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Ballet Nepantla’s “Valentina” an Entertaining Tale of Love and War

by Bonnie Rosenstock
April 13, 2019
The 14th Street Y Theater
344 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
212-780-0800
“Nepantla” is a Nahuatl word derived from the indigenous people of Mexico, which means “in-between-ness,” or “in the middle of.” The NYC-based Ballet Nepantla, co-founded in 2017 by Artistic Director Andrea Guajardo, a Mexican-American Texas native, who trained in classical ballet and contemporary dance, and Mexican-born Associate Director Martín Rodríguez, who has a traditional Mexican folkloric background, brings together these dance genres in order to express the historical, cultural and social realities of these in-between spaces: being Mexican, Mexican-American, immigrant and trans-cultural. The 90-minute “Valentina” (April 10-14), which the two choreographed, was performed by the accomplished ensemble of predominately Mexican-born and Mexican-American dancers. It recounts the remarkable tale of Mexican women, who through loss, struggle and courage, significantly contributed to the Mexican Revolution (1910 onwards) that helped topple the 31-year dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

Act I opens with a scene of the upper-class, garbed in all their finery, dancing elegant polkas and sweeping waltzes to lively Mexican music. The four pairs of dancers are terrific, as they swirl and turn, the men skillfully lifting their partners. Two women on pointe enter and perform a charming, animated ballet sequence, which includes flirting with the men. The scene segues into a dance of contrast, the barefoot poor, with a trio of women sending off their men, who are joining the revolutionary forces. This is followed by a slow, touching duet of sadness and good-byes, featuring soft, flowy lifts. The inevitable happens, as portrayed in a fast-paced mourning sequence. Three women, dressed all in black, dance in circles, swirl, posture, fall on their knees, deftly rotate, as they pass around a red neckerchief, which represents the fallen. Four men, sporting fringed jackets and wide-brimmed hats, have the next episode, executing an outstanding rapid tapping dance. As a special treat, one of the company members performs a show-stopping lariat exhibition, with an ever-expanding loop into which he deftly taps dances.

In Act II, as news of death arrives, women leave their washing and take up rifles in a terrific, well-synchronized dance with them. A gunshot rings out in the fade to blackout. The women return wearing large straw sombreros, red blouses, peasant skirts with layers and bandoleers (cross-bullet belts) across their chests, a well-known image in Mexican history.

Indeed, the soldaderas (or Adelitas) played not only traditional roles as nurses or wives, following their husbands to the camps, but also took up arms. There are dance sections honoring Las Adelitas, Juana Gallo and Coronelas, women who achieved officer status and often led troops into battle. The graceful, fluid dance scene paying homage to the legendary Juana Gallo (in real life, she was quite masculine and unpleasant) is in keeping with her place as a popular figure in Mexican folklore even though history argues she had nothing to do with the Revolution.

To tell the full story of women’s roles in the revolution, however, it might have been interesting if the production had depicted the soldaderas who dressed in male clothing and took male names in order to protect themselves against sexual violence and denigration. Tragically, revolutionary general Pancho Villa executed nearly 100 of these by-necessity cross-dressing soldaderas. Despite this atrocity, one well-known honored fighter, famous for blowing up bridges, continued to live as a man after the war, possibly the first Latin American transgender person.

The title for the rousing finale, “Yo Me Muero Donde Quiera” (“I Will Die Where I Want ”), sums it up that no matter where you come from, live your life in honor and pride. Ballet Nepantla delivered an entertaining, well-put-together dance-theater experience, with an important history lesson for extra credit.
'Valentina.'

"Valentina."

Photo © & courtesy of Eddy Fernandez

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