Since 1969, Los Lupeños de San José has been exploring Mexico’s rich and passionate culture through dance. Dancers’ Group and World Arts West proudly present Los Lupeños for the Friday, November 2 performance of their Rotunda Dance Series; free lunchtime performances amidst the grandeur of San Francisco’s City Hall.
Los Lupeños began as a study-performance group of Mexican dance and culture. Co-Founders Dr. Susan Cashion and Ramón Morones, both trained in Mexico, wanted to bring this rich tradition to San José. Here, they’ve created a uniquely Californian dance company that honors Mexican traditions, maintaining a learning exchange between Mexico and California.
Cashion shared insights into their history, along with some of the company’s other exciting projects. “Over the years, the company has accumulated a varied repertoire of dances from many master teachers from both sides of the border, yet also retains a ‘distinctly Chicano aesthetic.’” Cashion explains, “Our population of dancers thinks, moves, and interprets life very differently than dancers who study and perform in Mexico. So our company has a distinct California slant to our way of working.”
Friday, November 2: The Rotunda Dance Series
With a repertoire that includes dances from over twenty regions in Mexico, as well as dances based on early California history, it isn’t possible to showcase Los Lupeños’ full range in a forty-minute show. So to give the audience attending the Rotunda show a taste of their talents, the company will perform dances from three regions, taking an East-to-West “tour” of Mexico. The first suite includes three dances from Veracruz, on the east coast, all with intricately rhythmic footwork. The second set is called La Danza de los Viejitos (The Dance of the Little Old Men), from Michoacán. Cashion describes this dance as a “comic dance, with clowns and jokes.” She explains, “This dance is an indigenous statement, poking fun at the Europeans.” It also acts as a counterpoint to the other dances, providing an indigenous point of view as opposed to the mestizo culture. The last segment is a set of celebratory dances from Mexico’s western state of Jalisco. Ending on a happy note, the Rotunda performance rounds out with an ode to courtship, joy, and celebration.
The day after their Rotunda performance, Los Lupeños will be on stage again for VivaFest!, performing with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall. The November 3 concert is part of the annual Días de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) celebration, which takes place in Mexico on November 1-2, a tradition that honors familial ancestors and loved ones who have passed on. For this performance, the Los Lupeños dancers will be accompanied by Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitán, one of the premier musical ensembles from Mexico. Cashion shares the excitement of this partnership, enthusing, “The opportunity to dance with this group is a real thrill for our dancers.”
On Wednesday, December 12, Los Lupeños’ school, the aptly named “La Escuela,” will complete its fall session with a recital at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San José, featuring performances from three-year-old beginners to company members. Dr. Cashion calls these programs a “love feast,” explaining that many generations of family members always fill the plaza to capacity. She continues, “It’s wonderful for me, because I enjoy seeing the dancers of the next generation, dancers who might be part of the company in five years, ten years, and so on.”
Finally, Los Lupeños is producing a Winter Concert on Sunday, February 17, also at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Cashion describes this event as the “pinnacle of the performing season,” noting that the dancers work with a group of generous professional musicians who have supported the dance company for many years.
The Los Lupeños dance company and La Escuela both operate under the umbrella of two non-profit organizations: the Mexican Heritage Corporation and the Cashion Cultural Legacy (CCL). As its name suggests, the Cashion Culutral Legacy—founded in 2009 by Dr. Susan Cashion—is more than a support network for the dance company and school, pursuing scholarly projects that further the knowledge of Mexican dance. CCL funds a cultural exchange of dancers and choreographers between San José and Guadalajara, and maintains research archives in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.
The dance scholarship program has met with immediate success. The first scholarship recipient was Reneé González Lopéz, a dancer with Maestro René Arcé in Guadalajara and a graduate of the Department of Theatre and Dance of the University of Guadalajara. In 2010, Renée was given a residency in the San Francisco Bay Area to study with Robert Moses (Artistic Director of Robert Moses’ Kin), and to set a suite of dances for Los Lupeños, which they performed in the 2011 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Dr. Cashion explains, “The people that we bring to California advance our knowledge in the Mexican material. It’s a wonderful learning experience for the dancers. But we also wanted to give Lopéz the opportunity to expand his love of modern dance.”
This kind of cultural and artistic exchange is brought to life on stage—and on paper. In 2011, the Cashion Cultural Legacy provided a scholarship for veteran dancer Rosario Chavarria Peña to travel from her home in Los Angeles to the CCL archives, to write a memoir of her life as a pioneer in Mexican dance in California. Released earlier this year, Peña’s book remembers a career that spans over fifty years performing, teaching, choreographing, and directing Mexican folklórico dance. Titled No Boots: My Early Years of Folklórico Dance in California, the work is CCL’s first published book.
Encouraged by the success of this project, the Cashion Cultural Legacy already has subjects chosen for the next three publications: Ramón Morones, co-founder of Los Lupeños; Benjamin Hernández, co-founder of Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos, and teacher of forty years at East Los Angeles City College; and their teacher, Emilio Pulido. All three men came from Mexico’s University of Guadalajara to California in the 1960s. As this generation of dancers passes on, it is even more vital to record their stories. Cashion explains, “They influenced the nature and philosophy of Mexican dance and how one stages it in the California scene. Their artistic aesthetics still influences Mexican dance performances in California.” Luckily, the CCL archives have already taped oral histories of these men several years ago— two have since passed. Cashion adds, “We have to get the stories of these early dance pioneers before we start losing these people.” With the help of the Cashion Cultural Legacy, their dance steps and their stories will be available to teach future generations.
Catch a free performance of Los Lupeños de San José in San Francisco City Hall on Friday, November 2, at noon for the Rotunda Dance Series, presented by Dancers’ Group and World Arts West in partnership with San Francisco Grants for the Arts and San Francisco City Hall. Share the rhythm and beauty of Mexican dance with performances by company members Marco Chavez, Mandy Garcia, Christina Gil, Arturo Magdalena, Juan Carlos Miranda, Crystal Ortiz, Angela Szymusiak, and Lalo Torres. To learn more about Los Lupeños de San José and the Cashion Cultural Legacy, visit their website at cashionculturallegacy.org.