Mirabal Flourishes

Irons in the Fire: A Novel, a Film And €˜Pueblo Christmas€™ Concert

Date December 7, 2008 at 11:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


With his role as Tony Luhan in the new biopic €œGeorgia O€™Keeffe,€ the publication of his first novel and his annual holiday concert, Robert Mirabal churns with a creativity that is positively combustive.

€œRunning Alone in Photographs,€ ($19.95, Red Willow Press), chronicles the Taos two-time Grammy Award winner€™s life through the voice of a female protagonist. In the O€™Keeffe project, he plays the Taos Pueblo husband of Mabel Dodge Luhan, the creative hostess who drew a galaxy of intellectual and artistic novas to Taos, with Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. The movie is slated to run on Lifetime Television in late 2009.

Mirabal€™s annual holiday show, €œPueblo Christmas,€ pairs traditional carols with his own musings on 19th century history, including the tragic consequences of Manifest Destiny at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday at El Farol, 808 Canyon Road. Tickets are $65 and include a four-course buffet.

€œThere€™s storytelling involved,€ Mirabal said. €œThere€™s some unique and wicked renditions. The Native American flute is a minor instrument, so I had to be very clever in my notational style.€

The film role came about when a friend alerted Mirabal the producers were considering casting a Hollywood actor as Luhan. Michael Cristofer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for the 1977 play €œThe Shadow Box,€ penned the script; actor Robert Balaban (director of HBO€™s €œBernard and Doris,€ and a veteran of Christopher Guest€™s ensemble cast) is directing. Shooting is under way at Ghost Ranch and in Santa Fe.

€œI haven€™t met my wife Mabel yet; she€™s Tyne Daly,€ Mirabal said with a chuckle.

The connection seems eerily symmetrical. Mirabal is a distant relative to Luhan on his father€™s side. His grandfather helped to build the famed Mabel Dodge Luhan house in Taos, now a national historic landmark.

€œ(Tony) was good friends with my great-grandfather,€ Mirabal said. €œThey were from the same society. There were some interesting personal stories about him.€

Luhan was already married when he met Mabel Dodge.

€œThere was this really awful rumor about his wife €˜selling her bull€™ to Mabel Dodge,€ he said. €œAnd that Mabel Dodge really took care of her financially.€

Mirabal is infusing his portrait of Luhan with a spirit of pueblo authenticity other actors might miss. As Mabel lured a constellation of great minds to her home €” guests ranged from O€™Keeffe to D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham and Carl Jung €” Luhan mustered great internal strength to keep pace with the intellectual fireworks.

€œTony almost had to be a rock star and create that kind of a persona,€ Mirabal said. €œI heard that he sang a lot and that he was pretty humorous. He would tease them a lot. There€™s a certain way that Taos men tease non-Natives. It€™s a flirtatious thing and it€™s done without smiling. And then the smile comes and they€™re like, €˜OK, OK.€™ €

Mirabal learned to drive a Model T to chauffeur O€™Keeffe and company around the sandstone cliffs. Multiple Academy Award-nominee Joan Allen plays the great artist.

€œI have a lot of scenes with Joan,€ Mirabal said. €œIt€™s all in the facial expressions. It€™s her expressions, man €“€“the sincerity of that. And it€™s the same with Jeremy Irons. It€™s a craft and a talent that comes from a higher place.€

Ever the Renaissance Man, before his film foray Mirabal spent four years working on the book that would become €œRunning Alone in Photographs.€ Spurred by a grant from the School for Advanced Research, he kept to a grueling writing schedule from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., starting again at 4 p.m., then working until 10 p.m. He wrote at home on the pueblo, on the road in Japan and in California.

€œOnce I got into it, it had its own energy, its own powerful force,€ he said. €œTo me, writing is one of the most amazing forms of expression because it€™s so emotionally and physically draining. You realize you€™re letting go of pieces of yourself.€

He billed the book as a novel rather than a memoir because he tells the story through the voice of a woman.

€œI didn€™t want to write about me,€ he said. €œSo I created this character and it made it much easier to go beyond myself. I grew up in an all-women family and it seemed an honoring of the females I grew up with. The little characters, they€™re people I knew and I€™ve embellished beyond that.€

The book opens with touring musician Reyes Wind driving into €œSt. Teresa Pueblo€ to attend the funeral of her grandmother.

€œShe goes up to the mountains and remembers all the things she grew up with €“€“ the stories, why her mom left her and why her dad left her.€

Mirabal€™s own father left when he was young. He lived with his grandparents while his mother worked.

€œShe constantly reaches for photographs in her mind,€ he added of his main character. €œThe title is based on what we have to do €“€“ go back to the shadows and bring to light to heal, exorcised with love and light.

€œI really think that there is a sensitive side to me that was being devalued and thrown to the dirt,€ Mirabal continued. €œIt helped me lift up a part of myself that needed attention. Ninety-five percent of it is me.€

The flutist/composer will return to the stage for a holiday show in Santa Fe with keyboard player and vocalist Paul Fowler. Mirabal researched traditional carols to record his 2007 €œPueblo Christmas€ release.

€œThe majority of the songs were from the 1800s,€ he said. €œI wanted to create what was happening in America at the same time €” everything from slavery to Manifest Destiny to kicking the Indians out of the pueblos. I realized these songs were composed to create a holistic way of living that€™s a better way of living; to go deeper into ourselves into an interdependent existence.€

Mirabal is the winner of two Grammy Awards for Best Native American Albums of the Year (2006, 2008). His 2001 PBS special €œMusic From A Painted Cave€ remains one of public TV€™s most popular fundraisers.