Fort Worth — The Latin Spectacular Festival kicks off this Friday at the Bass Performance Hall when Mariachi Los Camperos takes the stage with Dallas-based Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico. This is a return performance for Mariachi Los Camperos; the group appeared at the Bass Performance Hall during FWSO’s spring season this year.
The three-day festival, hosted by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, is held in honor of outgoing FWSO Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya. During his 20-year tenure as music director, Harth-Bedoya was instrumental in bringing Latin music and Latinx performers to the stage.
Friday night is the only performance that will not feature the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, but the decision to open the festival with a mariachi and ballet folklórico collaboration pays tribute to Harth-Bedoya’s commitment to showcasing the range of Latin art forms and musical traditions.
Selecting Mariachi Los Camperos to represent Harth-Bedoya’s dedication to bringing attention to Latin American music is a fitting decision. Nati Cano, the late founder of the LA-based ensemble, was an early advocate for bringing mariachi to major performance spaces, and since the group’s founding in the 1960s, Mariachi Los Camperos has performed in some of the most prestigious stages in North America. With Jesús “Chuy” Guzmán now at the helm, the ensemble remains committed to educating the public about the breadth and variety of mariachi music and traditional Mexican art forms.
Ensemble member and harpist Sergio Alonso adds that this mission has become even more critical with the surge of polarized political and cultural rhetoric in the United States that often hinges on perceptions of Latino culture.
“Community comes from artists,” noted Alonso, “and I think society in general can learn from the artists in terms of what it means to have tolerance, collaboration, understanding. And us being mariachi musicians, it poses another line of responsibility…seeing that we do represent a community that is here not to take away from this society but to contribute to it in every walk of life.”
It’s not surprising that Mariachi Los Camperos will be performing alongside the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico. Dallas’s premier ballet folklórico company, the Anita N. Martinez company is committed both to showcasing the vibrancy and variety of ballet folklórico on stage and to educating young dancers about Latino traditions in the dance studio.
According to Lisa Mesa-Rogers, Executive Director of the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico (in the interest of disclosure, she is also on the board of Metropolitan Arts Media, the non-profit that runs TheaterJones.com), dance offers an alternative to the polarizing political rhetoric. “To be able to reach down and express that cultural pride coming from such a passionate, vibrant music and dance form, that really rejuvenates who we are today….When you do hear divisive language and all this other rhetoric, it allows us to get back to who we are as a community.…We want to educate people about the richness of Mexican culture in dance and music.”
For Alonso, part of the significance of presenting mariachi music and ballet folklórico in a venue like the Bass Performance Hall is that it gives Latino artistic communities an opportunity to tell their stories in a very public way: “Our contribution is one of culture, one of art, one of tradition, and being able to perform mariachi music, especially in a high-profile performance venue, it really sends a strong message, especially for people who need to be educated on things like that. These communities, whether the Latino communities, Mexican communities, African-American communities, gay/lesbian communities — everybody has a story to tell. And our story of course is one that is misunderstood, even though there’s such a huge population of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Latinos living in the United States. So it’s another layer of responsibility.”
Mariachi and ballet folklórico are often performed together. The percussion of the mariachi music pairs with the percussion of the dancers’ feet, producing a lively staccato that will certainly energize audience members on Friday. Both Alonso and Mesa-Rogers noted that audiences can expect fast tempos and rapid footwork.
Mesa-Rogers noted that presenting a ballet folklórico performance with live mariachi music complements both art forms since the mariachi percussion accents the dancers’ footwork and vice versa.
Friday’s show will feature a mixture of mariachi and ballet folklórico fan favorites and new work from Mariachi Los Camperos new album “De Ayer para Siempre” that was released last week. The album is the first produced for the ensemble by Jesús Chuy Guzmán after Nati Cano’s death, and it represents both a commitment to Cano’s legacy and new musical and aesthetic forays. The album is also intended to present an overview of the tremendous diversity of mariachi music, a quality that will also be showcased on Friday.
Although Harth-Bedoya has long focused on introducing American audiences to Latin American music that originated outside the United States, Friday’s performance by Mariachi Los Camperos and Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico is a good reminder that Latino art forms are as much as part of American culture as any other art form in the US.
As Mesa-Rogers remarked, “We’re in this community. We’ve been in this community forever. And we’ll continue to be a part of this community. So we’re etched in the fabric of all things here in the United States.”
The Latin Spectacular Festival will continue on Saturday night with “Azul and Night of the Mayas,” featuring FWSO conducted by Harth-Bedoya, cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi, hyper-accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman, and percussionists Jamey Haddad and Cyro Baptista performing works by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. On Sunday the festival concludes with a night of jazz, tango and Caribbean music as the FWSO performs with Cuban-born saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Paquito D'Rivera.