In the folk dance world, it's not common to connect politics to dancing, but Gema Sandoval, who directs Danza Floricanto/USA, admirably tends to give it a try. While introducing the various sections of "Cuentos Mestizos/Mestizo Folk Tales" at the Ford Amphitheatre Friday night--part of Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month--Sandoval suggested deep connections between folk traditions and human understanding, respect and survival, while she also encouraged support for Mexico as it journeys toward "true democracy."
As is perhaps more usual, there followed only brief moments when these concepts were solidly reiterated by performance. Still, the general idea was boosted by audience enthusiasm, especially when taped music gave way to Mariachi Mexicapan. This 11-member ensemble backed up dance pieces and had its own interludes, playing with enviable vigor, sometimes singing with subtle, hip synchronized movements.
Among group dances, it was easiest to enjoy the fiesta moments, in which the women radiated pleasure. Unhappily, many of the men looked as if someone had made them participate, and sidelong glances that said, "What comes next?" often interrupted the flow of a dance. For more somber pieces, Sandoval overused steps that didn't capture deeply felt moods. In the stirring "La Llorona," for instance, a bobbing processional step detracted from the soaring mood of the lament. But the audience may not have noticed. Many familiar tunes were lovingly hummed by audience members, creating warm communal moments.
Guest singers Angelica Aragon and Ismael Gallegos had their own set, full of lively love songs and irresistible two-part harmony. They crooned, they frowned, they drifted together while caressing lyrics as if they were savoring a kiss. Aragon spoke about their numbers only in Spanish, but the couple's chemistry transcended language barriers.