Arts & Culture

Bethel College to celebrate Mexican culture with Ballet Folklorico

A vibrant celebration of Mexican culture is headed to the stage of Bethel College’s Memorial Hall on Saturday.

The fourth installment of the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts season will welcome two celebrated and established ensembles to share traditional Mexican music and dance. Rooted in indigenous customs, Ballet Folklorico “Quetzalli” and Tlen-Huicani will aim to delight audiences with alluring costumes, high-energy heel tapping and persistent beats that highlight a divergent mix of regional traditions. The event promises to tip its hat locally while celebrating an internationally acclaimed art form.

“One of the missions of Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts is to educate the community, as well as to provide great entertainment and promote diversity,” director Matthew Schloneger said. “Newton has a really strong Mexican population and a long tradition of a Mexican culture. This is an opportunity to celebrate together.”

Schloneger described the performance as a broad sampling of folk music and dance. He noted that this is a return to Bethel for Ballet Folklorico, which last performed there 15 years ago. Their performance, paired with Tlen-Huicani, is part of a joint international tour.

Ballet Folklorico is known for folklore dances and celebrated Afro-Caribbean “Carnaval Veracruzano.” The group performs its music on authentically stringed instruments and accents the dancers’ colorful outfits and rhythmic movement. The group has worked its way to becoming a cultural ambassador of sorts since its inception in 1985. Rooted in the state capital of Xalapa, Veracruz, they have served as the official representatives for the Secretary of Tourism and Economic Development for the State of Veracruz since 1986, performing across the globe.

The group comprises about 45 dancers and 10 musicians, most of whom are young people with an affinity toward the theatrical traditions of their ancestors. In addition to regular touring performances, they help operate a school and training program for young up-and-coming dancers in Xalapa.

Their touring partners in the group Tlen-Huicani help augment and broaden the traditional style of their performances. Its members aim to resurrect the purest forms of musical expression from Veracruz, highlighting forgotten forms and verses. Their music centers largely on the folk harp, a symbol of their home state and an instrument widely distributed across Latin America. Founded in 1973, they’ve earned numerous awards and international accolades, including being named Best Folk Group in Mexico by the Union of Music and Theater Critics.

Schloneger said this show will feature the two groups mostly performing together, though Tlen-Huicani will have a few solo acts. In an effort to pull in local talent, Newton High School’s Azteca Dance Troup also will perform a number on stage with the groups. Schloneger said it will be a unique experience for them to interact with seasoned professionals.

“It’s going to be impactful visibly and audibly. It should be a really vibrant, spectacular production,” he said.

The final concert in the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts season will be Calmus, a vocal group featuring a soprano and four male singers, on April 14 at Hesston Mennonite Church in Hesston.