4 out of 4 stars
When I was seven years old, I sat wide-eyed and open-mouthed in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, drinking in a performance of the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. I took photos with a film camera and plastered them in a scrapbook with the caption “many traditional dances!” Last night, a couple of decades later, I felt no less enthusiastic to spend the evening with this incredible company (and a few thousand cheering Chicagoans, too).
The Ballet Folklórico de México was created over 50 years ago by Amalia Hernandez, who took it upon herself to research dances from across the country and create her own versions for the stage. The company has since found international success representing Mexico to the world, showcasing works inspired by diverse regional cultures and also various periods in Mexican history. These include an Aztec ritual at the pyramids of Tenochtitlan, a charreada where a horseman shows off his rope-slinging skills, and an homage to the Revolution of 1910 and the women who fought it. There are Quetzal birds with six-foot headdresses, giant puppets from the town of Tlacotalpan, and popular party songs from Jalisco. Each piece showcases a masterful use of space with complex formations. It’s a nonstop whirlwind of sound and color, and you’d have to be lacking a pulse not to be thoroughly entertained.
One of the most unique pieces is the Deer Dance, which is practiced in preparation for the hunt by the indigenous Yaqui people. A single dancer evokes the movements of the deer with startling zoological clarity, shaking, leaping, and burrowing his nose into the earth. It’s a refreshing moment of minimalism in an otherwise full-blown production with 42 dancers and much audiovisual stimulation.
Lovely as the dancing is, the set designs really distinguish each scene and amplify the atmosphere: a giant tree descends from the sky, a backdrop evokes a village square, a candelabra lights up a ballroom. The costumes are absolute eye candy and are coordinated down to the matching shoes. And a real unexpected treat is that we get a live concert, too: a 15-piece band accompanies most of the works, providing gorgeous harp solos, perfectly synchronized violins, and the pulse and soul of the show. By night’s end, everyone was on their feet.
The Ballet Folklórico is part of the Auditorium’s International Dance Series (coming up: check out the 312 Made in Chicago Series to catch local companies Ate9, Visceral, and Deeply Rooted on Nov. 16).
Ballet Folklórico de Mexico performs November 10 & 11 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy). Call the box office at 312-341-2310 or visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org for more information.
Susanna is a Teaching Artist with Chicago's finest dance education companies, exposing hundreds of students to the art of dance each year. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Dance from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, where she was awarded the David Wick Prize for Choreography. Susanna enjoys performing, keeping up with the city's performance scenes, and traveling.