Ballet Folklórico de México

September 22, 2000

Revoution, one of Hernandez’s last works, shows the role of women in the Mexican war for independance.
Photo coutesy Ballet Folklérico de Méxcio de Amelia Hernandez

Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández

Universal Amphitheatre
Los Angeles, California

September 22?24, 2000

Reviewed by Sara Wolf

A week after Mexican Independence Day, an audience of nearly four thousand Angelenos welcomed the august and beloved grandmother of all folklórico troupes to Los Angeles and the first leg of her company?s U.S. tour with open arms?as well as with a good deal of enthusiastic cheering, whistling and at times thunderous applause.

After forty-eight years, the company has perfected a theatrical spectacle designed to instill cultural pride as it dazzles. Lavishly colorful costumes and props; onstage groups of mariachi and marimba musicians; seamless transitions between dance suites; and a tightly constructed program that swept across history and geography to encapsulate the spirit of la gente of México?all of these elements contributed to an evening that did not disappoint.

Hernandez has implied in interviews that her transformation of social, vernacular and folk dances for the international stage is intended to be representative, not necessarily authentic. This strategy worked well in an array of regional dance suites that represented the states of Michoacán, Guerrero, Chiapas, Veracruz and Jalisco. Often staged as a fiesta that the audience could feel a part of, each impressively demonstrated the ensemble?s flawless rhythmic precision. From one suite to the next, one witnessed the variety and complexity of rhythmic approaches that lie at the heart of ballet folklórico, as well as the light, buoyant step for which the company is known. Airy skips, fluid runs, and high kicks also reflected the ballet and modern dance technique that augments the troupe?s training?something Hernandez initiated when she founded what was then an ensemble of eight dancers in 1952.

Less engaging were dances that represented the pre-Hispanic roots of Mexican culture, a heritage that easily fell prey to romantic and mystical images. In Tenochtitlan/Le Gran Tenochtitlan even, heavy footsteps and simple geometric patterns of lines and circles signaled that the dancers represented indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, when they re-entered the stage, dressed either as an eagle (if they were male) or a snake (if they were female), the choreography gave way to a parade of nationalistic symbols. Both subtler in approach and more powerful in effect was the premiere of Los Matachines/The Matachines, which asserted the indomitable strength of the ancients through incessant, driving rhythms.

Also puzzling was La Revolucion/Revolution, which used the Mexican Revolution as a springboard for a suite of dances that tenuously implied, but never fulfilled, a dramatic narrative. What appeared to be a turn-of-the-century can-can was quickly followed by a symbolic squadron of gun-toting female revolutionaries, who in turn were succeed by couples coyly a-courtin?, a theme that ultimately predominated the piece.

Embedded in this suite, however, was a mesmerizing display of lasso virtuosity by Hernandez?s grandson, Salvador Lopez?one of the many gemlike moments that, like the tying of a ribbon into a bow with feet or the giant puppets parading up and down the aisles in the Fiesta en Tlacotalpan/Festivity in Tlacotalpan suite, kept the audience calling out for encore after encore at the conclusion of the evening.