Outdoors at the Ford Theater was the perfect venue for the 20th Anniversary of the Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company (GMFBC). It was a lovely evening to celebrate all that they have done, come through, and are. The “culmination of 20 years of hard work, dedication, and love” showed through every dance, every costume, every headdress, and every performer throughout the evening. The Ford was sold out and rightly so for this festive event. 20 years is a long time for a dance company, let alone a Folk dance company to be producing, choreographing, and delivering even unto the pandemic and onward with no signs of slowing down anytime soon – thank goodness.

There is something about Folk Dance that is timeless. Having performed with Russian, Ukrainian, Israeli and Yemenite Folk Dance companies, I can testify first-hand to the ancient rhythms and scenarios that they entail. The first Hominid hand sprayed onto the cave face in East Africa was an act of creation for its’ own sake. The same with the first foot stomping around a fire. It is what we do to celebrate, to honor, to recall, to grieve, and to communicate. There are past echoes in flamenco, tap, clogging, country line dancing, all the way around the world to the Māori’s Haka dance.

20 años de Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company at the Ford - Photo by Javier Maldonado Valle

20 años de Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company at the Ford – Photo by Javier Maldonado Valle.

Folk Dance reawakens that unbroken line all the way back to our ancestors, ALL of our ancestors depending on how far back you wish to go, and there, is someone related to us dancing, stomping, weaving, praying for the rain, for the crops, for the unborn child, for the fever to pass, for the prayer answered. Grandeza Mexicana delivered their ancestral line through their form of folk dance and more. Artistic Director and Founder Jose Vences had a small army to thank in the program, then watching the show and retrospective it was clear why. It takes many hands to make a show of that size and scale work. It was grand, it was spectacular, it was colossal! And I am very frugal with exclamation points.

The opening of the show was a tribute to the many incarnations of Dia de los Muertos that have evolved over the years. There were new ideas intermixed with the more ancient traditions of the Aztecs and Olmecs in the pre-Hispanic cultures of Mexico. The stage was set with huge skulls on each side and a massive altar honoring those who have gone before, upstage center with flowers, photos and candles. To commanding music the lone figure of Death comes out and stands center ready to emcee the proceedings for the first act.

An Aztec Emperor and his Empress are ensconced in a ‘Death and the Maiden’ scenario and even the Aztec Gods cannot help him save her from death. This is an ancient story of love lost and perhaps one of the most human.

20 años de Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company at the Ford - Photo by Javier Maldonado Valle.

20 años de Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company at the Ford – Photo by Javier Maldonado Valle.

The costumes for this show are on another level entirely than what one normally sees in the theater. They would give Liberace, Elvis, and Elton John a run for their money. The costumes for the Gods are extravagantly detailed with massive headdresses and bright colors. The costumes for the Emperor and Empress could have been worn by the real personages with no lowering of their character or status. Also, the Monarch Butterfly costumes with the skeleton bones deserve a mention. The wardrobe and prop team of Benny Vazquez, Graciela Pantoja, Catalina Villamil, Efrain Orozco and Ubaldo Lazarin all deserve Academy Awards for the detail, movement quality, and myriad design elements that went into every single costume with sometimes as many as twenty people onstage all decked out to the merest detail of earrings and hair, hats and boots.

Props were another important element of the show and the same team delivered these in the form of scarves, kerchiefs and fans, all expertly handled by the performers while dancing intricately detailed steps and partnering. Grandeza Mexicana is truly a Ballet Company in that the lines, unison movement, and angles of each head, neck and leg are every bit as precise and impactful as the Kirov doing ‘La Bayadere.’ At least as much work and attention to detail has gone into it.

In a couple of the numbers in the first act a female played the lead Death character, the Death Goddess Mictécacihuátl, and they were fantastic. Lending a whole new subtlety to the role, the women in their voluminous skirts delivered fabulous images of Death at work.

The second act was a retrospective of Grandeza Mexicana’s work over its’ twenty-year history. Featured were pieces by collaborators and guest choreographers as well as a tribute to the Ballet Folklorico de Amalia Hernandez.

20 años de Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company at the Ford - Photo by Javier Maldonado Valle.

20 años de Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company at the Ford – Photo by Javier Maldonado Valle.

Live music was supplied by Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando in conjunction with the Mariachi Master Apprentice Program (MMAP) of the city of San Fernando. Founded by Nati Cano it is under the musical direction of Jesús “Chuy” Guzmán and assistant instructors Sergio Alonso, Mario Hernandez, and Ernesto Lazaro. They unite world class Mariachi Masters with community youth who are ready to advance their skills. These Mariachi musicians were phenomenal and set the Ford on fire with their songs. Special mention to the two female singers whose voices were incredibly rich and throaty, deeply resonant, and blew the walls off the Ford with their phrasing and power. I’m sorry that they were not specifically listed in the program.

It was a celebration of the past 20 years for this company and the next 20 are undoubtedly assured by the sold-out house, the energetic response from the audience, the incredible capability of the performers, the layers of hard work and rehearsals, the criteria of professionalism observed, and the sheer joy at being able to show their heritage. We were all made richer for it. Congratulations!

Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company performs next in Scottsdale, Arizona on Saturday, October 28th: https://scottsdaleperformingarts.org/event/scottsdale-dia-de-los-muertos/


For more information about the Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company, please visit their website.

To see the full 2023/2024 season lineup at The Ford, please visit their website.

Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company – Dancers: Cristina Romero (Death) and Alexia Espinoza (Princess) – Photo by Luis Gonzalez