There is a certain model of dance company that adapts folk and regional dances for the professional theatre, and functions as a mix of nationalist image-maker, cultural ambassador, tourist promoter and stage attraction. Such is the Ballet Folklórico de México (founded in 1952 by Amalia Hernández and still going strong under the direction of her grandson Salvador López), which draws on traditional dances to present visually arresting, sleekly choreographed and theatrically savvy set-pieces with huge audience appeal.
If that sounds like a kind of Mexican Riverdance, it should.
If that sounds like a kind of Mexican Riverdance, it should. The drilled ranks of dancers rattling out rhythms against the floor in the opening Mattachine number; the fiesta scenes with their weaving lines of beaming lads and lasses, toe-tapping their way into and out of each other’s arms – these and several other scenes could almost be Riverdance’s brighter and more colourful Mexican ancestors: same theatrical DNA, different look and sound, different culture.
The costumes are a riot of hues and patterns: tangerine, emerald and fuchsia in geometric shapes and floral designs. The headgear includes sombreros, of course (sizes L to XXL), but also vast headdresses like pink and blue cockerel crests, hats like feathered nests. The musicians keep the energy high, both in show-off solo turns and in the ensemble numbers, with close and high male-voice harmonies, insistent horns and tautly strung guitars, harps and violins all merging into textured walls of sound.
It’s stimulating, danced with great aplomb and guaranteed to put a twitch in your step. But it can get wearing: more rhythms, more formations, more spectacle. What’s missing – artistically, not touristically – is a sense of culture. Some scenes make you yearn for more inside story: the revolutionary women marching with rifles; the creepy carnival figurines (single-horned clown, lank-haired zombie), their mystery and potency diffused by party spirit; the Yaqui deer dance with its overtones of shamanism. Instead you get well-produced, high-class entertainment with a more enjoyable and more saleable message: viva México.