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Folklorico Isn't Danced Here

In their L.A. debuts, Contempodanza and Contradanza forgo Mexican traditions

September 08, 2002|VICTORIA LOOSELEAF

Mexican dance in U.S. minds can evoke visions of sombreros, serapes, flower baskets and mariachi music--the stuff of folklorico. But the Grand Performances series has begun working against the stereotype. In 2001, the free summer series headquartered in downtown L.A. packed in viewers with Taller de Coreografico, a modern ballet company based at Mexico's National Autonomous University and known for fusing classical dance and Mexico's indigenous heritage.

As it turns out, Taller de Coreografico was just the beginning of Mexican contemporary dance for Grand Performances. Last year, Taller's artistic director, Gloria Contreras, helped the series' programmers set up a tour of Mexico City studios and performance venues, and the fruits of that tour go on view this weekend at the outdoor Watercourt venue: Two companies, Contempodanza and Contradanza, will make L.A. debuts, bringing with them a U.S. premiere apiece.

"We want our Los Angeles audiences to become aware of the sophisticated contemporary art scene that rivals the finest in the world when it comes to producing modern dance," said Michael Alexander, director of Grand Performances. "It was important for us to start showing the depth of activity in Mexico."

Leigh Ann Hahn, director of series' programming, said that she and Alexander saw 40 performances of nine companies in Mexico City. "I had heard such great things about the strength of contemporary dance companies and I was amazed at the work and how it is completely international," she said. "These two companies are creating dance that is thoroughly and unapologetically modern. We saw the tip of the iceberg, from what I understand. There is a lot more modern dance in the rest of Mexico as well."

Indeed, Hahn and Alexander plan on bringing another company to L.A. next year: Ballet Nacional de Mexico, a contemporary dance company based outside of Mexico City and founded in 1948.

For now though, the focus is on Contempodanza and Contradanza, troupes that have forged their own versions of Mexican modernism. The companies' artistic directors, both ex-dancers, emphasize the importance of personal vision in their work. Contradanza got its start in 1983 under the direction of Cecilia Appleton; in 1986, Cecilia Lugo founded Contempodanza. Contradanza's Appleton, 43, studied with Martha Graham in New York in 1980, and danced in Mexico City troupes before starting her own ensemble. She has choreographed more than 60 works and she brings to L.A. five of her company's eight dancers, all in their 20s. They'll perform "Camas Con Historias" (Beds With Stories), a 45-minute work set to the music of Meredith Monk.

Choreographed in 1991, the piece has been performed at major theaters in Mexico City and in Barcelona, Spain. With a foam mattress serving as a mobile prop (it is, at various times, vertical, lying flat or elevated on a metal bed frame), "Camas" is a collection of solos, duets and ensemble movements meant to evoke and link intimate moments and memories acquired over time.

"I wanted to make a work about the inner life and also use images the dancers gave me," Appleton explained through an interpreter. "I want the public to have the view of one person, one character of the choreography, and then have a different view with the duets, say. For me, the most important thing is the theme: how different each individual is, but that every person has qualities and emotions that are universal."

Writing about "Camas" for the weekly Mexico City magazine Processo, one reviewer cited the work as "intense, convincing, poetic, with a sustained yet delicate lyricism."

Appleton sees her company as part of a dance scene that is turning inward. It's a good time, she said, to be creating dances. "Before, Mexican choreographers wanted to expose more external themes, but now I think it is more important to say what they think about specific things--what's going on within them--and project that more than going the usual traditional route."

Lugo, too, has created dozens of works for Contempodanza and in her first visit to L.A. is presenting "Espejo de Linces" (Lynx's Mirror), a work made in 2000 and based on a book-length poem about the 1994 Zapatista rebellion of poor Indians in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas that resulted in the deaths of 145 people.

Although "Linces" has a political context, Lugo says it is more about individuals than politics and historical events. The poem, by poet and director of a Chiapas cultural institution Oscar Oliva, is set to a commissioned score by Joaquin Lopez Chapman, a composer who frequently works with modern dance companies.

Contempodanza's movement style, seen on tape, is athletic but fluid, replete with leaps, turns and intense partnering. In "Linces," the company's five members, ages 24 to 40, make use of a large, billowing piece of fabric as they stalk the stage.

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