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Folkloric Company Losing Studio : Dance Troupe Fights To Land On Feet

September 12, 1986|CHRIS PASLES

With two performances staring them in the face this Sunday, administrators of the Relampago del Cielo Mexican folkloric dance company are more preoccupied with the problem of finding a new home.

The two-story brick building which has housed the company for seven years has been condemned by the City of Santa Ana for failing to meet seismic safety standards.

"We're being evicted right now," said Rosie Pena, founder and general director of the company, in a recent interview.

"The city is supposed to help us find a new location, but they haven't found us anything that is adequate so far. Either the space is not adequate or the building has to be reworked extensively--and we don't have the money for that.

"So we're in the process of looking for a new site somewhere else, even if it's not in Santa Ana."

Joe Mazzeo, manager of building safety for the City of Santa Ana, confirmed early this week that the city has declared the building "dangerous" to occupants, thus ending a two-year sequence of events that began with a safety check in 1983.

The building's owners had applied for permits to bring it to code but never made significant progress on the work, according to Mazzeo.

Mazzeo confirmed that the city is "definitely trying to help the company find new quarters."

Despite the setback, the company plans to meet its commitments on Sunday by performing at 1:30 p.m. at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and at 3 p.m. at the Hunt Branch of the Public Library in Fullerton.

Featured will be dances from the states of Jalisco, Chiapas, Nayarit and the Yucatan.

According to Pena, the dances will show a wide diversity of style and costuming and have been chosen not only for entertainment value "but also for educational purposes."

Pena founded Relampago del Cielo in 1976 in order to "preserve, present and research the Hispanic culture in the United States and specifically in this area," she said.

She had started teaching classes in Mexican folk dances at Rancho Santiago College, and "it evolved from there," she said.

"There was nothing in the county like this prior to us."

Pena chose the name--which means "Lightning From the Sky"--because "we had to come up with a name fast."

"I wish I could give a more sophisticated story," she said.

She takes pride in the authenticity of the company's performances.

"We do constant research before we put on any presentation," Pena explained.

"We often go to Mexico to do on-site research, and in many cases, we have to wait for the major holidays to go to the villages because right now the old customs are dying away.

"That's happening to the music, too," she added.

"If you're going to duplicate the real thing--which is not recorded--you have to tape it on site.

"But it frequently doesn't come out right, and the reproduction quality is bad."

Authenticity "especially extends to the costumes," Pena said.

"We really research costumes. They are hard to find or expensive to duplicate in the United States because of the hours of needlework that go into the originals.

"But we try to get at least one original to put on exhibit and duplicate."

Until the past year, the dancers had to make their own costumes and even had to pay for their classes.

That has changed somewhat--the dancers no longer pay for their classes and the company can buy some costumes now--but the dancers still receive no compensation.

The size of the company and the number of its performances have fluctuated over the years.

(On Sunday, the company will intermingle presentations by its 12-member adult group and its 10-member children's group.)

"The size depends on what we're doing, either smaller, private presentations or public concerts," Pena explained.

"Public concerts have been very sporadic up to now. But we give up to eight smaller presentations a month. So in that sense, we are busy."

The company's budget is currently about $45,000, which is about what it was two years ago.

Ed Lucero, director of development, explained the lack of growth:

"The organization has been basically run by a voluntary board--and the problem has been that the board has been trying to operate a company on an ongoing basis but its members were elected yearly. So there's been no continuity."

Despite the recent setback involving the studio, Pena and Lucero feel that that the company is on the verge of a turnaround.

"At this point, I'm more enthusiastic than ever," Pena said.

"The goal is very valid and needed. And we have a working, committed board."

Her ultimate goal, the establishment of a cultural arts center, seems farther away than ever, however.

"Of course, we're talking about millions of dollars," she laughed.

"The center would be a place where people could go and learn about our culture--not only Mexican, but all Spanish-speaking countries because of the influence they've had in Southern California, Santa Ana and surrounding regions."

She mused further:

"We would stress the beauty and significance and the uplifting effect of these cultural contributions not only in dance, but in theater, the visual arts and arts and crafts.

"The center would be for everyone--Hispanic and non-Hispanic."

But such dreams have to be put on hold now that the company has no studio.

"We're already losing money because we can't hold the classes we had scheduled to start in September," Pena said.

"But this won't affect us in the long run," she said. "We will find a place--we have to--even if it means going into somebody's garage temporarily. We'll survive."

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