GALA WEEKEND @ WINCHESTER
By: Hal de Becker
An international display of talent from ‘south of the border’ and the Horn of Africa was presented recently in two separate programs at Winchester Cultural Center.
Ballet Folklorico Mixteco and Izel Ballet Folklorico joined forces to pay tribute to Mexico’s different states with dances ranging from typical and traditional to Ranchero and popular.
Fendika, a six person music, song and dance troupe from Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, took its name from that city’s leading musical night club where the group had its start. It has since become one of North Africa’s most popular performing attractions.
The troupe now tours widely in the USA and elsewhere, and has received rave reviews from numerous publications including the New York Times.
Their instrumentation consisted of an amazingly agile one stringed fiddle, bowed with a short curved stick; drums; a harp-like lyre; hand clapping; and unique vocals. I was informed that the latter, sung in one or more of the 80 languages used in Ethiopia, are usually extemporaneous comments on national pride, local news and gossip, and, of course, love.
Costuming included cassocks, knee length shirts, scarves, dresses and robes in vivid red, gold, purple and other colors. Many were elaborately embroidered and decorated. The fabrics, ranging from delicate cottons to rugged wools were a further link to the culture of the troupe’s homeland.
The dancers’ movements involved shaking and quivering, torso contractions, hopping and isolated control of heads, hands, hips and shoulders, all executed rhythmically and with unusual speed.
Some of the moves clearly represented courtship, love and flirtation. But I had the impression that others, such as flapping arms bent at the elbows and certain jumps and turns depicted birds and animals.
Ethiopia had been invaded shortly before World War II by Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who authorized the use of poison gas. Fendika’s vibrant, joyous artists reflected the spirit of their country which has risen from the ashes of that cruel event.
The two Mexican ensembles comprised about 50 dancers, evenly divided between men and women, including a charming group of 10 children. Everyone was good looking, skilled and committed, and their happy, smiling faces a delight to behold.
Although the dances might be described as ‘folk’ or ‘national’ the choreography was not rudimentary. It was intricate and creative and the artists performed it with professional polish and unity.
Most of the numbers were choreographed for two groups, each consisting of ten gentlemen and ladies, and usually began with one group or the other. Soon all 20 dancers would be gathered together moving in varied patterns of interlacing lines and circles until joining as couples they’d whirl gracefully in each other’s arms.
In one dance a man spun out of his long red cummerbund, laid it along the floor and, with his partner, danced on, over and around it. Using only their dancing feet they eventually tied it into a large bow knot.
The entire troupe displayed strong foot work that frequently rivaled in speed and sound the zapateado of good Flamenco dancers. Sometimes the male and female groups seemed to be conversing with each other in alternating passages of rhythmic heels and toes.
Costuming was dazzling, especially for the ladies. Their sparkling, swirling dresses, some completely layered with multi-colored sequins, were a technicolor feast for the eyes. Exotic Aztec-like designs adorned some of them.
The men’s ranged from jeans and shirts to colorful sarapes and dramatic all black and all white outfits. They wore beautiful, high quality sombreros and when those were thrown to the floor for the customary Mexican Hat Dance I was relieved that none got stepped on considering what they must have cost.
The backdrop was constructed of red, white and green draperies matching the Mexican flag. Music was recorded and maintained at a pleasant volume; lighting was outstanding and, with the exception of a brief power failure, the show was technically smooth - as it always is at Winchester.