Saturday, June 10, 2006
Berea College Country Dancers in Pátzcuaro
Yesterday while doing casual errands in Centro, I saw posters for a performance of the Berea College (Kentucky) Country Dancers. This seemed to me somehow a pleasant anomaly, or more precisely, a bit of a cultural/geographic time/space reality warp.
We decided to attend the show, at 7 PM in the Teatro Caltzontzin, on the
Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra in Pátzcuaro.
Srta. Catalina accompanied us. As we approached Centro, traffic was heavy ( being Friday evening) and we decided to park at the first available curbside spot, some 4 or 5 blocks from the Plaza. Catalina led us on a picturesque "shortcut" through narrow callejones (small streets), which although saved neither time nor distance, were tranquil and charming.
Admission to the performance was free to the public. We went up the steps into the very old, but well preserved theater. I was impressed by the classy fixtures in the auditorium, although the stage was pretty basic.
After 3 "llamadas" (calls) and dimming of lights, the MC introduced the troupe. The performance began. Four musicians, playing fiddle, mandolin, accordion and keyboards accompanied the bright, young, wholesome dancers. My impressions were of Colgate-fresh, smiling, scrubbed wholesomeness, and while there's nothing wrong with that, I was worried that if the show continued along those lines, it would soon grow insipid and boring. I needn't have worried, as when the first sets of English Country dances passed to a few very lively Danish folk dances, salpiconado (seasoned) with near acrobatics, my fears vanished.
Between major sets, the musicians entertained us while the dancers rested and changed costumes. The musical selection was eclectic, broadly based Americana, ranging from Bill Monroe to George Gershwin.
The dancing grew livelier or even stranger at times, during the third set, of Morris Dances. Some dances seem to be a way to work out community aggressions in an approved manner, eg, a group of men dancers in odd costumes, jingle bell sets on the lower legs, with crossed chest bandoliers, shaking short tasseled "flagella" in each other's faces. It seemed a strange ritualistic dance.
In another dance, where the men dancers hit sticks in a ritualized "clash" (In my opinion), almost reminiscient of Kendo fighting. (The photo is of another dance group)
Equally as odd was the "Lollipop Man" Dance, where the boys stood up in front of the audience as the dance began and chanted a brief set of rather risqúe double meaning lyrics before commencing the dance. I imagine that most of the audience didn't understand it.
The "Molly Dance" was a near free-for-all of women dresses in whatever colorful old schmatehs they had. I wasn't at all clear as to the symbolism, although the Spanish interpreter told us it was a bit "rojo", or naughty.
There was a Scottish " Pipe Dance", involving a solo woman dancer at first, doing intricate steps over a set of crossed "tobacco" pipes . The accompanying story was that as she danced each of 3 progressively more difficult variations over the pipes, if she by chance kicked the pipes, then she was doomed to a life of spinsterhood. (Unless immediately kissed by an eligible bachelor.)
Although she negotiated the steps successfully, she kicked the pipes because two handsome "bachelors" were waiting their chances, stage rear. The dance then became a broadly humorous conflict between the two rivals.
The show concluded at an appropriate time, it was just about the right length. We are grateful to the Berea College Country Dancers for their talents, and to the Michoacán Ministry of Culture, and its Pátzcuaro counterpart in bringing us this entertaining and different cultural experience.
(I have to say that there are very, very few photos of the Berea College Country Dance Group available on the Web. It would be good P.R. for them and nice for enthusiasts to be able to access more.)