Arriving at the nearly sold-out Soraya to see “NOCHEBUENA: A Christmas Spectacular,” it was apparent that this was a happy event as families gathered in the courtyard to watch CSUN’S own fledgling folkloric company perform or made their way into the lobby to grab a homemade tamale or two before the 3:00 show. With California’s deep roots in Mexico, this was not just a wonderfully fun show but also a cultural event. Inside, the theater was decorated with Christmas trees and holiday lights adding to the anticipation, especially for the many children in attendance.
“NOCHEBUENA” is a collaboration of Mariachi Garibaldi de Jamie Cuéllar and Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles under the Artistic Direction of Kareli Montoya. This could not be a happier marriage of style, content and history. Director/Choreographer Montoya, along with fellow Choreographer Ignacio Sánchez Verduzco, has seamlessly woven together a concert that moves effortlessly through fourteen short segments showcasing the unique styles of the many regions of Mexico.
The curtain opened to reveal the eleven Mariachis on an upstage platform impressively clad in the traditional black with silver charro suits and sombreros, backed by a simple stone wall set piece. When the lights hit the stage, we were off and running with an “upbeat Posada medley” that brought the audience to delighted attention as they joined in singing the familiar songs. This was just the beginning of medley after medley of regional tunes. The red, white and green costumes worn in the opening by the female dancers are the colors of the Mexican flag and luckily, they were also the perfect complement to this holiday season.
The Northern area of Mexico noted for its Polkas, brought us favorite Christmas songs including “Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride” and “The Nutcracker,” all done “Mariachi style.” These Polkas with their complex patterns and constantly moving feet, along with the swirling skirts of the women and the smart cowboy suits of the men, has much in common with American square dancing and other traditional dances from around the world. Every piece in this segment had something uniquely interesting to offer Including the “Nuestra Virgin” a parading dance dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The expert musicians, led by Jimmy Cuéllar, often took the stage to showcase their exceptional abilities both as players and top-notch singers. When not featured they accompanied the dancers with verve and well-practiced abandon and performed tirelessly throughout the two-hour show.
Each piece was performed joyfully and with effortless ease allowing the audience to relax and have fun and they did. “Retabla Purépecha,” a comedic dance from Michoacan brought a lot of laughter from adults and children alike. The all-male cast wears peasant costumes “old man” masks, and long white hair attached to their hats. Wielding canes they dance as if their backs and knees are about to give out as they stagger through the amusing choreography. In spite of their “old man” infirmities this is a tightly put together vigorous dance full of fun and intricate rhythms. “Old” though they may be they can still spot a pretty girl and try to flirt with her even if it leaves them in an exhausted heap.
This was the perfect upbeat lead into the intermission.
On our return, the Mariachis, now dressed in pristine white suits, start us off with a lovely “Blanca Navidad” or “White Christmas.” This settles the audience and sets us on our way for another terrific sequence of music and dance. As the musicians’ zip into a familiar Mariachi tune the female dancers, in gorgeous full white and turquoise dresses, swirl and sway creating a mesmerizing ocean of fabric waves. Eventually joined by the slickly dressed men this made for a lovely Act Two opener.
More exceptional dance, music and song followed including a knife dance, a pinata party and a trick roper. Each segment was well thought out beautifully staged, fun and educational for those who are just learning about the intriguing traditions behind each piece. One can understand why Ms. Montoya with her deep knowledge of regional dances, was tapped to work on the 2018 Academy Awards for Disney’s presentation of Pixar’s “Coco.” This is only one of the many outstanding special events on which Ms. Montoya has been asked to consult.
I would be remiss if I did not single out the incredible beauty and workmanship of the costumes designed and crafted by Karla Osuna and Teresa Fletes the mother and grandmother of Director Kareli Montoya. Spectacular hardly covers what Ms. Osuna and Ms. Fletes have accomplished with beadwork, embroidery, fabric, jewelry, hair decor and more. Ms. Osuna also designed all the accessories and props. Their attention to detail and eye for vibrant color help to create a show that is not only full of excellent dancing and music but is also breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps Ms. Montoya might ask these ladies to design the set too!
The show itself could be edited for time and would benefit from a sleeker ending but these are small considerations. I highly recommend that the next time “NOCHEBUENA” is in your vicinity go see them, you will be happy you did.
The Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles Company Dancers; Mileena Contreras, Cynthya Contreras, Alexis Alcaraz, Leszly Gómez, Kianna Ruiz, Nelly Bravo, Isabella Pulido, Ashley Magaña, Litzy Plata, Aleyda Arreola, Lizbeth Soria, Noelani Luna, Sophia Alvarado, Isabella Bonte, Lizet Ceballos, Elaina Henry, Isidro Hurtado, Andrew Gutierrez, Emilio Torres, Gilbert Saldívar, Julián Vélez, Pablo Alejo, Sebastián Tejeda, Evan López and Gerardo Lugo.
Mariachi Garibaldi De Jaime Cuéllar; Jimmy Cuéllar Director/Violin Gustavo Hernandez-Guitar, Jason Franco-Vihuela, Albert Jimenez-Guitarron, Richard Ramos-Trumpet, Aaron Holguin- trumpet, Maria Valenzuela-Trumpet, Ernesto Lazaro-Violin, Mizael Peña-Violin, Diego Garcia-Violin, Yesenia Lopez-Violin.
To learn more about Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles, please visit their website.
To learn more about Mariachi Garibaldi de Jamie Cuéllar, please visit their website.
To read more about The Soraya, please visit their website.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles and Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar perform in “NOCHEBUENA: A Christmas Spectacular” – Photo by Luis Luque, Luque Photography.