The Guadalupe Dance Company performs "Río Bravo" at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's theater. Photo by Martha Searcey.
The Guadalupe Dance Company performs "Río Bravo" at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's theater. Photo by Martha Searcey.

Ancient Tejas melds with the modern this weekend when the historic Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center presents the 20th anniversary rendition of “Río Bravo,” a nationally acclaimed ballet folklórico that features San Antonio’s own Guadalupe Dance Company (GDC).

Thirty artists collaborate to interweave music, dance and culture of the South Texas-Mexico border region in this unique performance. “Río Bravo” chronicles the evolution of music and dance from pre-Columbian time to the present. It’s reminiscent of the San Fernando Cathedral’s stunning light show, “The Saga,” as if someone fished light from the stone and cast it upon the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

“It is important to perform ‘Río Bravo’ now in 2014 because it represents an image of San Antonio (and) Texas that new generations can appreciate,” said Director Juan Carlos Gaytán. “They will witness what existed and pave the way for what it is today.”

“Río Bravo” premiered at the Carver Theater in 1994 to a sold-out crowd. In 1995 and 2005, it also captivated San Antonio’s imagination. Now the show is back, 20 years after its local debut. The performance premiered Friday night and continued Saturday at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

The Guadalupe is a nonprofit organization that promotes and preserves Latino arts and culture. Founded in 1980, it offers diverse programming, including plays, concerts and art exhibits. It is one of the largest community-based organizations in the U.S. with its own school located inside the Museo Guadalupe exhibit space, the Guadalupe Academy. The academy offers classes in dance, theater arts, literature, music, visual arts and media arts. The academy’s vision is to “revolutionize how we imagine the world.”

The Guadalupe Dance Company performs "Río Bravo" at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's theater. Photo by Martha Searcey.
The Guadalupe Dance Company performs “Río Bravo” at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s theater. Photo by Martha Searcey.

Gaytán shares that vision. Since 1998 Gaytán has been an active member of the Ballet Folklorico of the University of Colima in Mexico. He encourages both individual artistry and collaboration. With “Río Bravo,” Gaytán nods respectfully to the past, but he’s more passionate about the future.

Río Bravo” and the San Fernando Cathedral in Main Plaza have more in common than color and light. Both works of art are based on a historical understanding of the Texas-Mexico border. That border was drawn in 1845, but the culture existed long before then. “Río Bravo” attracts art lovers, locals and tourists, too.

Gaytán also teaches at international workshops and emphatically supports his choreographer’s creativity.

Choreographer and folklórico instructor Rafael Zamarripa credits the Witte Museum’s “Ancient Texans” exhibit as his inspiration for the opening act of the production, “El Principio.”

Zamarripa, who also designed the costumes and lighting, transformed the museum exhibit into dance. From Aztec dance to waltz to Tejano, his choreographed steps are fluid. The GDC dancers glide across and pound the stage. The entire theater shakes during particularly rousing songs. 

The Guadalupe Dance Company performs "Río Bravo" at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Photo by Martha Searcey.
The Guadalupe Dance Company performs “Río Bravo” at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s theater. Photo by Martha Searcey.

As the director of the Ballet Folklórico of the University of Colima, Zamarripa is one of the most respected maestros of Mexican dance. His “Río Bravo starts with drums and Aztecs and supersedes nostalgic conjunto. Watch for 21st-century enactments of the marketplace, ripe with calaveras and nopales.

“The appeal of ‘Río Bravo’ transcends ages and backgrounds because the story chronicles our cultural heritage through music and dance on both sides of the border, ” said Belinda Menchaca, associate dance director of the Guadalupe Dance Company.

The market, or mercado, is the heart of “Río Bravo.” The marketplace encourages song, dance and fresh food. It is a meeting place for commerce and flirtation.

Film star Jesse Borrego, widely known for his role on the the television show, “Married with Children,” appeared in the original 1994 production of “Río Bravo” and has returned to dance with the Dance Company 20 years later. Borrego is a San Antonio native and has worked with the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center on numerous occasions. 

“Jesse has always been a huge supporter of our dance program. He has a passion for the arts and the San Antonio community,” said Jeannette Chavez, dance director for the Guadalupe’s Dance Company. Borrego studied theater at the California Institute of the Arts and ballet at the University of the Incarnate Word. The GCAC welcomes him home with open arms.

Two mariachi and conjunto bands provide a live soundtrack – Mariachi Azteca de America and La Naturaleza de Santiago Garcia. Their guitars are loud, their clear voices even louder. When asked why he chose to participate in “Río Bravo,” local musician Gino Rivera said, Sigue la tradición!” (“Follow the tradition!”)

Río Bravo is not just for Spanish-speakers, Texans or Americans. It is a modern ballet folklórico of style and grace.

“We are extremely excited about performing this one-of-a-kind show and partnering with Juan Carlos Gaytán and Jesse Borrego,” Chavez said. “Río Bravo offers so much more than your traditional folklórico performance. The audience will enjoy theatrical elements and music.”

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Martha Searcey

Martha Searcey works for the International Language Center at the University of Guadalajara. She is a freelance diction consultant and translator for English, German, Spanish, French and Slovak. You can...