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Out to See

The architectural wonder of Mar Adentro comes together with Gala de Danza for a beautiful ballet in Baja

Joe Fletcher

The relationship started unexpectedly, as they so often do.

“I was traveling on holiday to Los Cabos a few years ago,” says Christina Lyon, whose lithe body betrays her past as a professional ballet dancer. “I wasn’t expecting anything beyond a good time, but I fell in love,” she adds, smiling almost shyly at the memory as she tucks a strand of her long, blond hair behind her ear.

Lyon was enamored – not with a person, but a place. “It’s just magical, really: the perfect climate and the beautiful vistas and the color of the sea.”

Most people who fall in love with the southern tip of Baja buy a timeshare. But Lyon isn’t like most people. Her dance career started at 16 with American Ballet Theatre, and she has appeared with the English National Ballet and the Bavarian State Ballet. The longtime Newport Beach resident also helmed Irvine’s respected Ballet Pacifica for a short time, and her interest in dance remains all-consuming. In Mexico, that meant getting involved culturally with her newly adopted home.

“I’m not a beach bunny. I really want to integrate myself more into the community where I spend a good part of my time. I started asking around if there were any local dance schools, and I came across this wonderful school, Danza Téllez.”

Founded in 1984 in Mazatlán, a resort town on the Sinaloa coast facing Baja, the company has been a labor of love for its namesake and founder, Lulu Téllez.

“She’s like the Mother Teresa of Mexico,” Lyon says.

At the school, Lyon discovered an impressive cache of young talent – “these unbelievably gifted and dedicated Mexican children from the ages of 8 to 18.”

The relationship between Lyon and Téllez developed over the next few years. She took several of Téllez’s dancers under her wing, and they’ve gone on to significant achievements in the U.S. One precocious boy who didn’t start dancing until his teens has just been offered a company contract with New York City Ballet at 18. Another Téllez dancer was accepted into the prestigious new USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.

In 2013, Lyon’s commitment to her community took a major leap when she started Gala de Danza, which draws dance luminaries from far and wide to Los Cabos for an annual performance of mixed repertoire.

Lyon says the project started out of a desire to bring world-class dance to the talented kids she had found. “There were people at that school who had never seen a live performing arts event before. I felt compelled to satiate their desire and perhaps give them some opportunities.”

This year, on its fifth anniversary, Gala de Danza takes another dramatic leap to a new aesthetic plane. The March 4 performance is being staged outside at Mar Adentro, a futuristic-looking resort on the beach just south of San José del Cabo. Designed by celebrated Mexican architect Miguel Angel Aragonés, the stark white development is a study in bold yet soothing surfaces and minimalist spaces dominated by views of the Sea of Cortez.
“The visionary behind the move is Miguel,” Lyon says. “His wife is a former ballet dancer. They attended the gala last year and were really enthralled by the project.”

The idea to use Mar Adentro as a venue for dance was born over a meal at the resort. “They hosted a dinner for the dancers last year just before the gala,” Lyon recalls. “And I was looking around at this gorgeous place. Miguel was really enjoying our dancers and artists. We are totally simpatico about how we feel about the arts and what we want to bring to Los Cabos. At some point I said to him, ‘Miguel, you have an incredible canvas here.’ I smiled and he smiled.”

Intuiting his thoughts, Lyon asked a bold question. “I said, ‘What can you do to help make this a reality? You provide the mood, I’ll bring you the stars. We’ll transform your hotel into a global stage.’ He said, ‘Let’s put our heads together,’ and we came up with the concept.”
This year’s gala unfolds within the suavely theatrical space of Mar Adentro. As guests watch from seats in the plaza or the comfort of their own balconies, the dancers and musicians will perform on a specially designed stage that merges with the resort’s huge pools. “It will look like the dancers are performing on water,” Lyon says. Four projectors will beam the show onto nearby walls. Dance and life will intermingle.

For Aragonés, this year’s Gala de Danza is the realization of a long-held dream. “On a subconscious level I created spaces that were functional stages. Now, after many years, that idea becomes a reality at Mar Adentro by integrating Gala de Danza (with) a place where the stage is the sea, in that line where water and sea converge.”

The concept came partly from the Formula One races held in Monaco and other places in Europe, Lyon says. “Guests can watch the race from the balconies of their hotels while sipping Champagne and eating canapés. I liked that idea. One thing I find difficult about the performing arts is that it’s hard to sit there confined in a seat for two hours or more. It’s formal, it’s uncomfortable, you can’t move around or stand up. A good way for dance to feel more intimate is to share the experience with everyone.”

Lyon has good taste in backdrops. Since it opened in 2015, Mar Adentro has been anointed as an architectural marvel and top destination by French Vogue, Conde Nast Traveler and Architectural Digest.

The secret behind the resort’s magic is its location, the architect rather modestly insists. From the moment he set eyes on the undeveloped stretch of coast, Aragonés knew he had to create something completely unique there.

“Mar Adentro is a kind of Medina that opens out onto the sea,” Aragonés wrote in archdaily.com. “Each floating volume contains interiors that form, in turn, independent universes. Each room visually contains a piece of the sea; no one can resist gazing out at it.”
Aesthetically, Aragonés is very much his own man, although his work owes a debt to the bold midcentury modernist giants of Latin America, Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, who were the principal architects of Brasilia, Brazil’s master-planned capital city. Some might also see intimations of Louis Kahn in Mar Adentro’s stark monumentality and its studied relationship to the nearby sea.

In terms of its construction techniques, the resort more closely resembles architect Moshe Safdie’s famous Habitat, the modular community built for Montreal’s Expo 67. “Each room was built in a factory,” Aragonés explains. “We built the entire interior structure and sent it in boxes across the sea to its destination, where it was assembled on site by local hands.” Poliform, an Italian company, manufactured the furniture and many of the interior surfaces and systems.

Mar Adentro’s rooms and suites, all commanding a direct view of the Sea of Cortez, contain an integrated outdoor space with bathtub, day bed and table, reflecting the belief of early modernists such as Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler that in a Mediterranean climate the built environment should meld seamlessly with the outdoors. All rooms are finished with natural wood and Mexican travertine, with furniture and other details by Poliform. An intelligent home system controls audio, lighting and other functions wirelessly.

As she showed photos of the resort and explained how the gala would unfold, Lyon paused and smiled. “Miguel has created more than a beautiful place to stay. It’s also the most beautiful venue for dance I’ve ever seen.

“It really fulfills my dream. I set out to create a dance event that wasn’t necessarily the biggest in the world, but the most memorable.”


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