Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández: Live review
As covered by our listing, Ballet Folklórico de México has six decades of history confirming its status as the standard-bearer of Mexican folk dance, and boy it is good at proving it. I have never seen so much enthusiasm for dance during a show at the Auditorium; granted, much of the city was drunk on Saturday and the theater relaxed its no-beverages-in-the-house policy for this concert. I was not drunk, however, and was still whooping and hollering like everyone else. This company is joy on legs. Five thumbs up.
Comparing folk dancing to “choreography” is a meaningless exercise. I suppose a few classical ballets are so well-known that most dancers have already learned their steps before the first rehearsal, but these are movements that are passed down from generation to generation. These dances are literally in the blood, although the late Hernández did stage each particular number with her own sense of style and choice of details. (That, at least, is what I could garner from BFM’s program notes—specific credits and each dance’s history aren’t clearly described.) Saturday’s program was a selection of ten of more than 40 she created; some were single events to single songs, like The Feather Dance, in which men in elaborate, enormous headdresses weave in and out of patterns and processions with unison footwork and paddling turns. Others, such as Life Like a Game and Charreada, tell a longer story in multiple parts; the latter’s protagonist is a solo male dancer whose lasso never stops circling his kinesphere and self, and later both him and his partner.
Some highlights from the evening’s flood of images: The “El Gusto” section of Guerrero had thunderous rhythms, tapped out by two soloists on hollow, mattress-sized wooden boxes with slits on their edges that amplified and threw percussion out into the house. Their white dresses are so long, though, that you never see the flashy footwork. It’s hidden beneath the soft, slow rotations of a simple shape: a proud figure, the hem of her skirt held up high on one side, her head tossed back wearing a radiant grin. Deer Dance is a Yaqui rite wherein a man with a deer’s-head headdress leaps around the stage with maracas for forehooves. He is shot by two hunters with bows who quickly enter for the kill and just as quickly disappear, leaving him alone for a spectacularly danced death. The devil appears twice: In Tlacotaplan Festivity, he is represented by an enormously headed puppet alongside a clown, various sea creatures and figures from a random assortment of global cultures (there’s a “Moor,” for one), whereas in Game he’s the central character in a different kind of puppet show. As a young bride and groom approach their nuptials, the masked demon uses two petite minions—one in a fuschia unitard, blue veil and oversized, grinning skull head, the other a cupid figure with brightly colored wings—to toy with the procession of events, one of which is a full-tilt swordfight, sparks flying off the metal blades. He’s the-devil-as-clown here, using his pitchfork as a broom and swinging his tail around like a Playboy bunny in a Catwoman costume.
BFM shares its sense of scale with Matthew Barney. Frequently, a majority of the company’s 56 dancers and 16 unbelievably-talented musicians are onstage; the sheer size of the experience produces much of its overwhelming delirium. There are full costume changes for each section, multiple backdrops and set pieces, and hundreds of lighting cues—the action simply never stops. The 14 high-kicking soldaderas in Revolution each carry a rifle, and snake in perpendicular lines around the floor, leaving one behind to slowly pan her gun’s barrel across the audience, then lift it skyward for a pose that could be cast in bronze and placed in a public square. The running in “Las Amarillas,” also from Guerrero, generated so much wind that the rear curtain waved constantly throughout the dance as though it were a giant flag. A nearly-full house poured out onto the street with a palpable sense of pride. I felt it too, and I’ve never even been to Mexico.
Mexico is celebrating 200 years of independence and the 100th anniversary of its Republic in 2010; this show was the official kick-off of the city’s and Consulado General de México’s calendar of events for the occasion and was presented in partnership with the Ravinia Festival. Another terrific dance company from Mexico City, Delfos Danza Contemporánea, plays Ravinia’s Bennett-Gordon Hall August 27–29.