Mix earthy renditions of Mexican ballads, computerized rock video imagery and the subtle narrative possibilities of ballet and you get a hybrid of Latino folk tradition and the performing arts that makes its public-broadcasting debut Wednesday.
This unlikely marriage of aesthetics and technology is a key element of playwright-director-performer Luis Valdez's "Corridos: Tales of Passion and Revolution," produced by public television station KQED in San Francisco.
The founder of the 22-year-old Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, Calif., said the hour program airing at 8 p.m. on KCET (Channel 28) combines the original cast from the 1985 theatrical production of "Corridos" with the talents of pop songstress Linda Ronstadt, the San Francisco Ballet company's Evelyn Cisneros and actor Clancy Brown in four musical vignettes which explore a century of Mexican ballad-making. As in the earlier theatrical version, Valdez plays the role of the maestro or guide who explains each scene in the televised bilingual production.
During a Los Angeles press conference Friday, Valdez, the screenwriter and co-director of this summer's movie hit "La Bamba," portrayed "Corridos" (which means ballads ) as an attempt to expand traditional notions of theater by fusing them with dance, music and state-of-the-art video and film making.
"What the program is attempting to do is open up new possibilities with respect to theater," he said. "Much of what theater is, is still locked in 19th-Century approaches. The whole question of adapting theater for a mass audience through television is an artistic one that can push the limits of the way (stage) images are presented, which we have tried to do."
Valdez claimed the program's computer-generated backdrops, perspective illusions and cinema-styled close-ups used in the $750,000 production also "shoved (televised) theater into the next century."
On another level, he said, the Spanish and Mexican bents for interpreting the ballad as a highly personalized form of political and journalistic commentary is particularly well-suited to the TV news broadcaster's folksy style of personal address.
"News broadcasts would be impossible if we didn't accept that convention," he said. "So it made it possible for us to take the corrido tradition (and) adapt it, I think, in a very effective way to the screen."
More effective, he hopes, than the original stage production that received only tepid reviews from Los Angeles and San Diego theater critics three years ago. In San Francisco, he said somewhat defensively, the stage production won 11 Bay Area Drama Critics awards.
But, he added, "It seems to me the critics in Los Angeles couldn't get past . . . it's Mexican character . . . and see the stage work it implied. My hope is now, since this stuff has been (videotaped), that the whole point of the piece will become immediately apparent."
For some Latinos, however, the revue's imagery of hard-drinking, pistol-waving vaqueros inadvertently perpetuated Latin stereotypes of machismo and female passivity.
"It may look like there are stereotypical elements here, but I know no way of going around the stereotype. You have to go through (it) and open it up," Valdez said, adding that one the program's underlying messages is a biting criticism of male chauvinism.
Then, referring to the vignette of "Delgadina," a medieval Spanish ballad of father-daughter incest set in a 19th-Century, upper-class Mexican family, Valdez asked:
"Just how many rich Hispanics have you ever seen in a Victorian mansion?. Is that a stereotype?"