In 2010, when Ballet Folklórico de México played at Fresno's Roosevelt High School, it was one of the year's cultural highlights. This powerhouse cultural institution, direct from its home at Mexico City's famed Palace of Fine Arts, offers world-class folkloric dancing.
Now it returns for a concert today at the Saroyan Theatre, in partnership with Arte Américas. Here's a rundown:
The company: Founded in 1952 by the influential Amalia Hernández, the company has performed for 45 million people, delighting them with colorful costumes, passionate dancing and lively music representing different regions and folk music genres of Mexico. Hernández, who died in 2000, left a strong imprint on the company that remains to this day. Salvador López, the executive director, says in a phone interview that the company is careful to keep the essence of Hernández's work — the "soul of her choreography" — in constant perspective.
Moving forward: Despite the fealty to Hernandez's original vision, the company is keeping things fresh, López says, by using new musical arrangements and an increased use of technology. "You can see Amalia's work in a different way," he says.
The tour: The company, which travels worldwide, is on a relatively short 10-day tour with 45 dancers to California. The program's title, "Así Te Envuelve México," roughly translates to "This is how Mexico embraces you."
Why the company remains strong to this day: "Amalia created a program that shows an elegant and dignified Mexican culture, a style that shows in the deepest way the spirit of Mexican music and dance," López says.
My impressions of the company's last Fresno performance: "Vividly colored, impeccably trained, spectacularly staged — this was dancing at its highest level," I wrote. "The 50-plus dancers and 15 musicians were so seamlessly calibrated that it was like watching one organism in performance. Yet all that precision didn't create robotic tension, which I've occasionally experienced watching highly trained dance companies in which uniformity is valued above all. The Ballet Folklórico folks have heart and soul to the very depth of their movements, an exquisite and finely articulated grace that nevertheless still feels brash, proud and personal."
The local connection: Mezzo-soprano mariachi vocalist and Fresno State graduate Beatríz Herrera will open the program with two traditional Mexican songs. She sang with with Mariachi Mujer 2000, an all-woman mariachi group that sang at the Beijing Olympics.