My sister and her husband came to town because my sister speaks this weekend at a religious convention in Garland. They arrived yesterday after the long drive from northern Alabama. They brought with them our 12 year-old niece, who came with my wife and I last night on a trip to the ballet folklorico in McKinney.
McKinney has gone an admirable way towards completely reviving its historic downtown. Like a lot of Texas county seats, McKinney has a courthouse building in the center of a downtown square. Antique stores, cafes, and stores with art for sale make it an interesting place. A recent influx of good, non-chain restaurants has really made it a good place to visit lately.
We ate at the casual cafe called Spoons, where we could sit outdoors on a pleasant night and watch the people pass. A man with a guitar inside the cafe offered to play favorite cover songs from an extensive list he handed out to patrons. My niece asked him to play the Beatles' "Nowhere Man". I decided not to ask for a song, though my choice would have been Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb".
One part of its resurgence has been the conversion of its old courthouse into a theater. We attended a ballet folklorico by the Ollimpaxqui Ballet Company. Attendance was not as heavy as it should have been for such a cool troupe.
The evening started deliberately with students in their folkloric school doing what amounted to recital pieces. One piece involved three kids dressed as pigs doing pantomime while a singer told a tale in Spanish of, not surprisingly, three small pigs. Another sketch featured a woman made up in costume to appear very old handing out gifts to the kids. My Spanish is extremely limited, but that made no difference.
None of these dances were challenging or intricate. I found that I enjoyed them. I realized why. I noticed that each kid was having fun. Unlike some recitals of this general type (albeit not folklorico) that I have attended in the past, each kid looked as if she or he realized that being in a ballet folklorico is cool. It's not just that the little boys got to wave pistols in the air with a theatrical flourish. Everyone seemed to have parts to play that were easy to play, and everyone enjoyed being on stage.Folklorico and mariachi classes are very popular in the metroplex these days, and it's easy to see why.
After twenty minutes or so, the lights dimmed and the actual ballet folklorico began. I can summarize it in a single word--"great". The dances were not breath-takingly new, but instead were the staples of this type of event. They did a fun Dance of the Old Men, complete with a cavalcade of dancers. During the Jaliscan section of the show, they brought out a mariachi band who played really well. Jalisco charro dances always hold the interest, while the old-fashioned fun of jarabe el tapatio, the hat dance, was solid entertainment.
In general, I tend to prefer the 19th Century and early 20th Century dances and songs to the ones seeking to connect with the pre-Columbian era. Yet the company's version of the Yaqui Deer Dance was simply amazing. The dances in this section of the show were accompanied solely by hand-held percussion and vocals, which worked very effectively. A prior piece featured simple hand-drums, voices, and ankle bells on the (male) dancers, which achieved a musicality which belied its lack of a stereotypically "melodic" instrument.
The kids returned for a section of dances from Jalisco, and it was charming to see the girls in the vividly colored dresses and the boys in the hip charro outfits. At one point, my niece and other members of the audience went on stage for a circle dance in which everyone held onto canes and wandered the theater. The participatory air of the end came to a delightful silliness as people danced the macarena and sang a Vera Cruz traditional version of "La Bamba".
The mariachi band returned to the stage and was excellent, playing many mariachi standards (though omitting "Guadalajara") with capable instrument play and solid vocals. I like to watch people play the guitarron, which has a pleasing absurdity about it, somehow.
I liked in particular the two little three year old girls in the audience who danced in the aisles. I think they would have enjoyed an "all-Jalisco" evening. Everyone had a good time,though--and it was fun to see the show. I'm so glad that the McKinney Performing Arts Center hosts cool performances like this.