Chamber music, ballet tell Oscar Wilde’s ‘Birthday of the Infanta’

The tragic short story is told in a ballet, with music performed by the Malibu Coast String Quartet, as part of a series presented by the Malibu Friends of Music.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

“The Birthday of the Infanta,” one of British auteur Oscar Wilde’s tragic short stories, published in 1892, was considered so dark and exotic that Wilde himself at the time said in news accounts that it was “intended neither for the British child nor the British public.”

Nevertheless, in one of a series of community musical events hosted by the nonprofit Malibu Friends of Music, the Malibu Coast String Quartet and the Malibu Coast Chamber Ballet will perform Wilde’s story this week in program titled “Tragedy and Restitution: A Magical Night at the Ballet” at the Montgomery Arts House for Music and Architecture.

The score for “The Birthday of the Infanta” was originally composed by local resident Maria Newman, founder of Malibu Friends of Music, 10 years ago for the Icicle Creek Music Center in Leavenworth, Wash.

“It’s an orchestral sound for a string quartet,” Newman said. “After I wrote the score they decided to do it as a ballet, so the movements are titled for scenes in the ballet.”

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The story tells of a dwarf found in the woods and presented to the Spanish king’s daughter on her 12th birthday. The court children mock the dwarf, and he mistakes their laughter for approval and love. When he spies himself in a roomful of mirrors, he realizes his grotesqueness and dies in anguish of heartbreak, with the princess pronouncing, “For the future, let those who come to play with me have no hearts.”

It was an eerily prescient lesson from Wilde, who died a few years later, persecuted and reviled for his criminal conviction of indecency, resulting in banishment to France, after an early career of accolades and celebrity.

This production has been choreographed by Malibu natives Adrianna Fiori and Cindy Short, and performed by, among others, Caitlyn Carradine as the Infanta and Ryan Oleas as the Dwarf.

Carradine is a daughter of the famed Carradine acting family. “But my Dad [Chris Carradine] is an architect, so he should appreciate the Montgomery House,” the ballerina said. (The house was designed by Malibu resident Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of noted American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and made with music in mind.)

Carradine attended Malibu High School but left early to study dance in Vienna. She returned to the U.S. to start her own dance company, the L.A. Contemporary Ensemble, and said, “My career arc aligns perfectly with Maria’s vision of providing innovative, original shows.”

In describing the challenge of choreographing from such a literary source, Carradine said, “Adrianna was very creative in meeting the task of choreographing this story. She’s very avant-garde, and the story and the music go so well together. My biggest challenge was working with my character. The Infanta is so horrible.”

Fiori, for her part, was thrilled to be choreographing to live music, a luxury for most ballet companies these days.

“It’s a very powerful experience,” she said. “Music and dance become one. Many of my dancers play violin or piano so their timing is perfect. But they really tell the story through their acting.”

Playing in the string quartet will be Newman, Steven Zander, Scott Hosfeld and Paula Hochhalter.

Malibu Friends of Music aims to provide world-class chamber concerts free of charge to Malibu at Newman’s home/theater in the Malibu hills.

Newman, the daughter of nine-time Academy Award-winning film composer Alfred Newman and a world-renown composer and violinist herself, launched Malibu Friends of Music a couple of years ago to support an annual summer chamber music festival, a regular concert series during the year combining music, dance and theater, and a training program for young musicians.

“Our whole thing is to establish a community of fine arts with internationally-known artists here in Malibu,” Newman explained. “At the same time, we’re trying to establish a youth orchestra to encourage the next generation of classical musicians.”

“As always, our performances are free to the public,” Newman said. “But it is important to make a reservation. And since we’re performing in our outdoor venue, it’s a good idea to bring a jacket or light blanket.”

Newman also pointed out that the performances are “family friendly,” with children encouraged to attend. Malibu Friends of Music also provide care for young children during the performance.

“Tragedy and Restitution: A Magical Night at the Ballet” will have performances May 13, 14 and 16, with a pre-concert reception at 6:30 p.m. and dessert following the performance each evening. Reservations can be made by calling 310.589.0295 or online at www.montgomeryartshouse.org

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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