Top o’ the Heap

Terms like “cultural ambassadors” or “flagship arts organizations” are used on a state or national level to describe top performing arts groups, and those who also commonly represent their regions to others via tours as well as broadcasts or recordings. In my current home state of Utah, those monikers are rightfully ascribed to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony.

In México, there is no shortage of orchestras that record and tour, both nationally and internationally. Here in México City, the National Symphony and the México City Philharmonic have a long history of both activities.

Intriguingly however, México’s top cultural ambassador is neither a symphony orchestra nor any classical ensemble. This country’s flagship arts organization, both in how it’s regarded at home as well as in its broad international name recognition is, unquestionably, Mexico’s beloved Ballet Folklorico de México.

Click photo to enjoy this brief sample

Founded by dancer/choreographer Amalia Hernández in 1952 as a troupe of only eight dancers (including Hernández), by the sixties this group had already toured abroad extensively, in addition to commanding a strong domestic and international TV presence with a troupe that had grown to over seventy.

Amalia Hernández, as dancer/choreographer and later as choreographer/Artistic Director

Trained in classical ballet, flamenco as well as both American and Mexican modern dance, Hernández weaved aspects of these disciplines into the training of her dancers and injected the moves and forms of all these styles into her choreographies of folkloric Méxican and Spanish dances, including her vision of those from early Mesoamérica.

Today, in addition to its separate international touring company, the Ballet Folklórico de México has, since 1959, held a permanent place at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), offering three performances weekly at downtown Mexico City’s foremost stage for the arts.

A word about the Palacio is also in order here. Begun in 1904 with an exterior designed in a combination of Neoclassic AND Art Nouveau style, construction on the multi-purpose concert hall was agonizingly slow over the next decade. This was owing to a number of factors, not the least of which was the political and economic instability that would lead to the Mexican Revolution. Full hostilities completely suspended construction of the hall, and the building ended up sitting unfinished for about twenty years, during which time the original architect gave up and returned home to Italy. In 1932, construction resumed under a local architect who completed the interior in 1934 but in the modern Art Deco style of the day.

Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts

With a seating capacity of 1,936 Bellas Artes houses not only the Folklorico, but also the National Symphony, the Chamber Orchestra of Bellas Artes and the México City Opera. Additionally, its walls also house two museums: one for art and one for architecture.

Bellas Artes Art Museum

The Ballet Folklorico was the first show Shirley and I attended since we ‘burst on the scene’ here last week. We chose it first because she’d been dying to see it ever since I shared some YouTube Folklorico videos with her a couple of years back. And I’d been dying to take her to one, as well. So, in tomorrow’s installment entitled, “Shirley y Jorge van al Ballet,” I’ll talk about the show and of our experience there.


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