For those of you who are unfamiliar with Veracruz, it's a state on the Mexican coast, not too far from Texas, bordered by the Gulf to the east and the Sierra Madre to the west, where traditional Latin American and Spanish influences meet and mingle. For those of you who don't speak Spanish, the title of Aztlan Dance Company's production Veracruz: Feria de Flores, Nostalgia de Amores roughly translates to "Veracruz: The Fair of Flowers, the Nostalgia of Love."
"Veracruz is a central place of cultural interaction," says Roén Salinas, Aztlan's artistic director. "With this piece, we are creating a contemporary story about these varying influences. We start with what I call 'Olmeca,' a re-creation of Mother Earth culture, which reflects our indigenous past. That's followed by 'Duende: Passion Echos,' which translates to 'Night Spirit Passions,' a piece that reflects the Spanish influence within the culture of Veracruz. Then we jump ahead to 'Nostalgia de Cinema,' where there is the formation of a new culture, mestizo culture, in which the old and new worlds join to create an embodiment of both worlds. Mexican cinema is our inspiration because it became an expression of the new culture within regional communities and really captures Spanish culture within a Mexican concept."
Aztlan invited me to a rehearsal of the entire production, and in my gringo ignorance, I was expecting tango and flamenco. Instead, I was taken on a balletic, primitive, humorous journey, by turns enchanting, graceful, and powerful, and after around a solid hour of pure entertainment, the Aztlan dancers really let loose. If the term "Ballet folklórico" isn't familiar, just think Latinas with real curves, lifting their long skirts and stomping their boots rhythmically at an ever-increasing tempo, and you're right in the middle of it.
"The first three pieces are meant as reflections on history," says Salinas. "In the final segment, I want to bring things home to something very regional and folkloric, something that everybody can relate to in a very immediate way. Ballet folklórico can be found in any Hispanic community throughout Mexico and the United States, so for me it was important to tie everything back to home."
The rehearsal ended a full 90 minutes after it started. The ladies who had carried the production seemingly without effort finally had broken a sweat. Miraculously, the roof had stayed on the Santa Cruz Center for Culture, and I was ready to get up and do a little dancing myself. But you don't have to dance. You can just sit and watch and be completely carried away.
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