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Napoles Ballet takes on the Faust legend

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Among the many distinctive voices that have emerged from Cuba’s rich cultural tapestry is that of contemporary ballet choreographer Luis Napoles. After years performing with and creating works for both the Oakland and Sacramento ballets, Napoles decided to start his own company, Napoles Ballet.

This weekend, the company presents a program at the Cowell Theater including a world premiere of his dance-theater piece, “Fausto.”

Napoles’ interpretation of the Faust legend was inspired by his experience performing the title role with the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba.

“That piece really made an impression on me,” he says. “I always wanted to do my own version. In mine, I use ballet dancers on pointe, the choreography is more fast-paced and there is a lot of partnering. I also focus more on Fausto’s transformation from old to young, and his rapid descent into hell.”

Napoles explains our continued attraction to the Faust tale. “Basically it’s about the duality of good and evil, which dwell in us. We have the ability to choose — to go one way or the other. But it’s also about love and what people will do for love.”

Napoles began his dance training at the National School of the Arts, eventually touring as principal dancer with both Danza Contemporanea and the Ballet Theatre of Havana.

It was on one such tour in 1991 in Spain that Napoles (along with six of his fellow performers) defected, eventually arriving in the U.S., where his career further flourished. But his roots remain firmly planted in Cuban soil.

With a master’s of fine arts degree in modern dance and Afro-Cuban folklore, Napoles found the metaphoric and dramatic tone of the Faust story particularly suited to his artistic sensibilities.

“There are a lot of Afro-Cuban and Cuban cultural dance influences in my movement,” he says. “It’s very subtle but it is there.”

His training in multiple styles brings a new quality of muscle memory to even the most precise ballet movements. “Each technique uses and develops different parts of the body. My choreographic style stems from my culture, my training in Afro-Cuban and modern dance, and the choreographers I worked with throughout my career.”

Carlos Molina from American Ballet Theatre and the Boston Ballet performs the role of Fausto. “I am thrilled to be working with him,” Napoles says. “He’s had a long, celebrated career in dance theater. I felt I needed someone with that kind of experience to take on this role.”

If you go

Fausto
Presented by Napoles Ballet  
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
Tickets: $18 to $25
Contact: (415) 345-7575, www.fortmason.org/boxoffice, www.napolesballet.org