New Dance Performances Spotlight Mexican Culture | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

New Dance Performances Spotlight Mexican Culture

This year, Mexico celebrates two pivotal anniversaries: The bicentennial of independence from Spain, and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. So it's fitting that in Chicago, two dance companies—one traditional, the other contemporary—are honoring the country's rich history.

For WBEZ, Dance Critic Lucia Mauro describes these brightly colored performances that honor Mexico's past and present.

Frida! Inspired by the Art and Life of Friday Kahlo
March 27 at 8 p.m.
Harris Theater

Since 1952, Mexico City's Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez has spanned the wide expanse of Mexican history. Dances stretch from the Pre-Colombian era to the country's Revolutionary years.

Besides historic dances, Ballet Folklorico honors the diverse colors and music of Mexico's individual states and cities. In the deer dance of the Yaqui tribe, a male soloist in antlers performs gravity-defying leaps and splits to mimic a hunted animal outrunning his predator. Another dance showcases the Zapotec Indians' agile and intricate manipulations of their ornate feather headdresses. Women in swirling long white lace skirts represent the vibrant port city of Veracruz.

A full-length ballet recreates the Mexican Revolution of 1910. It emphasizes women revolutionaries who fought alongside the men. In one scene, the patriots' leader, Juana Gallo, breaks up a group of aristocrats dancing a polka in a drawing room. She then performs a robust and defiant dance to La Adelita, a legendary song of that era. The program culminates in a salute to the state of Jalisco, complete with a live mariachi band and the Mexican Hat Dance.

Luna Negra Dance Theater, Chicago's contemporary company addressing the Latino experience, presents an all-Mexican program this spring. There's a new full-length modern dance honoring one of Mexico's most iconic visual artists: Frida Kahlo. In Paloma Querida, or Beloved Dove, the famous Surrealist painter, best known for her tortured and richly hued self-portraits, is portrayed by four women. Each represents the multifaceted spirit of Kahlo behind four distinct paintings.

One, Broken Column, refers to the image of Kahlo supported by a steel corset and her skin punctured by numerous small nails. It reveals her immovable strength despite the many surgeries she endured following a bus accident. The dance itself is a visual evocation of what Kahlo could have expressed had her body not been broken. The movements take on a sweeping quality, like a bird in flight. The dance also reflects Kahlo's emotional pain tied to her tumultuous marriage to muralist Diego Rivera.

The choreographer like Kahlo, blends folkloric dance styles with more abstracted modern movement that also honors the artist's love of animals. The dancers preen and spread their wings.

Both Ballet Folklorico de Mexico and Chicago's Luna Negra Dance Theater bring to life Mexico's multilayered treasures.

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