Growing up in Edinburg along the Texas-Mexico border, dancer Andrea Guajardo said she never learned about the Adelitas of the Mexican Revolution. Also known as soldaderas, these women performed duties alongside men, including combat when necessary.
The term “adelita” is now used to describe a strong woman, but the history of these women and their exploits isn’t as well known as it should be, Guajardo said. Thus the motivation for Valentina, a full-length dance she created for Ballet Nepantla, the New York-based dance company she co-founded with fellow dancer Martín Rodríguez.
Valentina will visit San Antonio for performances at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts May 24-25, with additional performances and master classes for Somerset and Harlandale school districts.
Sharing a stage
Thanks in part to Guajardo’s close Texas ties, the Ballet Nepantla performance will be a collaboration involving the Tobin Center’s Generation Next education program, Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s CULTIVAR (Communities Uplifting Learners Through Imagination and Vibrant Artistic Reflections) program, South San Antonio ISD’s Neil Armstrong Elementary school, and the Senior Ladies folklórico troupe from the Elsa Champion Dance Academy — dubbed the “Abuelitas” for the Valentina performance.
Of the unusual level of collaboration for Ballet Nepantla, Guajardo said “It’s very special.” In particular, the incorporation of the Abuelitas will add dimension to the performance given that some members of the troupe, aged between 72 and 84 years old, likely have ancestors who were involved in the Mexican Revolution.
“Imagine what that could do to elevate the show and tell the story and make it just so much more real and authentic and beautiful,” she said.
Champion saw Ballet Nepantla perform during the company’s first San Antonio visit in 2021, and she and her troupe members are thrilled to have been invited by the CULTIVAR program to share a stage with the Nepantla dancers.
“it’s a big thrill and honor for us to even be involved with a company like that,” Champion said.
The collaboration has been in the works for two years, said Kimberly Stephenson, director of education for the Tobin Center.
Like Champion, Stephenson also saw a previous Ballet Nepantla performance in San Antonio, and said, “I just fell in love with the company. … They have this amazing ability to fuse classical dance with contemporary influences that are based upon folk performances.”
Stephenson saw the company as an ideal fit for the Tobin Center’s education initiative and for the CULTIVAR program’s stated goal to “provide opportunities for families and communities to express their cultural and linguistic identity through the arts.”
The 15 Armstrong students, ranging from kindergartners to fifth graders, will perform a Chiapanecas traditional dance from the state of Chiapas.
Having young students, professional dancers and seniors all participating together in a multigenerational, history-based performance will fulfill the vision of Katherine Espinoza, CULTIVAR project team member and TAMU-SA assistant professor, Stephenson said.
“The work that she’s doing through CULTIVAR this year has been focused upon the wisdom that comes through families,” Stephenson said.
“Our work with the [Armstrong] school has been focused upon what’s called ‘abuelita epistemology.’ It’s the wisdom of grandmothers, the wisdom that you learn through the history of who has come before you. … All of the work that we’ve been doing has been leading up to this performance,” she said.
Tickets for three performances of Valentina, including a public performance Wednesday evening at 8 p.m., a student matinee Thursday at 9:30 a.m., and a sensory-friendly performance at noon on Thursday, are available through the Tobin Center website.