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Fusion of folkloric traditions

June 14, 2004|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Two fine local ensembles dared question the accepted premises of folkloric performance Friday in a program titled "Fandango Without Borders" at the Ford Amphitheatre.

Gema Sandoval's Danza Floricanto/USA and Quetzal Flores' Latino fusion band Quetzal tried to reinvigorate an idiom that often amounts to little more than world dance vaudeville, but ended inclusively with many new problems to solve.

Part 1 presented dances from the Mexican state of Veracruz that Sandoval choreographed from 1975 to 1988 in the glossy, theatricalized style pioneered by the late Amalia Hernandez's Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.

Part 2 showed the more intimate, improvisational dances that Floricanto and Quetzal discovered in Veracruz last year under a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts.

Part 3 integrated those discoveries with Chicano and other influences from this side of the border, emphasizing Quetzal's spirit and versatility.

The dancing in Parts 2 and 3 took place on a wooden platform at the front of the stage (something Hernandez used sparingly in her Veracruz choreography), and, for a while, the individual technical skills and personalities of the Floricanto dancers deserved careful attention. But eventually, inevitably, all those shuffle steps in profile on the box-like platform began to pall.

Even the authoritative solos of guest dancer Rubi Oseguera Rueda could not make these boxed-in fandangos look like a spectator sport, and it seemed equally misguided to showcase Quetzal's exciting musicianship on a stage cluttered with sound equipment as if the ugliness was somehow irrelevant.

Whenever Hernandez was asked about the difference between her versions of folkloric dances and the originals, she always spoke about the difference between theater and folklore. She embraced theater, but "Fandango Without Borders" largely repudiated it -- to its cost.

Marooned atop a few feet of plywood or enslaved to sonic hardware, its accomplished performers needed a transforming theatrical imagination to make their research into the traditions of Veracruz matter. Without it, the dated, diversionary folklorico status quo can never be challenged, much less overthrown.

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