Colorful troupe keeps traditional dance fresh

07/31/2014 12:00 AM

08/01/2014 2:24 PM

Go to almost any cultural festival in the Valley and you’re bound to run into a ballet folklorico group.

But just like dance companies all over the world perform “Swan Lake,” it’s a whole other experience to see it performed by the Bolshoi Ballet. One of the most renowned Mexican folkloric ballet companies in the world will return to bring the color and culture of the traditional dance to the Gallo Center for the Arts stage.

Founded in 1952, the Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández has kept the regional diversity and heritage of the art form alive for more than 60 years. The group played a sold-out show at the Gallo Center in 2012 and returns with a new show Thursday.

Based in Mexico City, the group includes two professional dance ensembles and a school, which all celebrate the country’s traditional dances. While group founder, choreographer and namesake Hernández died in 2000 at age 83, her grandson and current company director, Salvador Lopez, has been running the company since the mid-1980s and keeping her legacy alive.

“Since I was 2 years old, I traveled with the company. I learned when I was a small boy a lot about what the company means and the importance of the company not only for Mexico but the world of dance,” Lopez said in a phone interview with The Bee from Mexico City this week. “And Amalia’s work, it was very important to be recognized along with the big choreographers. She was a genius; she wanted to show to the audience the mystique, the spirit and the energy of the people that live in different places of Mexico.”

Over the years, the company has created more than 40 ballets, which bring the local dance styles from some 60 regions of Mexico together. Today, the company has 120 dancers who have performed at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City several times a week since 1959 and a 60-person traveling troupe that performs across the globe annually. The company also has a school in Mexico with more than 300 students who study the various indigenous dance forms.

The touring company, which will stop in Modesto, includes 22 male dancers, 25 female dancers, about a dozen musicians and other performers. Lopez said dancers work for years to perfect the diverse styles, and they have had performers come from across Mexico and even the United States to join the company.

Lopez said the show features colorful costumes and vibrant choreography. And even though the style is traditional, performances are not stuck in time.

“The company was born in 1952, but when you see the show, it still seems so new because it is still a fresh company,” he said. “We have renewed the company and worked very hard for that.”

The touring group performs some 100 to 120 shows per year. He said after this tour, the company’s next California tour won’t be for two years. But he hopes all who have a chance to see the group leave feeling they’ve experienced a little bit of Mexico.

“We bringing a part of Mexico to the Unites States whenever we travel,” Lopez said. “What is most important to the company is to share the energy and magic of Mexican culture. That means the difference from one dance and another, one region to another. Mostly, it is the spirit of what every single dance means to our culture. We want to connect with people every single dance.”

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