The Citizen’s interrupted demise has given me the chance to see and comment on a stunning recital by one of my favorite dance troupes in town, Ballet Folklórico Tapatío.
Since the first time I saw it in action, this professional group has wowed me with its grace, flawless technical prowess, extreme breadth of repertoire and sheer dramatic power.
Tapatío’s “Amor y Amistad” show at the Pima Community College West Center for the Arts Friday night gave me a chance to see its next generation of dancers, from little kids to high school age talent. Prior to this I’d only seen a handful of the young performers practicing outside Tapatío’s rehearsal hall, peering in to match their moves with the pros.
It was wonderful to see how these kids seized their moment in the spotlight to bring to life traditional dances from the Mexican states of Veracruz, Sinaloa, Colima and Tabasco. The littlest – Grupo Infantil – were cute as a button, while the older Grupo Juvenil and Grupo Participante members ramped up the footwork and choreography to an impressive level.
Likewise, each region was represented with detailed traditional garb, at once striking to the eye and integral to each style of dance.
Still, the piece I will take away with sheer awe was the performance by the pro group – grupo official – of “El Corrido de Rosita Alvirez.” Accompanied by Tucson’s Mariachi Tapatío, headed by members of the Ranjel family, the troupe created a dance theater work from a musical ballad that could have sprung from today’s headlines.
How often we hear news of jealousy turning to violence. In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen reports of a murder-suicide, and of a woman dying from burns allegedly received from a jealous rejected lover. These things are real, tragic and thoroughly unnecessary. And that’s what came across in the theatrical telling of this tale.
In this piece we see a pair of hot-headed lovers. She is flirtatious, while he is driven mad by it. She wants to dance with all the men, despite his intimidation of each man, one by one. They swing out of her arms and into his brutal threats, as she picks up with the next partner without losing a step. Eventually the jealous man loses it and shoots her three times. She falls dead to the floor, surrounded by shocked onlookers, as he is beaten by the 20 other men.
The whole community shares in the shock and loss of this senseless act. Her mother wails and the women veil their heads as the men lift the dead girl’s body and ritualistically carry her off on their shoulders. It is a work of drama and pageantry – a moral tale executed at the highest levels of artistry. And like all great pieces of art, it is a work that resonates with the audience and provokes discussion of the root issue it displays.
Which brings me to the point that folklórico dance in Tucson has reached a point of critical mass in which it is transcending mere re-creations of regional dance and, using that traditional vocabulary, telling larger, more evocative tales. Ballet Folklórico Tapatío is not the only one involved in this important moment of artistic evolution. We’re seeing it as well at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in works choreographed by Maestro Rafael Zamarripa, and in local choreographer Julie Gallego’s Viva Arizona show. In that latter work, Gallego is illustrating through traditional and modern dance (even hip-hop) the important cultural crosstalk going on between Hispanics and mainstream American populations as the melting pot stirs through time.
These important larger works not only showcase the extraordinary talents of these young performers, but give them the tools to meaningfully express themselves in the greater reverberation of history and culture. I applaud all of them, and Ballet Folklórico Tapatío in particular, for their bravery, skill and artistry. They are exactly what has made my 21 years with the Citizen most meaningful, and it is delightful to see the next generation participating alongside these and other great masters of our community. They will carry it even further.
You can see video clips from the show attached to this story at www.tucsoncitizen.com.