Andrea Guajardo grew up in Edinburg, Texas and is the co-founder of Ballet Nepantla, a fusion dance company that combines contemporary expression and Mexican Folklorico. Guajardo and her collaborator, Martin Rodriguez, created a hybrid style that not only references their personal and cultural history but one that is also a counter narrative to the current rhetoric surrounding immigrants and Latinx people.

The New York dance company’s inaugural performance titled Sin Fronteras, showcased the deep roots of contemporary movement and dance throughout Mexico’s different regions. Performers intertwined different styles like Afro-indigenous dance, classical ballet, and zapateado to create a nuanced and intricate portrait of contemporary Mexican American identity.

Ballet Nepantla will be a part of the CreARTe Latino Cultural and Comic Expo on Sunday March 24th at the TSC Performing Arts Center. The event will be the premiere of Valentina, a performance that, “celebrates the strength of women during revolutionary Mexico.” Neta had the pleasure of interviewing this amazing Rio Grande Valley native to get the details on her passion for dance, the inspiration for the company’s new performance, and what she misses the most about the Valley.

Tickets for the event are available through here.

Andrea Guajardo, Artistic Director for Ballet Nepantla

Neta: Hello Andrea, first and foremost thank you for making some time to chat, ya’ll must be busy getting ready for the premiere. Would you like to add to your introduction or add more background on how you got where you are now?

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this and promote our show. We are super excited about it and can’t wait to be back in the Valley, where we I’m from originally.  And I guess the story of how I got her starts when I was born in Edinburg, Texas and raised along the US Mexico Border. I started my dance training at the Dance Center of Edinburg which is a school that my mom and my tia run.

I trained predominately in classical ballet but also studied modern, jazz, contemporary and folklorico, which at the time was more of a mandatory part of my dance curriculum and not really my special focus. I guess I always took it for granted because growing up in the Valley I was always surrounded by the Mexican culture, the music, and the dance. I always wanted to be a ballet dancer who moved to New York and made it as a ballet or contemporary modern dancer.  When I was 17 I moved to New York and graduated from the Ailey School four years later. Once I graduated I danced professionally with a dance company called MOMIX.

Years later I started working with a folklorico company after a random audition. Dancing with them allowed me to realize how important it was to do this, and share this art, culture, and genre of dance. I asked myself why I had not been doing it all the time. Soon dancing in a folklorico group was not enough, I wanted more. I figured why throw away all the modern and contemporary training I had. Why not create something innovative and totally different which nobody had ever seen?  That ended up being Ballet Nepantla. At that time I asked my friend, Martin Rodriguez who’s super knowledgeable and the expert in Folklorico if he wanted to join forces and he was one hundred percent in since the beginning. We created this company and have been a great team that has really been the best of both worlds as far as contemporary ballet and traditional Mexican Folkorico goes. Between the two of us we have riled an incredible group of diverse, talented, dancers who really believe in our company.

 

Neta: How is Ballet Nepantla different from other folkorico groups?

Andrea: One thing that I do in Ballet Nepantla is use contemporary ballet to tell traditional Mexican folktales for example, my piece for Sin Frontera, titled La Llorona. There is an actual traditional folklorico dance called La Llorona that has nothing to do with telling the Mexican folktale of La Llorona that so many of us grew up with. I thought, “Why is this not an actual dance?” So I created my own contemporary ballet story of La Llorona that tells the story of a grieving mother searching for her daughter. The fusion of contemporary dance and traditional Mexican Folklorico and the way folktales and narratives are told through contemporary ballet are what make Ballet Nepantla unique.

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Promotional Video for Ballet Nepantla presents Valentina.

 

Neta: What is the inspiration behind Ballet Nepantla’s newest show, Valentina?

Andrea: My inspiration was that there are so many companies who do a revolucion cuadro, which are basically three, four, at the most five dances that tell stories of the Mexican Revolution. The most iconic is the Adelitas, the women warriors of the Mexican Revolution. There is usually one dance that shows the aristocratic, wealthy, upper class to show the imbalance of wealth and power between them and the impoverished. Then the show usually moves straight to Juana Gallo, a story of this fierce woman leader of a revolutionary army and that is about it. There are so many others, so many corridos with so many stories to be told and so much material. Seeing all these companies do Adelitas was inspiring but we wanted to do our own thing. I decided to create a full story ballet based on the Revolution the best way I know how. I find I draw emotions from the audience and really make them understand and feel the story through contemporary ballet and its fusion with Mexican folk dance. It is heavily ballet based but we incorporate all the corridos and we do have the traditional dance, it is really a strong and beautiful ballet, nothing that has been done before.

Ballet Nepantla rehearsing Valentina.

Neta: How does Valentina differ from Sin Fronteras in terms of the narrative it is telling, the dance styles and the music?

AndreaValentina is totally different from Sin Fronteras, it is similar in the fusion aspect, but totally different in the way that it is more contemporary ballet based. Sin Fronteras definitely incorporated contemporary ballet but was strong in traditional Mexican Folk dance since it was designed as a typical Folklorico show where you go from state to state and showcase the different regions traditional dances. We incorporated contemporary dance and fusion pieces into this region-to-region structure but it was not really a connected story ballet. For most of our audience based in New York who were not familiar with the Folklorico structure, there was a narrative element missing. That was a big influence that we took into account to make Valentina a story ballet. The audiences want to see a story, they want the whole thing to connect, they want to follow characters. So a big difference with Sin Fronteras and Valentina is that the latter is periodic and follows a story line. It is divided into three sections, with separate characters in different regions  during the same period. Throughout the section you are following the same people which is one big difference.

 

Neta: Is Valentina the name of the character?

Andrea: One thing that I thought when titling the show Valentina, was that people were going to come in thinking or looking for “Valentina” but by the end of the show they will realize that it is not about Valentina, this one woman, but about all of the Valentinas. The name Valentina specifically was very commonly during the Mexican revolution because it literally meant a strong, valiant, and independent woman. That is why it was given so much during that era because that time period was full of these warrior women who fought alongside the men in the revolution. There is a dance in the show called Valentina with a soloist who is Valentina. She opens the second half so people will probably think this is the dancer they have to follow but quickly you see these super strong female characters, Juana Gallo and La Chamuscada become just as prominent roles. By the end you realize it is about all “las Valentinas.” I thought it was a perfect title because of what the name means.

Performer dressed in Revolutionary gear.

Neta: Since Sin Fronteras how have you personally grown, can you see those changes in the dance company and how you work through the performances?

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Andrea: Yeah there has been so much personal growth in so many different ways. When I first started the company in January 2017, I really had no idea what I was doing. I just rounded up some friends and asked if they wanted to be a part of this idea. I don’t think some realized how serious I was and that I really wanted to make it take off. Some didn’t even make it to the first show so it’s been a real journey and roller coaster of emotions and learning lessons. I have learned to know who is serious and who to trust. I feel like we are at a point where our dancers are a solid group who have been with us for a good amount of time and are here to stay.

I’ve learned a lot as far as how to run a business, how to run rehearsals and financial planning. It took a while a to learn how to manage things well, for example it took a year for me to realize that I don’t need every single person present for every rehearsal because I am paying all of them. So a lot of the growth has been on the management side of things and learning to run a business in a smart way. I’ve grown to become a professional leader which was difficult at first because I am really close with everybody and establishing professional boundaries was challenging. I learned the difference between being a director at rehearsal and being a friend in the bar. So to establish that was a learning moment for me but now most of our dancers are hired by auditions so they really worked their ass off to be there. They come in with a different outlook but at this point we are really all on the same page. It has been quite the journey.

 

Neta: What makes you homesick from the RGV or what is a must when you’re back in the 956?

Andrea: The first thing to come to mind honestly is the weather. I’ve lived in New York for ten years now and when people say you will get used to the cold it’s a lie, at least I’ve never gotten used to the cold. I hate the cold, I really do, so every time I go home I love it and I am breathing fresh air. I miss the RGV for so many reasons. The people are so nice! I miss my family so much, my niece, my parents, my brothers. I really, really miss my studio and every time I go home I teach. I always feel so important and needed when I’m there and I love being able to be so helpful to the immense talent in the RGV. I hope that in what I’m doing I am inspiring the youth of the Valley to know there are opportunities and so much to be seen and so many people with whom to share your talents.

If you are interested in learning more about the company, booking or supporting Ballet Nepantla please check out their website and DONATE! Also make sure to follow Ballet Nepantla’s on Social Media at @ballet.nepantla or through #balletnepantla #bnvalentina

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