Different Paces for a Pair of Folkloricos

It was a case of "two folkloricos--no waiting" this weekend as Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, based in Mexico City, made one of its regular stops in Los Angeles, while an Oakland company, Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, carried on the tradition in Costa Mesa. Of vastly different resources, both companies proved to have the same spirit, although they were definitely operating at different speeds.

Actually, the state-funded Mexico City company offered a variety of tempos in their tried-and-true repertoire, looking sharply focused and typically resplendent. On Friday night, the Universal Amphitheatre was only about half full, but the enthusiastic crowd managed to make itself heard. It only takes the clarion call of a festive trumpet to launch folklorico fans happily into the moment, and there were plenty of other reasons to keep the mood going.

Some of company founder Amalia Hernandez's best dances looked in particularly good shape under the direction of her daughter, Norma Lopez Hernandez. The lush "Festivity in Tlacotalpan" worked its magic with miles of lace and its Hovercraft footwork, and the theatrical version of the Yaqui deer dance was vividly danced by Angel Padilla.

Of the two pieces that were relatively unfamiliar to local audiences, "Guerrero, Guerrero" was the more elaborate, starting with a "nun loses track of schoolgirls" sketch that could have come from the best of vaudeville matinees, then giving way to dances that were enhanced by the guitars and intricate meanderings of the Jarocha harp, played by musicians onstage. "Dance of Quetzales," the other less-seen work, was a very brief, decorative line dance, which was notable mostly for its oversized, brilliantly be-ribboned headdresses.

At Orange Coast College on Saturday night, the Oakland company acquitted itself well on a smaller budget. Using the influential Hernandez formula (many of the dances are similar to those of the Mexico City troupe, and the basic program order is the same) they excelled at aggressively brisk footwork and formidable unison: Their energetic suite of dances from Chihuahua and the allegro portions of their Veracruz dances were especially well done.

What could be more effective are the slow sways of "Veracruz," which need nuance and a sense of luxuriant breath to work. Granted, the dancers probably never get to develop subtlety; they had painfully little chance to slow down on this program--ever. In the Oaxaca suite, the La Tortuga and La Llorona sections--which are often tantalizingly drawn out--looked to be on fast-forward.

Artistic director Carlos Moreno Garcia (son of founder Carlos Moreno Samaniego) seems to be stuck in lickety-split mode; one up-tempo dance followed another, until the constant reiteration of the same pace seemed like way too much of a good thing.

Still, this Oakland company has much appeal. They are tightly rehearsed and the choreography--if not the beat--is inventive.

Unlike the inevitably more polished dancers of the Mexico City troupe, they are slightly different from each other, even when their unison is accurate. But this can be a good thing. In the middle of the bespangled universe of theatricalized folk dance, it's nice not to have too much uniformity--for those of us who like to be reminded that these dances came about in communities full of individuals.

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