Just as a matter of simple value for money, no one could have left the Fox last weekend feeling they hadn't received enough dance or, for that matter, song, color and pure energy. When Ballet Folkl órico de México performs, which it did last Friday and Saturday evenings as Dance St. Louis' first production of the season, the large troupe of dancers, singers and musicians works for more than two solid hours. And what they perform is hardly ever languorous. On the contrary: The big Fox stage is seldom so full of music and motion.
From its opening piece, "Aztecs," a re-creation of pre-Hispanic ritual dance and costume, to the final number, "Jalisco," a stage-shaking set of dances culminating in the "Jarabe Tapatio" (which we call "The Mexican Hat Dance"), vigor and stamina were the hallmarks, together with some of the most extravagant costuming you'll ever see. And not only were the costumes colorful and abundant, it was obvious that they were as close to authentic as the high production values would allow.
A concert presentation of folk dance, which is, of course, basically social dancing, has the same danger as any performance of lots of similar material Sousa marches, 12-bar blues, Handel arias or whatever. After the first three or four, the mind kind of numbs up and discrete presentations blur into what can come to seem unending recital of the same thing over and over. Mexican folk dance is less likely to do this because Mexico, however badly it may have treated its aboriginal folk (not nearly as badly, however, as the U.S. did its), also realized what cultural riches they had to offer. Second, Mexico's geography three or four north/south mountain ranges that make lots of isolated pockets caused many different aboriginal cultures to develop and preserve their individuality even to the present day. These factors result in many well-differentiated indigenous cultures, each with their colorful costumes, artifacts and, as Ballet Folkl órico celebrates, dancing and music.
There are some similarities among many of the dances, however. Many involve percussive feet never as complex as what Savion Glover does, of course, but more complex than Irish dance or even some Spanish flamenco. Many of the dances also use large handkerchiefs, held in the left hand, waved quickly and expressively. Although it was not performed during this visit, the company often does a dance where the young men use the kerchiefs to mimic fluttering birds with eerie exactitude. The accompanying music has violins, guitars of various sizes and some wonderful trumpeting for salsa.
The last time it was in town, Ballet Folkl órico did not bring its chorus, so the simple handsomeness of Mexico's folk choral tradition was a surprise to many. Particularly moving were some of the great Revolutionary ballads, and a hymn sung with intense dignity was most stirring. Let's ask Dance St. Louis not to make us wait so long between visits from this joyful and exciting horde of dancers, singers and musicians.