Diverse performance groups update theatergoers’ perceptions of Latin American culture.

Cultural Exchange 

Diverse performance groups update theatergoers’ perceptions of Latin American culture.

Shifting demographics mean that Latin-American cultural events are no longer just splashes of exotic foreign color on the Anglo entertainment landscape. This week, two such events -- one filled with legend and the other with lacerating wit -- suggest why.

Ballet Folklorico de Mexico is scheduled to appear Tuesday, October 2, at the Midland Theatre in a year that marks the company's 49th anniversary. Executive producer Adam Friedson says the troupe was so determined to continue its national tour after the September 11 terrorist attacks that its members hopped on a bus in Manhattan that same night so they could arrive in Sacramento, California, ready to perform three days later. Friedson says the bus stopped "only long enough for fast food. The company wanted to express its solidarity with the United States."

The company's doggedness is also a tribute to its founder, Amalia Hernandez, who died last November at age 82. Friedson says Hernandez has been called "the mother of thousands" because of the way she "created a new discipline." The vision of the company, Friedson says, "is to present Mexican culture, history and rituals from 3,000 years ago to the contemporary." So the members of Ballet Folklorico receive training first in classical ballet, then in modern dance and last in the folklore technique. "Before Amalia," he says, those forms "had never been brought together."

Hernandez's daughter, Norma Lopez, is now the troupe's artistic director in Mexico City, where it performs three times a week, 52 weeks a year. The companies that followed in Folklorico de Mexico's path -- Ballet Folkloricos of Venezuela, Cuba, et. al. -- "stand on Amalia's shoulders," Friedson says. "And the show's never been better."

Also this week, Kansas City Kansas Community College presents its fall play, Latins Anonymous, a satiric look at Latino and Latina stereotypes. The play is similar in its treatment of race to George Wolfe's send-up of black stereotypes, The Colored Museum. Rafaella Saltigerald, one of four actors in the cast, says, "It's important to let people know we're all different. Regarding the stereotyping, some of what is said is true. But by blowing it out of proportion, [the play] shows that it's not what everybody says it is."

Charlie Leader, who is head of KCKCC's theater department, says the show was created by a Latino improvisation group in Los Angeles whose members were "tired of playing maids and drug dealers. The premise is that they are four people who meet in a group called Latins Anonymous, suffering from 'Latino denial.' There's the woman who insists she's really French and a detective investigating why Latino men like blondes."

Leader has a reputation for choosing plays that reflect and use the college's diverse student body. Later this fall, he'll stage A Streetcar Named Desire with a Hispanic actor, Joseph Serrano, playing Mitch. "It's a tradition to do a Hispanic play in the fall and a show in the spring for African-American students," he says. "And soon I'll be adding a show for Asian actors."

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