Birthdays are traditionally celebrated with gifts, and to mark their 20th anniversary, the South Florida Symphony is presenting audiences with a once-in-a-lifetime present, the world premiere of a new ballet.

Dancers from the famed Martha Graham Dance Co. in New York City will be traveling to South Florida for a celebratory program including the first performance of “A New Place of Life,” a ballet set to local composer Tom Hormel’s orchestral suite, “Legend of Bird Mountain.”

Last year, the symphony premiered the 23-minute suite composed by Hormel, 87, scion of the famed Hormel meat-packing empire and an accomplished dancer, artist and self-taught composer. That performance was just the beginning of an exciting collaboration, according to artistic director Maestra Sebrina María Alfonso.

“As an artist, when you have access to the composer, it’s more personal,” she explained. “I know him and the beauty in his music is pretty much him. He’s a great soul and incredibly nice person…his music captures such beautiful colors.”

Virginie Mécène, a 30-year-veteran of the company and director of Graham 2, its training corps, choreographed the new ballet, which will be performed Jan. 21 – 24 in Key West, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Hormel’s evocative music reminded her of the cultural diversity of New York City, inspiring Mécène to create a work interweaving stories of people in the big city. She explores themes of displacement, culture shock, diversity and loneliness, as well as love, togetherness and community, performed by a cast of 12 dancers and accompanied by the orchestra. The process of choreographing the work took many months of planning and workshops with the dancers.

Rounding out the program is one of Graham’s most beloved works, Aaron Copland’s idyllic “Appalachian Spring,” and Igor Stravinsky’s controversial 1917 ballet “The Rite of Spring.”

“Appalachian Spring” (1943), celebrating the marriage of two Pennsylvania pioneers, is also the composer’s most popular work. It is widely considered “a jewel of Americana, a classic national treasure whose defiant innocence, affirmation, freshness and strength reaffirmed national values and ideals at a time of world chaos during World War II.”

Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” revolutionized 20-century musical language and is considered by many musicologists to be the most influential work of its time. At its 1913 Paris Opera debut, audiences rioted because they had never heard atonal chords and complex rhythms before.

“All three are really about youth and discovery,” reflected Mécène. “They each offer very different approaches, but the central theme is always there.”

The South Florida Symphony presents “Martha Graham’s Dance of Life” on Jan. 21 at Key West High School, Jan. 23 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and Jan. 24 at the Arsht Center in Miami. For tickets and more information, go to