high standard for ballets to follow.



Maria and the Mouse Deer completes its premiere run October 23rd, 2022 at Austin Ventures Studio Theater at Ballet Austin, downtown.




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.