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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Ballet Folklorico – University of Nayarit brings “Viva!” to Green Bay

Critic At Large

Weidner Center for the Performing Arts

Opening showcase for performance of Ballet Folklorico – University of Nayarit in Cofrin Family Hall of Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)

Through dark tresses, heavenly one,

a pair of deep brown eyes,

lower as they approach,

a stolen glance.

Ay, ay, ay, ay,

sing and don’t cry,

heavenly one, for singing

gladdens hearts.

That is a translation of the popular Mexican folk song, “Cielito Lindo.”

“Lovely Sweet One” or “Lovely Heavenly One” was sung Friday untranslated as part of an evening of allure in Cofrin Family Hall of Weidner Center for the Performing Arts.

Performing was Ballet Folklorico – University of Nayarit, presenting an expression of pride and discipline on an unusual visit.

The most formal thing was the ensemble was announced as the opening offering on the center’s 2019-2020 season. Beyond that, the event just kind of, sort of happened by way of community avenues.

The performance did not come with a printed program.

The language of the evening was Spanish, except for the very end.

The offering was a sampler of music and dance culture in Nayarit, a state in Mexico on the Pacific Coast. Just south of Nayarit is Puerto Vallarta, a resort destination.

Amid the overall vivacious experience of the 80-minute program, two elements stood out.

One – what “ballet” and “folklorico” mean in this case. Two – a male singer/ambassador.

One

The troupe offers much of what the word “ballet” means. Highly disciplined movement. Flowing interaction of dancers. Detailed choreography. Pieces presented as a statement of feeling or as telling a story. Involved. Evolving. Difficult. Rehearsed. Rehearsed some more. Demanding. An expression of organized physicality of humans with a specialized outlook, the “folk” facet.

The origins of the pieces are varieties of folk dancing/music, except these are not ordinary folks dancing but taking “ballet” and “folklorico” to an elevated level and sometimes whistling, whooping and calling along the way.

Costuming tells stories in multiple ways. Perhaps it is plain, as a man clad in white shirt and pants dancing barefoot in the manner of a drum beat. Perhaps it is three men in two-inch heeled boots, wearing white hats and shirts looking like impressionistic fields of flowers and rat-a-tat-tatting with their feet as around them seven women spin and swirl like as many kaleidoscopes on caffeine. And then there is the next dance, the next costumes, the next configuration of interlocking dances. Sometimes a male-female is kissy-facing, sometimes the entourage erupts in festivity, sometimes amid the speedy ebb and flow three males whip pairs of machetes in speedy, rhythmic clacking/clanging at warp speed (a really exciting effect).

In Friday’s performance, the women’s costumes generally were of long shirts. The print patterns were always elaborate and set in motion like waves on a colorful, surging ocean. Everything had a flow – the fabric, the look of the fabric, the movement of the women as they tipped or tilted, except once. That once was for a dance with glasses of water placed atop heads as six women danced while weaving and gliding with the precision as a kind of silk afoot.

On and on the variety of dance went – sometimes like of a square dance, sometimes surreal with two fantasy figures with multicolored stripped bodies and animal manes, sometimes to recorded large-band music, sometimes to live music of a quartet.

Two

After a first set of dances, a male vocalist arrived with a band consisting of two violinists, a bass player and guitarist. Everyone wore a turquoise top with white slacks or skirt (one violinist was female). The band played with touch in tender songs and heat for the fast-action dances.

Side note: Most of the performers were young/college age. Older were the male vocalist and a female and male dancer (who whistled a lot).

The male vocalist is expert at what he does. His voice is large, physical and brilliant. He used a microphone, but he probably could reach the rafters of the center’s Cofrin Family Hall anyway.

With or without the band, he sang love songs (“Cielito Lindo”) and story songs and songs meant to inspire.

Many people in the all-ages audience (babies, too) understand Spanish, so the vocalist built an interplay with them. He especially liked connecting with the two bus loads of school children and achieving playful response. One song included a back-and-forth for the lines “Viva Mexico… Viva America.”

The vocalist may have been 2,300 miles from Nayarit, but he knew where he was when along the way he let out “Viva Packers.”

Bows

The performance earned a standing ovation.

One of the young male dancers spoke, excitedly. A male translator expressed the energy and emotion of the moment and references to a sharing of the heart and culture. Along way was an appeal – “Mexico needs your help” – with the final words being, “We hope to be back next year.”

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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