The Folkloric Ballet of Mexico celebrates the 100th birthday anniversary of their founder, Amalia Hernandez. Photo: Alejandra Leyva/EL UNIVERSAL

Dancers, the soul of the Folkloric Ballet of Mexico

Alida Piñón
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Members of the company tell their stories and celebrate the birthday anniversary of their founder

The Folkloric Ballet of Mexico celebrated this year the 100th birthday anniversary of their founder, Amalia Hernández. They have had several performances across all the stages of Mexico City, toured across the Mexican Republic and overseas; they remodeled their main studio and the directors have spared no expense in writing books and planning conferences and round table talks. Yet behind all the celebrations are the dancers, the main axis of the company.

Three senior members and three of the newest members talk about their lives in the group, of the tours, of how hard it is to maintain a relationship with 100 people; and they reflect on what it means to dance for this company, the repertoire, the injuries, and the professional demands.

Stage experience. Juan José Pérez is one of the senior dancers of the Folkloric Ballet of Mexico, having spent 27 years with the company, he is one of the few members who met Amalia Hernández, whose 100th birthday anniversary will be celebrated next September 19.

His presence commands respect during rehearsals. His work, according to him, is to preserve the essence of the choreographer.

“She knew exactly what she wanted from her choreographies, from the aesthetic of her dancers and from their formation. We haven't lost this essence and I make sure it's still there. I remember her discipline, her energy; sometimes you feel you're missing the mark, but she would keep you going until you gave what she expected from you. I was grateful to her because her demands made you dance just as she wanted you to. Amalia taught me how to love my country, how to be proud of it, and show the beauty of Mexico through its dances, colors, and music. Those who come to Mexico and don't see a performance of the Folkloric Ballet are missing a huge part of our culture,” says Juan José.

José Alonso Rosales, an American, is one of the youngest members, being part of the company for the last three years. He agrees with Juan José, though. “I studied in the United States and then decided to come to Mexico just for one year, but I discovered how beautiful it was. This experience made me come in contact again with my culture because in a way it had faded away. Dancing here helped me find who I am.”

Gustavo Lemus, like the rest members of the Ballet, became part of the company through an audition. He was first part of an experimental group, with whom they all begin to become familiar with the repertoire and training; the next step is to become part of the company and join one of the two groups: the one that goes on national tours and shows at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), and the international tour group.

The groups are large. With more than 60 dancers on the stage, it's hard to stand out. However, Gustavo says it's possible to bring your personality to each show. “There are rough days, so you need to try harder for people to be able to see that you're also part of the choreography; you always have to be a professional and feel passionate about your work.”

Raquel Vargas joined the company seven years ago. She saw the company perform for the first time in her city of Torreón and she was blown away. “I fell in love with the Ballet, and I wanted to become a part of all that. That's why I came here to audition. The first time it felt real to me was when I saw my first rehearsal. This was a professional company. Then, when I saw the reception of the people. I mean, I knew they danced in Bellas Artes, that they went on international tours, but it wasn't until I was on tour with them that I saw how much the audience loved the show and the folklore,” she says.

The Folkloric Ballet of Mexico has visited 300 cities in 60 countries, including the United Kingdom, Chile, Russia, and Argentina. Their tours usually last two months. They all agree traveling is always exciting and will challenge them to overcome unexpected events, but it will also require them time and distance from their families, and patience to live with a large group that can be very competitive.

“We were all set in Peru, but our belongings hadn't arrived and we were one hour away from starting the show; our stuff finally made it, 10 minutes before the performance and we all began to fight for the costumes and to distribute the accessories. We almost never do that, but it turned out to be a great performance. There was also a time when a teammate needed a hat and he couldn't find his, so I let him borrow mine because I had 30 seconds more to look for another. But I couldn't find one, so I went on stage without a hat and I got a fine. These things aren't supposed to happen. Healthy or unhealthy competition exists sometimes, but what really matters is to get things done,” remembers Gustavo.

Ale García, who has been with the company for nine years, also confirms the company can be quite demanding. “You have to divide yourself between the Ballet, rehearsals, performances and your social life, but I think it's a great experience for all to be part of this,” she says.

Another of the most complicated issues, according to Pamela Fuentes, is injuries. “A year ago I injured myself, and that is the worst that can happen to a dancer. Dancing is our life, we leave 99% of what we are here and the other 1% we divide between the rest. Being a dancer is a relatively short career, but what fulfills us is just that. Last year we had a season at the Chapultepec Castle, I gave a wrong spin and tore my calf. I had to spend six months in physical rehab to get ready to return. A dancer is constantly thinking about retirement, you even prepare for the day you'll give your last performance, but when you suffer an injury your whole life changes.”

Dancers had a very different training when Amalia Hernández founded the company; new members had classes of contemporary dance, jazz, classic dances and even flamenco to achieve an aesthetic posture on stage. According to Perez, there are prehispanic choreographies which require a lot of training to be performed. Others, however, are emblematic and performing in them is not only a promotion for a dancer but also, an opportunity to stand out on the stage.


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