Review: Ballet Folklórico de México - London Coliseum

Performance: 22 - 25 July 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Friday 24 July 2015

© Ballet Folkloricko De Mexico De Amalia Hernandez

Performance reviewed: 22 July

Think of a touristic cliché – pretty much any touristic cliché – of Mexico and it almost certainly appears somewhere in Ballet Folklórico de México’s dazzlingly slick show. The company founded by Amalia Hernandez back in the 1950s is a repository for the country’s rich array of folk dances, which are then turbo-charged for maximum theatrical entertainment. And this is undeniably beguiling stuff, a joyous celebration of Mexico’s melting-pot culture that showcases everything from aboriginal hunting ritual to dances which mash-up courtly European tradition with pre-Columbian oomph to full-on carnival.
The stage is frequently flooded with perfectly drilled dancers, almost martial in their elegantly filed ranks, wearing increasingly spectacular costumes. The Mexican love of outrageous colour is certainly represented here from the get-go: the regalia for the northern Los Matachines dance, for instance, consists of huge floral headdresses, beaded skirts and lime and electric pink tights for all.

Revolución is a nod to history, when dapper, dastardly aristocrats dancing round a ballroom (you can tell they are dastardly because one knocks off a poor musician’s Speedy Gonzalez-sized sombrero) are smoothly replaced by revolutionaries sporting open shirts and bandoliers. Viva La Revolución! Then we’re quickly whisked off to an impressive display of lasso skills, accompanied by women in full-on Frida Kahlo outfits dancing charmingly with whirling skirts.

The first half ends with a riotous fiesta, complete with oversized Mardi Gras-style costumes with giant papier-mâché heads, coyly cavorting couples demonstrating thunderous footwork with tap/flamenco undertones, and the on-stage musicians – including two outstanding harpists – getting their moment to shine. They even play La Bamba. As the beaming dancers spill into the audience, it’s hard to think of a better advertisement for this troubled country.

And yet… in the second half you do start to yearn for something which is not simply superbly crafted spectacle. The opening Dance Of The Quetzales is an arresting display, where dancers have to negotiate the stage wearing two-metre-wide, multi-coloured, cockerel-like headdresses. It looks astonishing – but it also looks like a culturally loaded indigenous dance sanitized for a theatrical audience. So too, maybe more problematically, does the aboriginal Yaqui people’s Dance Of The Deer.

But hey, perhaps there is no way to represent these dances on a traditional proscenium stage which doesn’t gloss over their deeper meaning. And the hard-working musicians – now transformed into cheerfully stereotypical mariachis as the dancers spin, stamp, smile and throw streamers – present a glorious, quibble-squashing blast of tightly woven violin, guitar, bass, trumpet and harp that practically drowns out their own singing. This is intended as feel-good fun and so it remains.

Continues at London Coliseum til Sat 25 July

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

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