[The stained-glass curtain depicting the valley of Mexico.]
Event: Ballet Folklórico
Venue: Palacio de Bellas Artes
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Date: 23 November 2016
Founded in 1952 by Amalia Hernández, the Ballet Folklórico has become a cultural institution that has performed twice a week in the capital city since 1963. The group underscores traditional dance and music with historical narratives that succeed in being both instructive and captivating. On one level, the performance is a colorful presentation of national culture, with brilliant costumes, elaborate choreography, upbeat mariachi tunes, and constant motion. However, all of this action serves to examine elements of Mexican history and regional diversity. It's easy to simply watch and be transfixed, but at the least one might find it curious to see a group of women dancing with rifles. That particular dance honors the soldaderas that fought in the Mexican revolution alongside the better-recognized men. Other dances originate in pre-Columbian traditions, street parades with huge papier-mâché figures, village festivals, and ranching activities.
The physical movement is artfully paired with accompanying music from a sizable mariachi band. The night I attended opened with a loud, propulsive drum performance. The drummers continued to strike their battery as the dancers gradually appeared on stage. Most of the rest of the night, the musicians played string instruments and horns loosely corresponding to the region and era being also represented in dance and costume. This typically consisted of several classical guitars, including a Mexican vihuela and a guitarrón, in addition to violins, trumpet, trombone, and mellophone. The musicians sang infrequently, and even when they performed without the dancers (presumably while they were changing outfits), they primarily played instrumentals. On one occasion, they surprised me by appearing in two of the venue's seating boxes to play marimbas.
[Note the marimbas in the second-level boxes on stage left. Photo by Alyssa Hammons.]
When I first heard of this group, I was skeptical of falling into a tourist trap. However, the performance understandably made few concessions to the non-Spanish-speaking portion of the their audience, and judging by the crowd's participation in a few of the songs, most of the audience did indeed speak Spanish. (I did not find my rudimentary familiarity with Spanish to be hindrance to my enjoyment.) One could perhaps criticize the embedded heteronormativity of some of the dances, but I nonetheless appreciated the ambiguity and lack of detailed over-explanation inherent in a performance without many spoken or sung words. There were a couple sections based around hunting themes that I could do without, but I could acknowledge the historical relevance of even those narratives.
The performance more than exceeded my expectations. The quality of the musicianship, the beauty of the costumes, and the fluidity of the dancers won me over immediately. Every component was exceptional and the physical dexterity of the dancers and musicians was astounding.
The venue specifically requests no photography during the performance, and while plenty of people obviously disobeyed that request, I did not. Hence, I can only leave you with another picture of the venue, but a quick internet search should satisfy any further visual curiosity.
[The exterior of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.]