Child’s Play

Latin Ballet of Virginia interprets local author Meg Medina's “Milagros” at Lewis Ginter.

The Latin Ballet of Virginia’s upcoming performance of “Milagros” at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden brings artistic director Marisol Betancourt full circle.

When LBV founder Ana Ines King interpreted local author Meg Medina’s book “Milagros: Girl from Away” as a theatrical production in 2010, Betancourt was a 13-year-old dancer. She was also onstage in a 2018 performance. But now, Betancourt’s role is artistic director, charged with reimagining the choreography, costumes and staging for this iteration of “Milagros,” which includes students alongside faculty and junior company members for the final performance of the 2023-24 school year.

“What makes this [production] different is that we don’t have the same students; every part is played by a new child,” Betancourt says. “The story base is the same, but we have fewer students than in 2010, so I had to adapt [the production] to our current students and their dance experience.”

This performance, only the third time the company has performed “Milagros,” has also been shortened from two acts to one. “We have to think about practicalities, like what would happen with an intermission,” Betancourt says.

Before students learned their steps, they first learned about the character of Milagros, a 12-year-old girl who has to escape marauders [from] her Caribbean island home via boat and traverse the Atlantic to a new home in Maine, where she struggles to fit in and make sense of her new life.

“We read the book and fell in love with the story,” Betancourt says. “It really inspired a lot of our students, because the book talks about kids their age. It shows the kids a different perspective and helped them think about leaving their country and going to another country where they don’t feel at home.

“This isn’t just a dance recital,” she adds. “We’re also teaching the kids and the audience that life is hard, but you work hard and do what you have to do.”

Meg Medina, the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and the Newbery Medal-winning author of “Milagros: Girl from Away.” Photo by Scott Elmquist

For Medina, the current Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and a Newbery Medal-winning author [also a former Style Weekly contributor], the process of reimagining her books to a different art form creates opportunities.

“When I let somebody have the option to interpret the work, I try to let them have the creative space to tell it the way they want to,” she says. “I let it be what it’s going to be. That’s the cool thing about it; I let it breathe.

“There was something darling [in 2010] about watching a children’s book interpreted and danced by children,” Medina says. “It felt very beautiful. It felt like a perfect home for it.”

Though Medina’s Library of Congress commitment regularly pulls her away from her home base in Henrico County, she will be in attendance for this event, signing books before the performance and participating in a question-and-answer session afterward. Unfortunately, attendees won’t be able to purchase “Milagros: Girl from Away,” Medina’s first published novel, because it’s no longer in print.

“Books have a lifespan,” Medina says. “This [theatrical interpretation] really is the way that Milagros is going to live. It’s so touching [the Latin Ballet of Virginia] remembers it and wants to include it [in their season].”

For Michelle Israel, director of exhibitions at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the decision to partner with the dance company for this performance was an easy one.

“We have worked with the Latin Ballet for quite a while; we have a really good relationship with them,” Israel says. “Their performances [complement] our mission to connect people to nature and explore nature. For this performance, they wanted to have the garden as their background, and we thought that was wonderful. It’s not the same as seeing a show in a theater. Then we heard that Meg [Medina] would be part of the evening. Everything is lining up to be a wonderful night.”

The activities are part of the garden’s Presenter’s Wednesdays Al Fresco event series, allowing visits to the garden after the usual closing time of 5 p.m. Families are welcome to arrive early and picnic on the lawn with beverages and ready-made food from the Garden Cafe, which will set up tables and coolers near the performance area.

Presenter’s Wednesdays Al Fresco event series is Wednesday, May 29, starting at 4:30 p.m. with book sales and signing with Meg Medina. Latin Ballet of Virginia’s performance of “Milagros” begins at 6 p.m. Q&A with Meg Medina begins at approximately 7:15 p.m., following the performance. Event is free with regular paid garden admission.

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