St David’s Hall, Cardiff
With 2015 claiming itself as The Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom, it’s difficult to imagine few better ways in which to celebrate Mexican culture than attending a performance by The Folkloric Ballet of the University of Guadalajara. The 75 minute performance was overflowing with such vibrancy and passion that it was impossible not to be swept up in the sheer joyousness of it. Every single dancer emits an irresistible aura of pride; imbuing each movement with the overwhelming sense of warmth and free spiritedness that characterises the evening.
With stamping feet and vigorous hips, The Ballet Folclórico is unrecognisable from the dainty, European ballet with which we are familiar. Intricate stepography forms the secondary soundtrack, accompanying the spectacular live Mariachi band and tremendous voices which fill St David’s Hall with such a depth of sound that you might think there are three times as many cast members as the thirty dancers and twenty-four singers which make up the troupe. There is a beautiful symbiosis of voices amidst the ensemble; the deep rich voices of the men perfectly complementing the angelic, trilling voices of the women.
With the principal intention to share and celebrate Mexican culture, it is little surprise that the overarching theme of the evening is tradition. The complex dances and handcrafted props showcase everything from the Mexican people’s agricultural roots to the elitist factions of society, touching often on romance and family. Watching the men cast their fishing nets and challenge the raging bull whilst the women flutter their fans and carry around their dishes in aprons, it is difficult not to view the tradition as tipping slightly into stereotype at times.
Visually, however, the women completely steal the show. Whilst the men’s costumes are superb, with their vast sombreros, black studded jackets and decorative ponchos, the women’s costumes are sensational. An array of vibrant colour and endless petticoats, they envelope the stage, costume change after costume change delight the audience. Flapping the vast material of their dresses they appear as a beautiful kaleidoscope of butterflies beating their wings in synchronicity.
It would have been easy to be overshadowed by the wonderful costumes, but the personalities of the dancers shone through just as strong. The women do not walk – they sashay. The men are ever daring in their routines, introducing blindfolds and bottles of Tequila to spice up an already electric atmosphere. Whilst there is little physical contact between the dancers, many dances are done in partnerships and almost always at a quick tempo, dancing faster and faster, building to a crescendo of colourful, choreographed chaos.
At the beginning of the night we were promised ‘a night full of flavour, full of colour, full of Mexico’ and Ballet Folclórico undoubtedly delivered just that.