Sisters Maía and Chalomé González want you to experience Mexican folklórico from a completely different perspective that what previous generations have witnessed.
Forget the ‘guy meets girl and then meets another girl’ story. There’s no need for a ‘wedding tale’ either for the Irene González Project.
Think of their performances as Amalia Hernández meets Luis Valdez, the founder of Teatro Campesino.
Dance + a story = the evolution of folklórico.
At the recent Danzantes Unidos Festival, the sisters unveiled an 8-minute tale of U.S. Border Patrol agents – strutting onto the stage to the music of ‘La Cucaracha’ – ripping a mother from her young daughter’s arms and banishing her along with other detained immigrants behind a chain link enclosure.
In the end, mother and daughter are reunited thanks to a pro-immigrant movement. The step out from behind a chain link fence that has been decorated with paper flowers in the shape of a heart.
The social media reviews:
“Amazing!! Powerful!! Great performance!!”
“So great. This made me cry.”
“Amazing! I cried so much.”
That is exactly what the González sisters strive for with their performances for the Danzantes Unidos Festival.
“The story that we told was something we wanted to do for awhile,” said Maia, speaking for the group after Chalomé fell ill after the April 14 performance at the Warnors Theatre. “We just didn’t know how to go about doing that logistically speaking like getting the people, getting the gates, getting the extras.”
As it was, the 8-minute performance evolved from “organized chaos” to “being chaos chaos.”
The little girl and mother who were instrumental at the beginning of the story had to leave that morning for a family emergency. Plus, extra dancers from Chicago did not have much time to rehearse.
That meant performers had little time to learn their cues or whom to follow.
Plus, this was the first time lead male dancer Christopher Michael had danced with Maia.
“But, it worked out! No one saw the mishaps, and I thought we pulled it off great,” said Maia. “Our team showed up and pulled off the performance. We did it!”
Of course, the main goal was to tell the story of the current immigration debate.
“We always try to bring, especially for the audiences we perform for, something that’s a hot issue, especially in our community,” she said. “We’re all in this community together.”
Folklórico and social activism, said Maia, is nothing new.
“It goes back to when my mom was dancing at Fresno State and my dad joined to get close to her. They would go with the Fresno State theater group and the dance group to the migrant farmworkers and perform there,” said Maia.
“Us politicizing or bringing attention or telling these stories was always in our blood.”
The group does perform the traditional dances for quinceañeras and other special events. The danger, Maia added, is that people who are not familiar with folklórico dancing may misinterpret a drunk scene or a womanizing aspect.
“So, telling a story where our community is loving, friendly and outgoing are positive aspects that are really important, not only to show our community and each other to bring us up but to show people who are not familiar with folklórico that this is traditional folk dancing.
“This is our goal. We always want to tell a story because it captivates the audience. It gets them to wonder how it’s going to end,” said Maia.
The González sisters, who work closely with Óscar Hernández of the Selma Centro de Folklor, plan their main storytelling performance for the Danzantes Unidos Festival.
“It’s the Super Bowl of folklórico! You’re dancing to dancers. You want to show off, and bring your A game,” said Maia.
A few minutes after the Irene González Project finished its set, Folklórico Nacional Mexicano de Elena Robles from San José performed “interpretive traditional.”
The dancers closed out their program with farmworkers toiling in the fields while others were detained by immigration agents, all to the music of ‘Deportee (Wreck at Los Gatos).
That performance, Maia said, is fine.
“That’s a great thing!” she said. “Other people are starting to see not only our performances but other groups do it too,” said Maia. “There’s a lot of storytelling going on.
Maia’s group will perform ‘Sin Fronteras’ on May 31 at the Fandango Night at Arte Américas.