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Baila, baila, baila Ballet Mestizo, Grupo Musical sizzle at Thalia Spanish Theatre

In a triumph of artistic excellence and cultural expression, Ballet Mestizo’s “Colombia: Folkloric Fantasy 2,” a music and dance extravaganza, reveals the traditional rhythms of Colombia to a wider audience at the Thalia Spanish Theatre in Sunnyside.

Beautifully choreographed by Harold Puente and Armando Moreno, this production, with masterful musical direction by Harold Guitterriz, generates the kind of electricity rarely achieved in folkloric presentations.

The talented and ebullient corps of dancers was accompanied by musicians whose virtuosity and dedication to the authenticity of this traditional genre were abundantly apparent. Ballet Mestizo’s program, punctuated by dramatic vocals, courtesy of musician Nilko Andreas Guarin, and “cantate” from Anissa Gathers, reflected the cultural heritage of Colombia, whose traditions derive from its indigenous Indian people, the Spanish conquistadors who invaded the country in the 16th century, and the African slaves imported by the conquerors.

“Mestizo” refers to a person of mixed race and, in Central and South America, specifically to a person of European and indigenous Indian descent. But in this context, it represents the varied cultural traditions of all Colombians. The folk instruments included the cuatro, a four-stringed guitar-like instrument; the gaita, a long wooden Colombian flute; the tiple, a small, 12-stringed instrument similar to a ukulele; and numerous drums and other percussion instruments.

The dances, without exception, evoke the heart, spirit and uninhibited sensuality of a joyful and optimistic people. Spanning four distinct geographical areas of a country that boasts a widely varying topography, the show enthralled audience members who were treated to a panoply of regional dance and music forms, as well as spectacular costumes — from the mountainous Andes region, where the vast majority of Colombians live, to the Llanera plains region, home of the gauchos, to the Pacific and Atlantic coastal regions of the country, where African influences dominate the folkloric traditions.

From the harvesting of the red coffee beans in Andina to the cattle drives of the Llaneros, to the casting of fishing nets on the coasts of two oceans, the dance pieces illustrated both the unique aspects of Colombian culture, as well as the everyday activities and the joys and sorrows that all people have in common.

The dance numbers from the Andina region, where the Spanish and Indian influences are strong, included Bambucos, Guabinas, and San Juaneros, featured lilting flutes in what was an extraordinary melding of music and dance. This section of the program ended with a stunning modern dance piece depicting the mythic pre-Columbian indigenous culture reminiscent of ancient Egypt.

The journey continued to the Llanera, or plains region, where the gauchos, with the same swagger as their North American counterparts, the cowboys of the American West, danced a cattle drive and a Joropo, a dance that involves determined tap-like steps to a driving Flamenco beat.

The AfroMestizo Currulados, Quadrilles, and Abozaos of the Pacific region were highlighted by a sensual dance in which a viper is hunted and slain, followed by a show-stopping number about an itch that just wouldn’t quit, and “El Camaron,” an anthem to the shrimp harvest, during which the seven-man band nearly set the place on fire. The introduction of saxophones, courtesy of stand-out player Jaime Mancera, electrified the traditional sounds.

The long-awaited arrival at the Atlantic Coast, where the Indians’ gaita melodies and the rhythm of African drums combined to create Cumbia, a musical form that is unique to Colombia, found the audience stirring with anticipation.

The dancers cavorted with wild abandon to the frantic pace of the rousing African and Indian dance, “Mapale.” The entire audience sang and clapped as one to the rousing “Fiesta En Corraleja,” and Gathers’ solo drew them back to earth for “Yo Me Llamo Cumbia.”

Cumbia rhythms are at the very heart of the Colombian musical tradition, and the program reached its climax with Cumbia, a flirtatious courting dance that dates back to slave days, and is the most beloved rhythm in Hispanic culture. Audience members wept as they joined the company in a joyful rendition of the unofficial anthem of Columbia, “La Pollera Colora.”

Don’t miss the Ballet Mestizo and their fabulous Grupo Musical at Thalia Spanish Theatre, 41-17 Greenpoint Ave., Sunnyside, through Aug. 3. Performances will be held on Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets: $28; $25 for students and seniors. All tickets for Friday performances are $22 each. For reservations and information, call 718-729-3880.

Some background on Thalia Spanish Theatre: founded in 1977 by actress/director Silvia Brito to serve a Spanish-speaking community of over a half million people from countries around the globe, its mission is to celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of Spanish and Latin American culture with unique productions of plays, musicals.

Under the leadership of acclaimed director/writer/producer Angel Gil Orrios, a native of Zaragoza, Spain, who succeeded Brito upon her retirement in January 2000, Thalia has welcomed a broader audience to its Sunnyside performance space. Ballet Mestizo is the latest example of this trend.

Beginning his tenure with a world premiere of Picasso’s “Guernica,” Gil has presented Thalia’s productions with bilingual casts, alternating performances in English and Spanish, rather than Spanish only, and adhering to a professional theatre schedule of performances throughout the week, a departure from the previous practice of limiting performances to weekends.

The current production of Ballet Mestizo is the latest example of a production that celebrates Spanish and Latin American culture, which can be appreciated by a diverse audience. Gil has succeeded brilliantly in piloting the group across cultural barriers, drawing the mainstream theatre-going public to Thalia’s fine professional productions.

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