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DANCE REVIEW

Ballet Folklorico Offers a Program Full of Skill, Flash and Color

September 05, 1997|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ballet Folklorico de Mexico is reliably festive and exciting. But it doesn't always dance exactly what the program tells you.

Take the "Revolution" suite, one of the many company staples on the current engagement (through Sunday) at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center. A group of young aristocrats dance polkas, you read, "unconcerned with the people's struggle for freedom. This elite party is eventually broken up by a group of revolutionaries."

Well, yes, the European-dressed polka dancers seem happy and self-contained, and they are followed by a group of stern-faced, hard-driving dancing revolutionaries after they leave the stage. But there's no evident caricature or exaggeration in what they do, as there is, for instance, when the Russian Moiseyev folklore troupe satirizes the middle class for aping the aristocracy in its Quadrilles.

The audience, moreover, burst into spontaneous rhythmic clapping as soon as the polkas started. These dancers seemed to get as much approval as the revolutionaries that followed them. So much for the sting of social commentary.

Similarly, the "Guelaguetza de Oaxaca" suite, which is on U.S. programs for the first time during this Ballet Folklorico tour, looked far abstracted from the description of "welcoming the visitors" given in the program.

The 10-minute suite, choreographed by company founder Amalia Hernandez (as was the rest of the program), consists of two parts, "Danza de la Pluma" (Feather Dance) for the male corps, which wears gorgeously feathered plumes; and "Jarabes" for the women, who wear flowing dresses and red shawls wrapped around their arms.

*

Apart from the women's wavy arm movements, few "welcoming" elements could be seen. Rather, the dances, especially the first, looked as geometrically determined and ballet-influenced as did the opening "Concheros" suite, which depicts pre- and post-Spanish religious rituals, although the Catholic elements have to be taken more on faith than on visual evidence.

Holding rattles and feathered totems in their outstretched hands, the men of the Feather Dance fill the stage in phalanx formation, then make quick hops or turns in place. A single man has a more honored central position, but his movements and responsibilities are not greatly different from the others.

The poised women glide in graceful diagonal lines and circles, occasionally dipping backward in a kind of ballroom way or kicking a leg up sideways to a height that a ballerina might well envy.

The suite is by no means a failure. It is as theatrically skillful and impressive as all Hernandez's work is. Still, it seems to demonstrate an abstraction and a distance from folk sources and meanings. Herdefense may be that the theater is not the village, but for all the suite's visual splendor, there was a sense of feeling cut loose here from visceral cultural moorings.

As in the company's engagement last year at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Salvador Lopez again was the indefatigable and expert lariat spinner. Claudio Rojas was the lithe Yaqui Deer Dancer, as arresting in his slow-motion moves as in the virtuosic bounding and leaping.

The program also included familiar sequences drawn from a number of Mexican states. The company looked fine and engaged, as always. Some of the backdrops and costumes, however, are beginning to show wear.

Given the many wonderful Ballet Folklorico musicians, it may be unfair to single out any. But for their brilliant cross-rhythmic playing, particular notice should go to Cristobal Rodales (arpa), Jose Gutierrez (vocal solos and requinto) and Marguarito Trujillo (jarana).

* Ballet Folklorico de Mexico will repeat the program today and Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m., Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. $15-$55. (213) 972-7211.

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