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A Mexican fiesta that grows “más grande” every year:

Mexico’s famed Ballet Folklórico Quetzalli celebrates 20th anniversary with East Coast tour;

Growing audience for Mexico’s traditional music and dance

The touring fiestas of Mexico’s famed Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli de Veracruz just keep getting bigger.

Now celebrating their 20th anniversary, Quetzalli (pronounced kett-SAH-lee), one of Mexico’s leading folk music and dance troupes, has watched their audience grow “más grande” with each American tour. With a well-earned reputation for presenting truly authentic fiestas, Quetzalli is now benefiting from an explosive increase in the Hispanic population of many U.S. cities -- up to 300% in eighteen metropolitan areas. That demographic shift, now impacting the East Coast for the first time, has created larger Mexican, as well as non-Mexican, audiences for this brilliant folk ensemble.

Since their inception in 1985 in Veracruz, Quetzalli (named for their country’s brightly-colored native bird, the quetzal) has been bringing the authentic flavor of their homeland’s local fiestas to the Mexican communities around the U.S., sharing the richness and diversity of Mexican culture. They begin their 20th anniversary tour of the U.S. on April 22nd in Birmingham, Alabama, perfectly timed for Cinco de Mayo festivities.

“We want the Mexican audiences to remember that they come from a great culture, and they should feel very proud of their roots,” says Hugo Betancourt, the founder and director of the troupe. Quetzalli has truly succeeded in its mission, as testified to by the enthusiastic response from the Mexican communities. ”Often we have Mexicans in the audience, people who left the country 10 or 15 years ago and haven’t been able to go back since. And when they see our show, they burst into nostalgic tears,” says Hugo.

Quetzalli is very familiar with American audiences. “We have basically performed in all of the U.S. states,” says Hugo, for whom one of the greatest achievements of the group has been their longevity. “After 20 years, we still perform to sold-out houses,” he says. Throughout the years, Quetzalli has offered American audiences an exciting glimpse of these powerful Mexican traditions and has recreated Mexico’s local fiestas from Sarasota to Seattle.

2005 U.S. TOUR
Friday April 22 Birmingham, AL Univ. of Birmingham
Saturday April 23 Columbus, GA River Center for the Perf. Arts
Sunday April 24 Atlanta, GA Georgia Tech / Ferst Center for the Arts
Tuesday April 26 Norfolk, VA Virginia Arts Festival
Wed & Thurs April 27 & 28 Shepherdstown, WV Shepherd College / Frank Arts Center
Friday April 29 New York, NY Symphony Space (WMI)
Saturday April 30 Valhalla, NY Westchester CC / Academic Arts Theatre
Sun & Mon May 1 & 2 Morristown, NJ Morristown Community Theatre
Wed, Thurs & Fri May 4, 5 & 6 Malvern, PA Great Valley HS Auditorium
Saturday May 7 East Hampton, NY John Drew Theatre
Sun & Mon May 8 & 9 Red Bank, NJ Count Basie Theatre
Wed & Thursday May 11 & 12 Schuykill, PA Blue Mountain HS
Saturday May 14 Rochester, NY Nazareth College
Sun & Mon May 15 & 16 Norwich, NY Arts Council Theater

Hugo Betancourt has been immersed in Mexico’s folk music and dance since an early age. He started learning the artistry from his uncle Humberto Betancourt, a well-known musician and composer, who imbued in his young student a passion for these traditions. Hugo went on to study folklorico dance under Maestro Alejandro Gómez Solís in the Ballet Folklórico Veracruz, and later joined Ballet Folklórico Tonanzintla. With both groups, Hugo toured the U.S. on several occasions, taking his first steps to a successful international career.

In 1985, along with Rosalinda Pérez and Manuel Vázquez, Hugo Betancourt created Quetzalli, with the mission of researching, practicing and performing Mexican folk dances. The troupe, which has grown from eight dancers to a company of more than 45 dancers and 10 musicians, comes from the state of Veracruz, a region in Mexico with a strong Afro-Caribbean influence and a rich musical tradition – perhaps best known for being the birthplace of the world famous “La Bamba”, but also known for the area’s diverse musical styles, such as son jarocho, danzón, and huapango. In 1986, Quetzalli became official representatives for the Secretary of Tourism and Economic Development for the State of Veracruz. Since then, they have crisscrossed the world, from Japan to the United Arab Emirates, captivating audiences of all ages and becoming one the most cherished and appreciated cultural ambassadors of their country.

Folk dances are one of the most ancient and rooted traditions in Mexico. Each region of the country has its own representative folk dances that are also an indispensable component of the local celebrations or fiestas. These practices have mostly been associated in Mexico with religious traditions, as well as with social and artistic movements. In Prehispanic times, for example, it was an essential part of religious rituals and the priests would perform the dances. Eventually, the folk dances would evolve to become a characteristic popular expression that would be enriched from diverse cultural influences - Prehispanic, Spanish, Moorish and African. “These are ever-deepening customs that have been passed on from generation to generation,” says Hugo.

It was in the 1950s that these folk dances were taken from their grassroots level to theaters and performing arts centers. In this crossover, these traditions were infused with touches of classical and modern dance to become a more stylized and spectacular version of the originals. The Ballet Folklórico de México, created by the late choreographer Amalia Hernández, was the pioneer company of this trend and the first one that crossed Mexican borders to tour around the world on a regular basis. The success of Hernández’s company opened doors abroad and established an international audience for this type of stylized performing art, which in turn became emblematic of Mexican culture.

Ballet Folklórico Quetzalli, however, aims for greater authenticity. “Of the touring companies from Mexico, we’re the only one that has live music throughout their shows, and this takes the performances to another level,” says Hugo. The music is performed on authentic stringed instruments -- arpa (harp), jarana (8-string guitar) and requinto (4-string guitar) -- and punctuates the meticulous movement, colorful clothing and perfect pulse established by the dancers. Thus,Quetzalli’s performances become an authentic representation of these vibrant Mexican traditions, more than just being a colorful spectacle. “Audiences have confirmed it,” Hugo says with justifiable pride. “We’ve had people come to us to tell us that we recreate the fiestas exactly the same way they are in Mexico.”

For their 20th Anniversary tour, Quetzalli will present dances from seven different regions of Mexico, including the traditional Prehispanic “Danzas de los Concheros,” which pay homage to Mexico’s Aztec tradition and that feature elaborate feather headdresses and shell anklets. They will also perform dances from the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, Baja California Norte and from three regions of Quetzalli’s home state of Veracruz.

With their brilliant costumes, joyous music, and above all, their clear passion for the riches of their culture, Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli guarantees that they will recreate the lively ambiance of the Veracruz carnival on American stages. Promises Hugo: “It will be just like being there.”