Tag Archives: festival

Why the Ballet Folklórico de México captures Mexico perfectly

In a flash, the stage is bursting with almost forty Juans and Marías whirling about at a hundred miles an hour, hankies in hand, dressed in dazzling costumes of orange and yellow like a bowl of zesty citrus fruit come suddenly to life. The first five minutes leave you simultaneously exhausted and invigorated, and that in itself lets you know it’s going to be really really Mexican.

Amalia Hernández’s Ballet Folklórico de México visited the London Coliseum in July for the first time in over twenty years as a part of the programme of events for the Mexico-UK Dual Year 2015. Dance, music, parties and celebration form such an integral part of Mexican life, and have done since time immemorial, that it’s just the perfect way to capture the essence of Mexico in one intoxicating showcase.

The dances are Mexican, of course; a varied programme of beautifully choreographed pieces that give us a political as well as historical and geographic tour of Mexico. It’s important to appreciate the impressive amount of research, training and technical ability that goes into its production (the ballet has a permanent residency at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City as well as its internationally touring company). But the show from start to finish is just so much more: it encapsulates the vital elements of Mexican life, and, crucially, the feel of it. Essentially, it’s a complete education in Mexican spirit delivered in full volume, at breakneck speed.

One of the things I love most about Mexican culture is how inclusive it is, nowhere more evident than at the regular family fiestas where guests both young and old are trussed up in ridiculous party paraphernalia dancing alongside one another from dusk until dawn. Mexicans just really get stuck in and throw themselves into things without the stuffy self-awareness and stiff upper lip that’s so characteristic of the British. The Ballet Folklórico appeals to everyone, it’s just impossible not to get swept up in the vivacious energy that radiates from the stage. They’re having fun and they love what they do; it’s evident and contagious.

With an abundance of sombreros and criminally tight trousers, and enough elaborate stomping to get Michael Flatley toe-tapping, the show is hugely entertaining, a visual and aural delight. The performance, like the culture, is totally immersive, not just literally (when the company dances with the audience in the aisles), but emotionally, too. It’s cheeky and romantic, raucous and unapologetic. There are shouts of encouragement amongst compadres on the stage: “¡Eso!” and “¡Viva México!”, and streamers are thrown bountifully into the auditorium. Just the same as you’ll find when visiting Mexico, they don’t just want you to enjoy it, they want to you to share it: it’s an open invitation to empathise with their national pride – an honour indeed as it’s hugely cherished and was notably hard-won.

I can’t talk about the Ballet Folklórico without giving the musicians – the mariachi and jarochos (who belt out the tunes as well as mastering their handheld instruments) – the praise they deserve. The show is not only a dancing triumph but a musical extravaganza. And I’m pretty sure they’re the only nation who could fit two full-blown fiestas into a couple of hours. It’s no mean feat, and a thoroughly enjoyable one. When you’ve got a British audience in one of the UK’s most prestigious venues whooping and cheering on their feet, I think you can safely say you nailed it.

You’ve now missed the opportunity for a slice of fiesta with your afternoon tea (hopefully they won’t wait another twenty years), but, as if you needed an excuse to go to Mexico, the Ballet Folklórico is performed throughout the year at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and tours internationally.


This article was originally written for Mexico Retold.

Día de la Candelaría

My first Mexican celebration! February the 2nd: Día de la Candelaría. I had seen shops full of dolls in elaborate clothing and wondered what on earth they were, especially as towards the end of this week I saw people carrying them on the bus and tending to them as if they were real babies. But these were adults, what were they doing with these unusual dolls, stroking their faces and carrying them either in baskets or seated on chairs?! After discovering that Monday is a bank holiday here in Mexico called Día de la Candelaría I researched it on the internet and there popped up a vast array of images: niños Díos! It translates literally as God children but more acurately they are figures of baby Jesus. The dolls are traditionally laid into the Nativity scene in the home on Christmas Eve and then dressed in a new outfit and taken to church on the 2nd of February, the last day of the Christmas season, to be blessed. I didn’t take any photos because I was afraid of being perceived as some little gringa making a mockery of their customs, but it’s definitely worth googling if you’re intrigued.

The 2nd of February falls forty days after Christmas and is celebrated by Catholics as the feast of the purification of the Virgin. It is Jewish belief that a woman is unclean for forty days after giving birth, so it is thought that the baby Jesus would have been taken to a temple to be presented to priests on this day.  In Mexico, the religious origins of the festival have also been mixed with indigenous elements, and it is traditional to eat tamales at the celebrations. Tamales are a delicious Mexican food made with corn meal dough (like a dense sponge cake) that can be sweet or savoury, filled with pineapple, chicken, cheese, tomato or chilli. They are wrapped in sweetcorn sheath or banana leaves and steamed. ¡Muy ricos!

My Mexican family won’t be celebrating with their relatives until next weekend because my host mum is away at the minute, but my host dad took me to the Church of San Francisco today to see what was going on. The church was very busy with row upon row of Pueblans holding their niños Díos, waiting for Mass to begin. Most interesting, however, was the mummy of Friar Sebastian de Aparicio, encased in a very ornate silver…box?!  Born in 1502 in Galicia, he sailed to Mexico in 1533 and worked as a cattle herder. He soon realised the difficulty of transporting supplies across Mexico and conceived and promoted the idea of building roads from Puebla to Veracruz and an enormous highway from Zapatecas to Mexico. This of course had huge economic benefits for the communities involved. He also taught native people how to use ploughs, how to build wagons, and to domesticate horses and oxen. Consequently he became known as the ‘Angel of Mexico’. He continued to live a pious and modest life: in 1574 was accepted as a friar, and spent the next 26 years of his life travelling through the state of Puebla seeking food and alms for the friars and those they supported. He died from an entangled hernia at the grand old age of 98 and his body was beatified by the Catholic Church. He has since been residing at the San Francisco Church in Puebla. He is also a Patron Saint of Travellers, so I was happy to pay him a little visit!

So that was my first taste of Mexican festivities, and I’m looking forward to experiencing many more in my year here!