I greatly enjoy folkloric dances of many countries. They tend to be ebullient, colorful and happy, as most were traditionally danced at festive occasions. Performed by professional dancers and tweaked a bit by a savvy choreographer, they easily become great stage entertainment. Thus it’s hardly surprising that, living here in San Antonio, I’ve become a fan of Mexican folklore, as well as the traditional Andalusian Gypsy genre known as flamenco.
One company that consistently brings both genres to audiences in San Antonio and beyond is the Guadalupe Dance Company (GDC) based at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (GCAC). Led by two capable women, Belinda Menchaca and Jeannette Chavez, the company will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer.
“I am incredibly proud that we are celebrating 25 years of existence,” said Menchaca, who’s been with GCAC for 24 of those years and who founded the Guadalupe Dance Academy. “I feel proud of the impact we have had on dancers, students, the dance community and the city as a whole.”
From its inception, the company established a practice of bringing to town both flamenco and Mexican folkloric experts to help the dancers improve their skills and enrich their repertoire, and, as a dance reviewer of many years, I have seen the results of those collaborations. The flamenco shows in particular became more varied, more sophisticated and more polished. Though it stages only two theatrical productions a year, the ensemble performs all the time at various conventions and special events, as well as out in the community as it recently did at the Pearl — under the auspices of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — and at La Cantera. It also has a standing date with the San Antonio Symphony for the annual Fiesta Pops concert. In addition, through its Viva Mi Cultura program, the group visits schools throughout the year.
If you’ve never seen the ensemble in action, the anniversary shows are a great opportunity to treat yourself to a dance spectacular, which, I promise, will have you walking out of the theater with a smile. Flamenco selections from the GDC repertoire will be showcased in three Friday night shows — June 3, 10 and 17 — at the Guadalupe Theater, while the big folklorico event is scheduled for August 26 at the Lila Cockrell. Since flamenco is as much canto as baile, Spanish-born guitarist Luisma Ramos and San Antonio songstress Chayito Champion, both outstanding flamenco musicians, will be part of all three shows. (For details go to www.guadalupeculturalarts.org).
Another milestone celebration at GCAC is the 35th anniversary of the Tejano Conjunto Festival founded by Juan Tejeda, former music program director at the center and still the curator of the popular fest. The first thing he mentioned when I asked about new things this year was the San Antonio premiere of Conjunto Blues, a theatrical musical/multimedia piece created by GCAC’s alumnus Nicolas Valdez (May 12). Through music, poetry, video clips and character sketches, the show tells the story of the rise of conjunto music, which first appeared in South Texas in the late 19th century.
The music continues May 13-15, mostly in Rosedale Park. Some 20 bands are scheduled to perform, including conjunto Hall-of-Famers Eva Ybarra and Flaco Jimenez, and other beloved artists such as Los Garcia Bros., Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers, Los Monarcas de Pete y Mario Diaz, Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos and others.
If you are a jazz lover, you may want to check out the Summer Art & Jazz Festival scheduled for June 3-5 at Crockett Park (www.sanantoniosummerartjazzfestival.com). And don’t forget the Texas Folklife Festival (June 10-12), the venerable get-together where you may be lucky to see some fine amateur dancers as they celebrate their Polish, Greek, Czech, Korean or Lebanese heritage (www.texancultures.com/festival).
Summer with the Maya
The folks at the Witte Museum couldn’t be more excited about their summer blockbuster exhibition, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, which is the inaugural show at the new 19,000-square-foot Mays Family Center. “We are all about Maya this summer,” said president and CEO Marise McDermott. She explained that scholars acquired a great deal of new information about the old Mesoamerican civilization in recent years, thanks to breakthroughs in the decipherment of the Mayan script. The exhibition covers multiple aspects of the remarkable Maya culture by combining authentic artifacts — some never seen in this country before — with multimedia and interactive hands-on activities.
You and your kids can be part of the excitement. Not surprisingly, all the educational programs offered this summer are related to the exhibit. The Maya built impressive cities, studied the sky, the sun and the stars to devise a calendar and developed a system of mathematics, as well as their own religion, crafts and way of life.
As VP of public programs Sarita Rodriguez pointed out, the exhibition offered an ideal framework for designing STEM-based camp programs that encompass history, natural history and several scientific disciplines. Altogether, there are six one-week sessions for ages 7 to 12 that will be taught by the Witte team and Maya scholars.
Each day will be a new adventure. On Mondays, kids get to play archaeologist by digging and uncovering artifacts and puzzling over their meaning. On Tuesdays, they’ll learn to decode the Maya glyphs and stories, and on Wednesdays they’ll explore astronomy. Then comes the hands-on construction of pyramids, chambers and arches, using the type of tools the Maya people used. And finally, on Fridays, they’ll look at daily life — at the food people ate, games they played, clothes and crafts. And here’s the best part: no classroom work! Almost everything happens in the exhibition space. “A lot of learning takes place but in a freer environment than in school,” explained Rodriguez. “Our job is to make each session age appropriate and make sure everyone has a good time.”
Don’t you wish you were a kid? But here’s good news: There’s an educational program for adults, too, though I don’t think you get a chance to play in the dirt. The Mind of the Maya Series, which started in April, is a series of presentations by world-renowned scholars who will discuss various aspects of the Maya civilization. The May 18 speaker is Dr. David Stuart, director of the Mesoamerica Institute at UT Austin and the man who made a groundbreaking contribution to the deciphering of Maya symbols and glyphs. His work was the subject of the 2008 film, Breaking the Maya Code. Other illustrious speakers are Dr. Norman Hammond, professor emeritus of archaeology at Boston University; Arlen Chase, Edward Burian and Leah McCurdy, who will appear together July 20 to talk about the Maya master builders; and Dr. Jennifer Mathews of Trinity University and Dr. Bryan Bayles, the Witte curator of anthropology and health. (Check www.wittemuseum.org for more information. For camp registration, Mind of Maya tickets and exhibition tickets call 210-357-1910.)
By Jasmina Wellinghoff