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Dance Review

What's in a Name for Mexico Ballet? Pride

September 25, 2000|JENNIFER FISHER

The flowering of ballet folklorico companies in the last 40 or so years means one thing in particular to the mother troupe--a name change, so there's no confusion about who started it all. Suddenly, the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico has tacked on the name of its founder, as well as qualifying its status. Now, it's "the original and only" Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez.

There's a reason for that pride. Friday, at the first of a three-performance engagement at the Universal Amphitheatre, the highest folklorico traditions were generally upheld in a nine-part program of balleticized folk dance.

Familiar lyrical and robust favorites were all there--suites from Michoacan, Veracruz, Chiapas and Jalisco, looking resplendent in sherbet pastels or silver-spangled black and red. Onstage mariachi and marimba musicians provided spirited accompaniment, with one Veracruz harp solo featured.

All of this helped make up for a shocking lack of scenery. The company manager blamed Universal's insufficient stage equipment for the fact that only a few (ill-fitting) painted backdrops were used. For the rest of the dances, a dingy blue-gray curtain made the climate "partly cloudy."

The only new work premiering here was "Los Matachines," a re-creation of ceremonial dancing that has roots in the pre-Spanish era but was eventually incorporated into Christian worship. The short piece had a military feeling, with its constant thrum of one onstage drummer and its stamping double lines threading through various formations.

Occasionally straggly lines didn't detract from the overall choreographic designs or the dancers' excellence in each dance or suite. Nor was the enthusiastic audience about to be deterred by anything. They especially reacted to any movement whatsoever that could be interpreted as sexual.

Hoots and whistles are expected during the saccharine flirtations and behind-the-blanket smooching of the "Revolution" piece or the suggestive male gyrations of the "La Iguana" section in "Tarima de Tixtla."

But when Angel Padilla tried to create a heroic, ritual mood in the company's version of a Yaqui deer dance, it was disconcerting to hear wolf whistles as his bare chest contorted before his stylized death.

Can't an uncovered chest be symbolic of anything but sex? With large crowds accustomed to television and sporting events, some traditions seem harder to get across than others.

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