Jose Antonio Ponce

Jose Antonio Ponce Photo by Joy Godfrey

Jose Antonio Ponce
Photo by Joy Godfrey

(Story by Frances Madeson / Photos by Joy Godfrey)
Jose Antonio Ponce in partnership with his wife Kathleen has been producing the New Mexico Music Awards, now in their 30th year, since 2005. The awards are a way of recognizing excellence for recorded music, building community across musical genres and cooperation among recording studios. Jose Antonio, who plays the six-string and 12-string guitar as well as the acoustic bass, and who still aspires to compose that one hit song upon which to triumphantly retire and spread a little largesse to his family, met me at the New Mexico Jazz Workshop in Albuquerque for a delightful afternoon of conversation and an impromptu (at my urging) one-man hootenanny.

Frances Madeson: It is a mystery how a musician comes to play this instrument or that, how lyrics arrive in the form that they do with their specific messages and rhyming thoughts. How did you begin your love affair with the guitar and also, how did you find and come to trust the muse within?

Jose Antonio Ponce: Every musician I know became a musician to meet girls. A girl who wouldn’t give me the time of day on Monday but saw me in a club on a Friday, well suddenly she’d want to hang out with me. I started playing and writing when I was 13. I look back and cringe at my first attempts at poetry, so full of teenage angst.

Remember man that you are dust, Ive given to you all my trust[laughs].

My older brother taught me some chords—E, A, G and B—primarily because he wanted someone to accompany him. But when he went to the service, he took his guitars with him. So I saved my money picking alfalfa and stacking the bales, or picking watermelons on a farm down the road for 50 cents a day, until I had enough to go down to Mays Music where they had a guitar for $25. But by the time I got there, it was $40. The owner told me the $25 price was from a special sale last month. I didn’t want to cry in front of him so I ran out the door. He followed and asked me how much money I had. I emptied my pockets and showed him a little over $26. He said, “I’ll sell you the guitar.” I spent everything including my bus fare, and had to walk back 7 or 8 miles, but I had my first guitar.

And he threw in a Bob Dylan songbook!

Frances: That’s quite a trajectory—from backbreaking agricultural work to tending the diverse garden of New Mexico’s talented musicians. How did that come to be?

Jose Antonio: I was involved with the Music Awards as a volunteer from the very beginning. Eric Larson, its founder, was my producer and the producer for a lot of other people. He was a man who gave more than he took—money, technology, knowledge, experience. He helped me out a great deal.

Thirty years ago, the studios were exclusive. If you played for more than one, you’d get in trouble, you’d lose your job. He had the idea that the best way to collaborate would be to compete, to show off what each of the studios was doing and see who was best. He put it together, made it special and grew it into something people want to be a part of it.

To participate, musicians have to have recorded here in the state, in professional or home studios. For our awards program, you have to have some good product. For many, it’s a teachable moment—people will enter thinking they have a good product and then come back four or five years later and finally win because they figured out there’s more to recording than hanging a mic up.

Frances: Have you personally ever had a similar teachable moment?

Jose Antonio: Oh yeah! When I was 25 or 26 I sat in front of a producer, playing 10 songs for him. He’d stop me soon into each one and say—next one. Finally he said—these songs mean a lot to you, but they don’t mean anything to anyone else. He was right. Then for a time, I kept trying to write things I thought would sell. Finally, when I was 53, I became a good writer, a flood of stuff came out of me.

My wife thinks my best song is “These Are Not My Stars” [available to view on Vimeo]. It came from an encounter in one of the PTSD songwriting workshops we have with veterans. I was paired with a veteran who told me about his tour overseas. He said, “I can get past being 4,000 miles away from home, cold in the mountains or hot in the desert, the sand blowing, people shooting at me. But when I looked into the sky, it was tilted sideways.”

Photo by Joy Godfrey

Photo by Joy Godfrey

As a boy scout, astronomy was one of his main interests. He could always count on the stars being where they’re supposed to be. But in Afghanistan, they weren’t, and that made everything awful.

These are not my stars

this is not my sky

Im so far away

from you and I

Its turned upside down

all out of place

Its as if my whole world

has been erased

These are not my stars

Frances: Thank you, Jose Antonio. It’s an achingly beautiful song.

Jose Antonio: Thank you. But it’s not commercial. We don’t like depressing songs in pop music.

Frances: Take us from Afghanistan to the Albuquerque scene. What’s going on here—the good, the bad, and the…you know…

Jose Antonio: The bad and the ugly is that too many people are willing to play for free, and the rest of us go underpaid. If someone’s gonna play for $50, I can’t charge $300.

But the good is that it’s one of the most incredibly diverse scenes. We have standard stuff— country, pop, rock and jazz—but we also have instrumentalists, new age, world music, great Latin jazz and salsa scenes, a huge Americana scene.

Frances: Have you added awards in the dozen years you’ve been at the helm?

Jose Antonio: Yes, a singer/songwriter category, and we split the rock category further into indie and metal. When the awards started in 1987, there were 16 categories and 69 entrants; now there are 42 categories, and 600 entrants a year.

With the national awards like the Grammys or CMAs [Country Music Awards], it’s almost totally based on record sales and airplay, but none of that really happens here. We don’t know how many CDs a band has sold and we don’t want it to be a popularity contest. Judging is based on how well it’s recorded, if it’s performed well, a good composition, produced well with clarity of instruments and the vocals. After the preliminary local judging, we send the finalists out of state to artists, producers, managers and agents and engineers who have already made their mark and ask them to judge. It’s all done on a volunteer basis.

The $25 entry fees we collect help pay for the awards banquet, especially the sound production for the evening, which I often tell our performers may be the best sound you’ll ever have in your career—these are the people who do sound for Taylor Swift or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The fees also go toward paying our instructors for our workshops, like the PTSD songwriting workshop with vets. We also offer a scholarship—the Eric Larson Endowment—which is $1,000 in unrestricted money to a college junior or senior with a 3.0 average, majoring in music or recording. Eventually, we’d like to give a four-year scholarship.

Frances: Why have you devoted the bulk of your life to music?

Jose Antonio: Music is as important as anything else in life. The Sun City musicians helped end South African apartheid in 1985. We’ve had Band Aid, Farm Aid, We Are the World. Music heals, gives people hope. In almost every single instance when there’s something horrible going on, whether its 9/11 or natural disasters, when people start recovering you hear music. It’s resistance and hope and change, in fact all change comes with some sort of music attached to it. Where would the civil rights or AIDS movements have been without music?

Frances: What one change would you most like to effect?

Jose Antonio: Bring every soldier home. End war altogether, bring them all home and never send them out again. Instead, everyone should have a year abroad to learn that the rest of the world is just like us, but somehow more interesting.

Frances: After that lofty sentiment, I hate to be crass, but are musicians in New Mexico making it financially?

Jose Antonio: hONEyhoUSe is probably on their fifth CD, they tour pretty regularly, are extremely popular and regularly sell out their shows when they play New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.

Nosotros has been around for 23 years; they do very well, as does Son Como Son, the salsa band.

We have no statistics, but in general, very few are making a living as musicians. To make a living, you have to learn to say no, because if you play for free or for a reduced fee, then you’ve set your prices. You have to be diverse—compose for TV, movies, play corporate gigs that will pay for your recording sessions, copyright fees, equipment, your manager and taxes.

Frances: What do you say about musicians who play solely for their own pleasure?

Jose Antonio: That’s the best music of all. It’s the music that’s spirit, your connection to God and the universe.

Frances: Will there be music in heaven?

Jose Antonio: Yes, and it will be jazz.





















Live and on Stage at the Railyard

Elise and Eric Gent / Photo by Gabriella Marks

Elise and Eric Gent / Photo by Gabriella Marks

(Story by Lynn Cline / Photos by Gabriella Marks)
Stroll through the downtown Santa Fe Railyard and you’ll hear a joyful noise. It might be the sounds of dancers and drummers performing West African and Haitian music and dance. Or you might rather sense the silence drifting from a yoga or Qigong class. In any case, follow the sounds and you’ll be led right to the Railyard Performance Center, a longtime local gem and the heart of a vibrant performing arts community.

“The drums call people,” Elise Gent says, with a knowing smile. Her husband Eric Gent nods in agreement. And they both should know. For more than 20 years, as co-owners of the Railyard Performance Center, the Gents have not only curated the programming, they’ve actively participated themselves. Elise’s West African and Haitian dance class, drums and all, is arguably the city’s most popular dance class. And Eric’s played the drums in her class for years.

With classes devoted to international yoga styles, seminars such as “Heartmind Warrior” and “Mayan Wisdom,” and events like the Roots Rock Bellydance Showcase, this performing arts center is anything but ordinary. And that is only fitting for a city that embraces its moniker, The City Different.

The Railyard Performance Center also partners with Santa Fe groups and individuals, offering tickets and rental fees at a lower cost than other venues might charge. “It’s making the performing arts affordable, which I think is so huge,” Elise says. Local schools, for example, use the center for recitals, and the New Mexico Dance Coalition holds its choreographer’s showcase there. International Storydancer, performer and educator Zuleikha uses the center for her classes and as a practice space.

“I love dancing in the Railyard Performance Center,” Zuleikha says. “Elise and Eric have made such a beautiful space for movement. It is my Santa Fe ‘dance home’ and I have been dancing here for a long time. I love working on this floor. Floors are important for dancers, and Elise and Eric take such care with the space. I have done many performances and taught workshops, all in a safe and spacious feeling.”

railyardposter2webBut the Railyard Performance Center offers something beyond a rich blend of dance, drama and music. “I think the performing arts is part of our focus, but I think a really large part of our focus is supporting the local community in their daily practice,” Elise says. “As adults, if we haven’t done something as a child, we feel like we can’t do it. What we offer at the Railyard is the opportunity to try something new. There is no end goal. It’s the opportunity to be with other people and continue your practice, whether it’s yoga or dance. All the classes are open to anyone to try. It’s really the opportunity to find out what you want.”

Eric views the venue as a place where people can connect and let down their guards, too. “It’s more like participatory arts,” he says. “It’s not so much performing, but it’s more about practice and integration of movement and music. It’s a way for people to participate. I have always liked having a good time. I love having parties, and I like when people are having a good time in our space. I feel like people can be safe and express themselves. People can come there and cry and laugh. They create, they deconstruct. Whatever they need to do, I want them to be comfortable enough to do it.”

The center is “a very egalitarian thing,” he says. “I’ve always believed that the music and dance that we’ve done is just a metaphor for this larger structure for everyone. I think it’s a lot about giving people the opportunity to express themselves but in the context of a whole bunch of other people. A musician can practice their skills, but when they play with others, they have to be integrated with everyone else. And when that really happens, it’s amazing. I’ve experienced it many times when I’m playing, when enough of the people in the room are together in their intention and movement. It’s amazing. It’s a powerful thing.”

It’s not surprising to learn that it was music and dance that brought Eric and Elise together. The couple met in Santa Fe in 1983, after each had made their way here separately. Elise, who grew up in New York City and graduated from Bennington College in Vermont with a Bachelor of Arts in dance, drove her red Karmann Ghia halfway across the country, arriving in January on the heels of her best friend. “I had a degree in dance, so I knew there was no way I could afford to live in New York City, where I grew up,” she says.

Eric arrived that fall, inspired to make the move after seeing Mimbres pottery from southwest New Mexico while working as a studio assistant for a ceramic artist in upstate New York. “A friend of mine pointed out that the work that I was doing then was reminiscent of the work that these ancient Indian people were doing, with polychrome surfaces and geometric lines,” he says.

On New Year’s Day, Eric and Elise danced into each other’s lives, meeting at a party where guests played music and danced. Once the samba dance broke out, fate showed up, almost as if to ensure that Santa Fe’s music and dance scene would be vibrant.

In 1992, they rented space for their African dance and drumming class in a performing arts venue in the Gross, Kelly Warehouse. When the director stepped down and the venue became available, they took over as owners, hosting their inaugural event on Jan. 1, 1996, with a concert by popular local dance band, Mobius Trip. The Railyard Performance Center became known for all kinds of classes, but Elise’s class was a main draw. Dancers dressed themselves in colorful saris, pants and other traditional West African clothing, often sold by Africans who visited the class and even relocated to Santa Fe. Talk about performance art in action.

In 1999, the warehouse was sold, forcing the Gents to find a new home for their center. They didn’t have far to look. Just down the track, a building was available that they bought and renovated from top to bottom. A few years later, when the city contested their ownership of the building, the community came out in force to support their efforts to stay. “It was four years of painful mediation and there were days when we thought we were going to have to walk away because the city was going to take the building back because they owned it,” Elise says. But I began to understand that we could do it somewhere else. The energy of the people who teach and participate in the classes, that was what the Railyard was. It wasn’t the four walls.” Eric adds that ultimately, “We stayed and ended up with a 90-year-lease.”

railyardposterwebThe relocation only reinforced the center’s popularity with the community. Classes are often filled to the brim and some of the attendees include their grandchildren, whose parents grew up dancing and drumming in class with their parents. “Right now, one of my greatest joys is taking my granddaughters to see the dance performances at the Railyard,” Elise says. “They are mesmerized, whether it’s modern dance, belly dance or [a] children’s dance class. On Saturdays, my son Hountor is the lead drummer now. Four of our grandchildren are there and lots of other little kids are there and it’s contained chaos…I am the happiest person because I get to do what I love to do, and I’m supported to do it by the whole community.”

A Milestone for Opera Southwest & Bless Me, Ultima

Photo by Liz Lopez

Photo by Liz Lopez

(Story by Stephanie Hainsfurther / Photos by Liz Lopez)

An unmistakable sense of place characterizes New Mexico, a state of the Union like no other—a state of mind, too, according to its fond inhabitants. We have it all: high desert and low, mountain and llano, the river and the highway. That physical tension, for some, evokes a strong feeling that a timeless world exists alongside the everyday, a hidden dimension we call the spirit. Out of this tension between the tangible and the unseen came a touchstone of American literature, Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, published in 1972. A tale of finding one’s identity within and despite a culture of conflict, the novel takes place during the fearful era of World War II. In its simple form, it is the story of Antonio, a New Mexico boy who, through the tutelage and under the protection of a curandera, Ultima, comes of age.

Now the story is an opera, premiering this month at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and performed by Opera Southwest within its 45th anniversary season. Opera Southwest and the NHCC joined resources with California’s Opera Cultura and entrusted Héctor Armienta, composer of La Llorona: A Musical Drama, with the writing of the score and libretto for Bless Me, Ultima.

“As our first main-stage commissioned opera in over 20 years, Bless Me, Ultima is a real milestone for Opera Southwest. We are incredibly pleased to be able to draw on the rich storytelling that is so rooted in our state and embodied and exemplified by the literature of Rudolfo Anaya,” says Tony Zancanella, executive director of Opera Southwest. “This is a project that all New Mexicans should be proud of.” Many of Ultima’s singers are locals, and Ultima herself is sung by mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez of Albuquerque. Kirstin sang Amneris in Opera Southwest’s production of Aida in 2015. She has performed to acclaim in the title role of Carmen, and her voice has been described as “a mix of the earthy and the ethereal.”

Bless Me, Ultima is such a New Mexico story, and it reflects so much of the deepest layers of our culture, so much of the underpinnings that make us who we are,” Kirstin says. She grew up in Asia and so never studied the novel in school. “I came to the story much later. But when I told my sisters (many of whom live in and around Albuquerque) that I would be playing the role of Ultima in a brand new opera, they were over the moon to hear it! They were all made to study the book while growing up.”

Kirstin truly understands the character she plays in the opera, and relates to her on many levels. “I particularly love Ultima’s mysticism; I consider myself to be a very spiritual person, even though I do not subscribe to any specific religion, and Ultima, to me, seems somehow above, or beyond religion,” she says. “It’s as if she gets her very power from the Earth itself, and so it stands to reason that even the animals would bend to her will. I have always been a deep animal lover, and I cherish this part of Ultima’s persona; she may not be a vegetarian as I am (although, I think she might be), but she has an intense respect for all life, and would never take a life needlessly—a theme that reminds me of our Native American ancestors who are also such an important part of our New Mexican history. There is much about Ultima that I myself aspire to be.”

Many New Mexico residents and visitors alike are making their Opera Southwest debuts in this production. Well-known Maestro Guillermo Figueroa, now principal conductor of the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, will conduct the Opera Southwest Orchestra for the first time. Baritone Javier Ortiz of Pojoaque sings Narciso, a friend of Antonio’s family and the town drunk. Javier Abreu, tenor, and Carelle Flores, soprano, both from Puerto Rico, are making their debuts as Antonio’s parents, Gabriel and Maria. The Owl, Ultima’s familiar, will be sung by Countertenor José Luis Muñoz of Seattle.

Luke Gullickson and Daisy Beltran / Photo by Liz Lopez

Luke Gullickson and Daisy Beltran / Photo by Liz Lopez

But the most awaited debut is that of Daisy Beltran, a 14-year-old soprano from Albuquerque’s Eldorado High School who sings the role of Antonio, “Tony,” the boy who comes under Ultima’s wing. At the writing of this story, she was working with her vocal coach Edmund Connolly for one hour each week, and for 45 minutes a week with Luke Gullickson, principal vocal coach of the opera chorus. Three weeks of rehearsals would begin in a few days with Stage Director Octavio Cardenas.

“I really feel close to Tony,” Daisy says. “When I was younger, about seven, I was constantly told I was an old soul, because I would ask questions that were complicated and controversial. So there’s a sense that I’m connected to Tony because he’s very curious.”

Backstage, another central character takes flight

An opera doesn’t soar on its music alone. University of New Mexico Department of Theatre & Dance Professor Dorothy Baca, a longtime TV and stage costume designer, is doing the costumes for Bless Me, Ultima. Local community muralist Joe Stephenson is designing the sets. And Albuquerque Master Puppeteer Robert Secrest is at work on Ultima’s familiar, The Owl, a character in tandem with that of the countertenor. “We discussed in production meetings the symbolism between the singer Owl, who is the animistic spirit, and the puppet Owl, who is the physical side,” Robert says. “The singer has a special costume.”

They also discussed the scale of the puppet—the Owl’s wingspan is six feet, on a par with the world’s largest existing owl, the Eurasian eagle owl—and the way the director wanted the owl to look. “The director made a strong point that the Owl must be white with some mottling, the summer version of a snowy owl,” Robert says. “We also discussed whether it should abstract or realistic.” Although there is an abstract quality to the puppet, realism won out, certainly. The feathers? They’re made of vinyl slats from Venetian blinds.

Robert will be the man onstage, manipulating the Owl from a helmet atop his head with handheld rods. It’s a Japanese style of puppetry called bunraku, and the puppeteer is dressed in black from head to toe. “My hope is that I will be as invisible as possible,” he says. Robert’s no stranger to the stage, however, having grown up acting in local theater and with Albuquerque Civic Light Opera Association, now Musical Theatre Southwest productions.

New music for a new opera

Composer Héctor Armienta consulted closely with Ultima author Rudolfo Anaya on the story for this opera, a story that must be complete in itself and, as Héctor says, result in “grand theater.” Working with Rudolfo, visiting New Mexico and the specific settings in the story, and researching authentic New Mexican music of the 1940s were all part of his homework. He took seriously his mandate to have Bless Me, Ultima reflect the central themes of the novel while standing on its own as an opera.

Rudolfo Anaya / Photo courtesy of Opera Southwest

Rudolfo Anaya / Photo courtesy of Opera Southwest

The opera’s singers have a lot to say about their favorite results.

From Kirstin, who appears as Ultima: “There is a musical section toward the middle of the opera when I am helping Antonio to find himself in the nature, the land, the air, the water that is all around him—the music is sublime and so expressive, and the words illuminate thoughts and ideas that I, myself, hold so dear. The idea that we are one with one another and that we are profoundly connected to our Mother Earth and all of her gifts. I love this.”

Carlos Archuleta, a baritone from Española most recently seen in Pagliacci last spring, will sing Tenorio, the vengeful saloon-keeper and villain of the story. He has a light-hearted approach to the daunting task of creating a brand-new character within a brand-new work. “I love the music in Act 2. Very Iago-esque,” he said. “I’ve worked on a few world premieres; the challenge is making it make sense, and the joy is actually having the composer there so you can yell at [him]!”

And from Daisy Beltran (who had to write “a lot of boring English class stuff” about the novel in an essay that turned out to be “a really good analysis”): “There’s a persistent question [asked of Antonio]: ‘Will you bless me?’ He knows he can help them but he doesn’t, because he doesn’t feel capable enough. To me, that’s the most raw feeling in the entire opera.”

The world premiere of Bless Me, Ultima from Opera Southwest at the National Hispanic Cultural Center Journal Theatre runs Feb. 18- 25. Tickets cost $15-$89. Visit, 505.243.0591 and, 505.246.2261.    

Top Tix

(Story by Stephanie Hainsfurther, February 2018)

David Mamet’s The Water Engine was staged as a radio play when it first was produced in 1977, and Mamet later adapted it as a 1992 TV movie starring William H. Macy. Oasis Theatre Company Inc. out of Abiquiu is bringing their version to Teatro Paraguas this month. “I am doing a combination of a staged radio play and live scenes,” says Artistic Director Brenda Lynn Bynum. “When the emotion runs high or there is a deepening tension with the characters, the scenes break out of the ‘radio play.’” Wear your thermal lululemons; this tale of an inventor whose brainchild is quashed by corporate Powers That Be is bound to chill.

Feb. 8-25,, 505.424.1601

Among many treats at the Lensic this month, I am most excited about Ailey II, the younger troupe of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Burning with passion and on fire for modern dance, this company brings the work of new choreographers on tour and into communities with their outreach programs. There is no better way to warm up your pre-Valentine festivities than to be energized and inspired by the gifts that these beautiful, talented people bestow upon (lucky) us.

Feb. 13,, 505.988.1234

Speaking of young, beautiful and at the Lensic, the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra brings internationally renowned cellist Joshua Roman here for a concert led by Maestro Guillermo Figueroa. The works of Glinka, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky are on offer. A few days later, Roman will play in his own concert recital. As a composer himself and artistic director of TownMusic in Seattle, Roman premiered his own work “we do it to one another” in the 2015-16 season, based on the poems of Tracy K. Smith from her book Life on Mars, with soprano Jessica Rivera. He also covered Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” on cello with DJ Spooky on iPad, for The Voice Project. According to writers on classical music, Roman is single-handedly saving the world from stuffiness. Take a breath of fresh air.

Feb. 11 & 16,, 505.988.1234,

Vadim Gluzman / Photo by Marco Borggreve

Vadim Gluzman / Photo by Marco Borggreve

Couples who work together will appreciate the musical relationship of husband and wife Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe. Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano was composed for them, and they premiered it together in a recording. How romantic it would be to hear them together at St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art in a sparkling program that includes Richard Strauss’ Sonata for Violin and Piano, which Strauss wrote for his future wife.

Angelga Yoffe / Photo by Marco Borggreve

Angelga Yoffe / Photo by Marco Borggreve

Feb. 10,, 505.984.8759,, 505.988.1234

Leave your electronic leashes in the car for Mummenschanz’s new show You + Me at Popejoy. It’s all about relating to one another, and you just can’t do that while waiting for your iPhone to vibrate. These “musicians of silence” will teach your tech-addicted children new tricks, so bring the whole family. If your fam is fidgety, bring them back to experience STOMP, those Brits from Brighton whose percussive shows are anything but quiet. STOMP is the flip side of Mummenschanz, low-tech but noisy, and absolutely mischief minded. Don’t be surprised to find your brooms, buckets and trashcan lids missing in action once you get home.

Feb. 17, Mummenschanz; Feb. 20-21, STOMP,, 505.925.5858

Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill is betting that Matthew Yde’s original play, Mrs. Warrens Profession 2.0, will intrigue and entice audiences to see this reboot of the 1894 G.B. Shaw play and the 1960 film starring Lilli Palmer. Mrs. Warren’s Profession told the story of a brothel madam explaining herself to her university-educated daughter, and had a rather feminist take on the very few “career choices” of Victorian women. Security is tight around how this new play contrasts with the old, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you in any case, but I must say, I am itching to see it. Bridget Kelly stars as Mrs. W. so, if you missed her as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, get your naughty self down here. Playwright Yde is the theater critic for the Albuquerque Journal.

Feb. 2-24,, 505.596.0607

The National Hispanic Cultural Center and Opera Southwest have commissioned the opera Bless Me, Ultima based on Rudolfo Anaya’s classic novel. My story on page 28 of this issue goes backstage to look at preparations for the world premiere of this quintessentially New Mexico production.

Feb. 18-25,, 505.243.0591;, 505.246.2261

CrystalwebIf like me you only watch the Winter Olympics for the ice-skating events, get your frozen toes over to Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho for “Crystal: A Breakthrough Ice Experience.” We are promised extreme skating, synchronized skating, and freestyle, not to mention Cirque de Soleil’s signature acrobatics. The Ice Capades on steroids, mixed with hot chocolate and a young woman’s coming-of-age story, will propel you off that couch.

Feb. 7-11,

And you’re going to think I’ve lost my mind, but I’ve seen The Amazing Acro-cats twice in person and once on The Stephen Colbert Show. If you love and “get” kitties, please don’t miss this tourbus full of them at Studio Center of Santa Fe (formerly Warehouse 21). Yes, Ringmaster Samantha Martin trains cats to do circus tricks and it’s just as laugh-out-loud unpredictable as you are picturing right now. Samantha has all the patience in the world, and will tell you a lot about her pet rescue efforts and a little about what dating is like when your apartment is overrun with furry critters.

Feb. 22-24,,

Top Tix

Nutcracker2_bySharenBradfordHoliday shows are thick on the ticket-buyer’s table in December, when venues lay out their yummiest confections for the family to savor.

Santa Fe Opera puts on a distinctly New Mexican pageant with Shoes for the Santo Niño at the National Hispanic Cultural Center on the first weekend and The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis on the second weekend. This 40-minute children’s opera is based on the story by Peggy Pond Church out of Northern New Mexico Hispanic and Native American folklore. Composer Stephen Paulus and librettist Andrea Fellows Walters were commissioned by the University of New Mexico to write this work first performed in 2011, and Kathleen Clawson stage directs.

Dec. 1-2,, 505.724.4771; Dec. 8-9,, 505.986.5900

Popejoy Hall serves up a yummy assortment of treats for your pleasure each December. Any one of these selections would brighten my holiday—all of them together would leave me exhausted in January, but with a smile on my face. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder was the 2014 Tony Winner for Best Musical and the touring company kicks off the month. As far as I can tell, it has not much to do with Christmas, which recommends it in itself. Then Mannheim Steamroller Christmas and Mariachi Christmas appear, each an annual sell-out among fans. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol does a one-nighter just before the holiday, and we are left with plenty of time for last-minute shopping and private feasting.

Dec. 7-22, see separate listings for above shows,, 505.925.5858

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Music Drives Out the Darkness

GMarks-PerformanceSF-01On a recent October school day, one of Performance Santa Fe’s 2017-18 scheduled artists, Julie Fowlis, renowned Scottish Gaelic singer and multi-instrumentalist, gave a large group of third and fourth grade public school students their own private concert. “We bussed them in,” says Cav Cavanaugh, PSF’s operations and education coordinator. “She’s singing to them in a strange language, telling them the fairy tales behind the songs and what they mean, with accompanying instruments; she performs the song she sang as Merida in Disney Pixar’s movie Brave—the kids lost their minds!”

That firsthand experience of music’s power to evoke passion is exactly what Cav and fellow collaborator Leanne DeVane, music education coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools, work very hard to ignite through an impressive collection of PSF education programs. The nonprofit’s motto, “Changing lives through the power of performing arts,” applies not only to Santa Fe’s adult population but also to over 2,800 students enrolled in elective music courses in 24 public schools. Having a partnership with PSF, says Leanne of the collaborative music programs, “brings the whole thing to life.”

Perhaps closest to PSF’s heart, Cav says, is the Bravo! Kids program, bringing opportunities to children grades one through 12 to interact with performers of Julie Fowlis’ caliber. Along with school performances, Bravo! Kids also provides master classes taught by various PSF visiting artists, whose level of expertise—and inspiration—is far beyond most kids’ experience and expectations. Cav describes one master class, taught by another of this season’s performers, musical pioneer and cellist Matt Haimovitz. “He sat down onstage with five chosen students, one on one, at the Scottish Rite Center, where, by the way, the acoustics are amazing,” she says. “They each perform something for him, which is so nerve-racking—it feels like they’ll never get to his level—and he was showing one of them, Lila, a bowing technique. Then, using it, they played a version of a note together for the first time and, as it kind of hung in the air, they both registered it at the same time and, looking up above their heads, they said, ‘Did you hear that?!’” Continue reading