BY JAMES FARRELL
The Calpulli Mexican Dance Company’s “Boda Mexicana,” or “Mexican Wedding,” is more than just a dance performance—it’s a story, according to Juan Castaño, Calpulli’s managing director and co-founder.
“We tell a love story,” Castaño told the Queens Tribune. “It’s a love triangle that spans time and also different areas of Mexico.”
It’s a highly visual story, drawing influence from both Mexican folk dance and contemporary styles, and garnished in flowing floral dresses and traditional Mexican garb.
This weekend, Calpulli finalizes its residency with the Queens Theatre—a yearlong stay that culminated in the performance “Día de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, in October. It will wrap up with two performances of “Boda Mexicana” this weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s a small company that’s been growing steadily in the borough. Their productions are just so ambitious and memorable,” said Taryn Sacramore, the executive director of Queens Theatre who first approached Calpulli about the residency. “It’s just really, really visual. You kind of feel like at any moment you could take a picture.”
Calpulli, which is in its 14th year, has a long history with the Queens Theatre, Castaño said. He and his co-founder, Alberto Lopez, met the staff of the Queens Theatre when they first started Calpulli.
“Our very first co-production was with Queens Theatre,” said Castaño. “It was really the fact that they not only picked up the phone, but that they talked to us. Back then, we were just two guys with kind of like a dream and a goal and a vision. And to find a theatre that was willing to listen to you and give you that opportunity was, in hindsight, I appreciated it extremely back then, and even more so now.”
But despite 11 seasons with the theatre, this year marked the company’s first residency, with back-to-back seasons producing “Día De Los Muertos” this past fall and this weekend’s “Boda Mexicana.”
“Boda Mexicana” was developed a year ago with the Thalia Spanish Theatre. Castaño explained that the story would be told in the context of the “Mexican wedding.”
“We tell this love story through the traditions that bring people together in a marriage,” he said. “So, we have a courting, we have asking for the hand in marriage, we have the in-laws meeting, we have the ceremony itself, we have the celebration after the wedding. I mentioned the love triangle—there is an antagonist in the story, and there’s a resolution, the celebration at the end. It does have a happy end.”
For Castaño, the story element helps make the show—engrossed in folkloric tradition—accessible to a broad variety of cultural interests. Stories became an integral part of Calpulli’s production in recent years, when the company realized that leaning too heavily on folk styles alienated some audiences.
“If you’re not very close to the culture, it can be difficult to understand,” he said. “We’ve created these story-based productions that still pull from the authenticity of the folk dances and we use those folk dances to help us tell the story.”
For example, when the story’s main characters meet their in-laws—a plot point in the story’s marriage theme—the in-laws perform a traditional Los Viejitos dance, known as the “dance of the little old men,” which is historically performed by dancers wielding canes, who are hunched in the appearance of old age.
“It’s that music and dance is really the fountain of youth,” Castaño said of the Los Viejitos dance. “Those dances are in honor of their elders. There is a side that’s comedic, but also there’s a side that’s very respectful to that older community.”
Looking forward, Calpulli aims to create a Mexican American Christmas program, exploring both American and Mexican traditions for the holidays. Simultaneously, it is hoping to grow and has “big dreams” to become an institution in New York City, beyond its home in Elmhurst, with high-quality productions, a staff and permanent space. But the company views its relationship with the Queens Theatre as a long-term one and anticipates further collaboration in the future.
The Saturday showing of “Boda Mexicana” begins at 8 p.m. The Sunday show starts at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at queenstheatre.org.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.