My first encounter with “Ballet Folklorico de Mexico” – up close and personal on Tuesday night on the Dell Stage of the Long Center — left me breathless, yet re-charged; a bit dazed and a lot awed. It also left me disappointed. Disappointed that it plays only one night, because Austin’s largely Hispanic population and this highly appreciative audience surely warrants additional performances.
The Mexico City-based dance company delivered a kaleidoscopic spectacle of costume, choreography, music and story-telling. Founder-choreographer Amalia Hernandez’ vision of capturing and presenting regional dance traditions on stage is fully realized by the company of 44 dancers, a dozen musicians (drums, strings, horns) and her successor Salvador Lopez Lopez, Gen. Dir., and Norma Lopez Hernandez, Artistic Dir.
Ballet? Of course, but think also of sandal-footed tap, clogging, vaquero rope tricks, military rifle drill, and perhaps, a bit of flamenco. Regardless of the label, the extensive BFM program capably captured the Hispanic/Latin/Mexican heritage of dances and rituals from various eras – pre-Colombian and Hispanic to Viceroy Revolucion. Indeed, they have rescued dancing traditions with as one critic noted “a beauty of the universe in motion.”
The dancers are not only youthful and attractive, but undoubtedly athletes. The stamina required for the two-hour program is astounding. And for those who portrayed the moggangas (enormous puppets representing human characteristics) it must be totally exhausting. And it was totally joyful by any measure of the audience’s response.
There was romance and drama in the stories (“Wedding in the Huasteca”), including a machete battle that had – literally – sparks flying on stage to the delight of attendees. The dancers served up movements that charmed. And like the yellow and orange calandria bird represented in “Las Amarillos,” they were powerful and beautiful.
Ballet Folklorico, backed by the beautifully painted scrims, some with multi-dimensional effects, and a van-load of the most colorful (often majestic) costumes, was/is a delight to the ear, the eye and the spirit. And, if you are close enough to the stage, even a delight to the nose: The various perfumes of the female dancers wafted into the audience as their whirling skirts sent a breeze into the front rows.
On balance, this is sensual, refined, and dazzling pageantry. Certainly worth a second and third look, if you’ve seen it in the past. Not to be missed, if you are a first-timer.