Primavera Folklorico Dance Company to bring storytelling to Día de los Muertos celebration

Primavera Folklorico Dance Company performs at the Harmon Library in Phoenix on Oct. 11. Primavera is a dance group that performs Mexican regional dance representing the people of Mexico. (Caitlin Bohrer/DD)
Primavera Folklorico Dance Company performs at the Harmon Library in Phoenix on Oct. 11. Primavera is a dance group that performs traditional dances representing the people of Mexico. (Caitlin Bohrer/DD)

Primavera Folklorico Dance Company, a Mexican dance performance group, will look to enrich and unite the Phoenix community with Mexican culture through dance during the third annual Día de los Muertos PHX Festival.

The ballet folklorico dancers from the company will join more than 100 performing artists at the festival on Oct. 26 at Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix. Folklorico means “the people’s story” in Spanish and the dancers use ballet folklorico to teach others about the diverse lifestyle and traditions in Mexico.

“Through dance, we can open minds by giving information,” said Maria Leon, director and choreographer of Primavera. “(People of different cultures) need to see how much more we have in common than we don’t have in common.”

Primavera has been performing ballet folklorico at different Arizona venues from backyards and parades to Phoenix Symphony Hall and the Phoenix Convention Center since 1975.

The dances that Primavera performs are based off of particular regions or states in Mexico like Guerrero or Yucatán. Leon said that the different types of ballet folklorico can be broken down into three different sections: indigenous (native Aztec dance), European (polka and waltz) and mestizo (blend of both native and European dances).

With each dance Primavera performs comes different costumes that the dancers wear and a different narrative to tell about the people of Mexico.

“(Leon’s) choreography is not only intended for artistical purposes, but it tells a story,” said Primavera dancer Andrea Lara, who has been performing with the dance company for over 20 years.

The knowledge of the folklorico dance that Leon uses to convey these stories comes from training by teachers from the Universidád de Artes Plastias de Guadalajara in Mexico who came to the United States in the 1970s to teach others the ballet folklorico dance and culture.

At the festival, Primavera’s adult group will be performing “La Visita,” or “The Visit,” an original piece created and choreographed by Leon. “La Visita” provides connections of what happens when people come to cemeteries on Día de los Muertos through a mestizo point of view.

Many of the adult members of Primavera also have children who dance with the kids’ performance group which typically ranges from 6 to 12 years old. Leon said that the kids’ group will perform a dance called “Danza de los Viejitos,” or “Dance of the Little Old Men” during the Día de los Muertos PHX Festival. Leon said that the dance is based on traditions from Michoacan, Mexico.

Although Primavera has previously performed at Día de los Muertos festivals at different cities all over the state, Leon said that the festival in Phoenix, which the dance company has performed at for the past two years, has more of an authentic feel.

“Everything is more spontaneous and more expressive,” Leon said. “It includes all of the artists who are at work here in the Phoenix area so it is kind of providing a forum for the native people who are doing things here.”

Audra Travelbee, Arizona State University Spanish professor at the Downtown Phoenix campus, said she saw Primavera dance at a previous Día de los Muertos festival and that she really enjoyed their performance.

“[Cultural dances] raise awareness and create bridges in cultures,” Travelbee said. “It is much better if cultures are not isolated and it creates a mutual appreciation and tolerance.”

Carmen Guerrero, the executive director of Cultural Coalition Inc., the organization putting on the 2014 Dia de los Muertos PHX Festival, explained that it is important for traditional performance groups like Primavera Folklorico Dance Company to be a part of the Día de Los Muertos PHX Festival.

“I feel like Día de los Muertos is a gift to the community,” Guerrero said. “It is a way for people to learn about what a beautiful tradition it is and how wonderful it is to remember our ancestors.”

Contact the reporter at Caitlin.Bohrer@asu.edu