The Ford Amphitheatre has been the place this summer to see L.A.’s top Mexican folklorico dance companies and Mariachi musicians. During one recent weekend, Grandeza Mexicana Folk dance performed on one day and Las Colibri, Mariachi Garibaldi and Folklor Pasión Mexicana performed the very next day.
Coming up on Friday, Aug. 15, the San Fernando Valley-based Ballet Folklorico Ollin will perform.
Those that managed and perform in these groups are also a tight-knit circle of artists that not only have known each other for many years, but in many cases have also performed together. Each performance group has developed its own brand and particular performance style. Each has its own strong point of view on to answer the question, “What Mexican dance and music is in Los Angeles?”
It can also be a competitive scene, with each group feeling strongly about its artistic philosophy.
The style and approach embraced by Grandeza Mexicana, under the direction of Jose Vences, has a big stage presence with an emphasis on a more casual “folk” approach, compared to the one taken by Ballet Folklorico Ollin, under the direction of Virginia Diediker and Javier Verdin. That approach focuses on straight lines and elegance, never forgetting the word “ballet” is part of the folklorico dance form.
Las Colibri with Folklor Pasión Mexicana, an all-female mariachi and dance troupe, provides an informal intimate stage and adds a master of ceremonies — television personality Jose Ronstand, to interact with the audience. Colibri, under the direction of Susie Garcia, is a gentle sweet wind.
Grandeza’s approach on stage is fast paced, showcasing the large company with a constant flow of high energy that moves quickly from dance to dance. It appears to embrace a less structured approach, reminiscent of a casual setting of local residents gathering to dance in a Mexican plaza. A dancer can get out of step and lose a prop from time to time without much stress to the performance.
On the music side, there is a lot of cross-pollinating and local mariachi musicians have gone back and forth to perform with various folklorico groups. In fact, some of San Fernando’s students from Maricahi Tesoro recently performed on stage with Grandeza Mexicana.
“We actually think it’s a good thing,” said Javier Verdin, co-founder of Ballet Folklorico Ollin. “It all promotes Mexican dance and music, and allows the students to get even more experience of seeing the different approaches.”
Verdin, who describes himself as a “folklorista,” said there is still much to learn and discover about the origins and development of Mexican dance and music.
“It is not to be treated lightly, but at the same time we know that as each group literally puts their spin on it, it is still evolving.”
Verdin said from his point of view, what makes Ollin distinctive is that their dancers are put through a more rigorous training. “If you can dance with Ollin, you can dance anywhere,” he said.
Ollin is bringing the San Fernando Valley to the Ford with its show titled, “Retablos De Mexico: The Tradition Continues.” For this performance, a new generation of Ollin dancers will appear on the outdoor stage.
“That is what we mean about continuing the tradition; we are training a next generation of dancers and we want to give them the experience of performing to a large audience,” Verdin said.
Joining Ollin’s young dancers will be the equally young yet powerful Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando, the award-winning group that performed for Michele Obama at the White House.
They are part of the highly successful Mariachi Master Apprentice Program, based in the City of San Fernando. At this same performance, the Grammy Award-winning all-female, Mariachi Divas will perform along with the popular Hermanos Hererra.
The group made from a family of talented musicians are known to be able to play nearly every kind of musical genre and sprinkle every performance with a series of clever descriptions that relate to the music.
Tickets for the Ballet Folklorico Ollin “Retablos de Mexico” performance are available at FordTheatres.org or by calling (323) 461-3673 (for non-visual media 323-GO 1-FORD). To learn about discounts for groups of 8 or more, please call (323) 769-2147.
Purchase tickets by Aug. 8 and save $5 for General Admission tickets only.