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Journal of American Drama & Theatre

Volume

Issue

35

2

México (Expropriated): Reappropriation and Rechoreography of Ballet Folklórico

Jessica L. Peña Torres

By

Published on 

May 9, 2023

References

[i] “Audiciones,” Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández, Accessed November 22, 2018. http://balletfolkloricodemexico.com.mx.

[ii] TheCharlieRoll, “Amalia Hernández y el Ballet Folklórico de México – Entrevista y Documental de 1992,” YouTube, October 26, 2017, video, http://youtube.com/watch?v=hOPBBPR-G5Y

[iii] My master’s thesis “México (expropriated): Appropriation, Representation, and Rechoreography of Ballet Folklórico,” which I authored in the Spring 2020 to graduate from the Performance as Public Practice program at the University of Texas at Austin, explored the ballet folklórico dance form in imagining lo mexicano by focusing on Ballet Folklórico de México, Mexico’s leading and most influential company. I argued that BFM has helped the state and the social elite shape an exoticized Mexico for the consumption of foreigners and tourists, and has, within Mexico, offered a problematic embodiment of mexicanidad that reflects racial, nationalistic, class, and gender biases. In addition, I considered Hernández flawed ethnographic methodology which included appropriating and stylizing folk dances through the infusion of ballet and modern dance techniques. The company presents these dances as “authentic” to its paying audiences, and does not offer any reciprocity, support, or acknowledgment to the communities from which Hernández “borrowed” these dances. In addition, her legacy has and continues to permeate many dance companies who imitate BFM’s dances, inadvertently reproducing a colonialist model of exoticization and cultural theft.

[iv] Very much inspired by Astrid Hadad’s 2019 performance of Hecha in Mexico, I developed México (expropriated) to satirize stereotypical notions of mexicanidad as imagined by Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike. Like Hadad, I aim to make a feminist intervention in national discourses of mexicanidad as developed in the postrevolutionary period.

[v] As Nelson explains, in PaR methodology the doing becomes the knowing. In other words, by dancing, choreographing, writing, and performing México (expropriated), I am both researching and providing evidence of my research inquiry. As Midgelow suggests, a PaR approach allows artist/scholars to explore the process of creating work as just as significant as the performance of that work before a live audience.

[vi] José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). [vii] Muñoz, “Disidentifications,” 5.

[viii] Muñoz, “Disidentifications,” 11.

[ix] In Chapter 5 “La Moda Mexicana: Exotic Women,” of Imagining la Chica Moderna : Women, Nation, and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1917-1936 (2008) Joanne Hershfield explores the concept of mexicanidad, the state’s attempt to construct a national identity at the beginning of the 20th century. Exploiting the richness of indigenous cultures, she argues that intellectuals and politicians forged an “authentic” image of Mexico, the “domestic exotic,” rooted in stereotypes of indigenous communities, which the nation then used for capitalist consumption.

[x] Muñoz, “Disidentifications,” 11.

[xi] I am influenced by my advisor and Professor Rebecca Rossen, whose book, Dancing Jewish (2014), includes three sections that describe an auto-ethnographic dance project for which she asked two of her subjects to make her a “Jewish” dance. Similarly, in México (expropriated), I explore notions of mexicanidad, as I actively think over the question “what is it to dance Mexican?” Moreover, in Dancing Jewish, Rossen argues that Jewish choreographers negotiate ethnicity and gender in tandem, while challenging “traditional models for femininity (or masculinity); advance social and political agendas; and imagine radical new possibilities for themselves as individuals, artists, and Jews.” Similarly, I argue that mexicanidad is a construction of hegemonic images that contain complex syntheses of gender, ethnicity, nationality, race, and class. Through the process of creating and performing this work, we have been able to imagine new possibilities to stage mexicanidad.

[xii] An important change from the filmed to the staged version is that we increased the number of roles from six to eight. For the filmed version, there were six performers including Venese Alcantar (“Veni”), David Cruz (“David”), Marina DeYoe-Pedraza (“Mari”), Jesus Valles (“EMCEE”), Erica Saucedo (“Eri”), and myself (“Pari”). For the staged version, we created three new characters, which featured Mexico City-based performers: José David Carrera Piñón (“Sebastian”), Miriam Garma (“Lola”), Daniel Losoya (”Narrador”), Ileana Manzur (“Veni” became “Vanessa”), Roberto Mosqueda (“David”), Samantha Romero (“Erica”), Andrea Rubí (“Mary”), and myself (“Pari” became “Petra”). Lastly, for the Mexico City live performance I was able to expand the creative team, which included costume designer Edurne Fernández, technical director Pedro Pazarán, and scenic designer Gisselle Gómez Rivera. Composer James Parker created the score for both versions. Another big change from film to stage was the narrative structure of the piece. The filmed version consisted of five separate viñetas (vignettes) following an episodic narrative form. Although the characters appeared through the different scenes, there was no unifying narrative between each separate viñeta. For the Spanish-only/staged adaptation, I worked with filmmaker and screenwriter Nina Chávez Góngora to re-develop the script for the staged version, which read more like a play with numerous dance pieces, often interrupted by the EMCEE, “Narrador.” Adapting the piece to include a unifying narrative throughout gave audiences a stronger chance to connect with the characters, which in turn led to a more effective way to communicate our critique.

[xiii] Cashion, quoted in Lawrence Alan Trujillo, The Spanish Influence On the Mexican Folkdance of Yucatán, Veracruz, And Jalisco, Mexico. (Denver: Dart Publications, 1974), 55.

[xiv] Lawrence Alan Trujillo, The Spanish Influence On the Mexican Folkdance of Yucatán, Veracruz, And Jalisco, Mexico. (Denver: Dart Publications, 1974), 58.

[xv] Sydney Hutchinson, “The Ballet Folklórico de México and the Construction of the Mexican                  Nation through Dance,” in Dancing Across Borders: Danzas y Bailes Mexicanos.                               (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 209.

[xvi], María del Carmen Vázquez Mantecón, “La China Mexicana, Mejor Conocida Como China Poblana,” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas 22, no. 77 (2000): 124.

[xvii] Gabriela Mendoza-García, “The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico,” in The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity, edited by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 319.

[xviii] Olga Nájera Ramírez, “Engendering Nationalism: Identity, Discourse, and the Mexican Charro,Anthropological Quarterly 67, no. 1 (1994): 4.

[xix] Nájera Ramírez, “Engendering Nationalism,” 7.Bibliography“Audiciones.” Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández. Accessed November 22, 2018. http://balletfolkloricodemexico.com.mx. Hershfield, Joanne. 

Imagining La Chica Moderna Women, Nation, and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1917-1936. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. Hutchinson, Sydney.

“The Ballet Folklórico de México and the Construction of the Mexican Nation through Dance.” In Dancing Across Borders: Danzas y Bailes Mexicanos, edited by Olga Nájera-Ramírez, Norma E. Cantú, and Brenda M. Romero. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Mendoza.García, Gabriela.

“The Jarabe Tapatío: Imagining Race, Nation, Class, and Gender in 1920s Mexico.” In The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity, edited by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young, 319-343 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Midgelow, Vida. Practice-as-Research. United Kingdom: 2018.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Nájera Ramírez, Olga.

“Engendering Nationalism: Identity, Discourse, and the Mexican Charro.” Anthropological Quarterly 67, no. 1, (1994): 1-14. Nelson, Robin. Practice as Research in the Arts : Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances / Written and Edited by Robin Nelson, Director of Research, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, UK. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Peña Torres, Jessica. “México (expropriated): Appropriation, Representation and Re- Choreography of Ballet Folklórico.” Austin: University of Texas at Austin, 2020.

Rossen, Rebecca. Dancing Jewish: Jewish Identity in American Modern and Postmodern Dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

TheCharlieRoll. “Amalia Hernández y el Ballet Folklórico de México – Entrevista y Documental de 1992.” YouTube. October 26, 2017. Video. http://youtube.com/watch?v=hOPBBPR-G5Y. Trujillo, Lawrence Alan.

The Spanish Influence On the Mexican Folkdance of Yucatán, Veracruz, And Jalisco, Mexico. Denver: Dart Publications, 1974. Vázquez Mantecón, María del Carmen.

“La China Mexicana, Mejor Conocida Como China Poblana.” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas 22, no. 77, (2000): 123-150.

About The Authors

Jessica L. Peña Torres (she/her) is a dance/theatre artist and emerging scholar focused on Mexican identity and performance. She graduated from The University of Texas—Pan American with a B.A. in Dance and Theatre and from the University of Texas at Austin with an M.A. in Performance as Public Practice, where she is now pursuing a Ph.D. At UT Austin, Peña Torres continues to study the intersection between nationalism and the performing arts in postrevolutionary Mexico. With her company, Coctel Explosivo, Peña Torres produces dance-theatre works that explore this intersection.

JADT publishes thoughtful and innovative work by leading scholars on theatre, drama, and performance in the Americas – past and present. Provocative articles provide valuable insight and information on the heritage of American theatre, as well as its continuing contribution to world literature and the performing arts. Founded in 1989 and previously edited by Professors Vera Mowry Roberts, Jane Bowers, and David Savran, this widely acclaimed peer reviewed journal is now edited by Dr. Benjamin Gillespie and Dr. Bess Rowen.

Journal of American Drama and Theatre is a publication of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center.

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