Los Lupeños de San José is one of the region’s many mexican folklórico companies and was founded in 1969 by Susan Cashion, Phd and Ramón Morones. After a variety of changes, the company recently hired a new artistic director, Samuel Cortez. In Dance asked Cortez and managing director Tony Ferrigno about their work as Los Lupeños looks to engage with new and continuing students and audiences, and continue their vital work towards a 50th anniversary.
Why was Los Lupeños de San José started? Tony Ferrigno: The dream of our late founders [Susan Cashionand Ramón Morones] was to create a performance folklórico group with a strong dance foundation in order to elevate Mexican dance in California to the same height that classical ballet or modern dance enjoyed. Los Lupeños quickly became an institution in San José, spawning other dance companies and quite a few musical ensembles all eager to be a part of the new folklórico scene. In the 60’s and 70’s folklórico provided a way for the Mexican Diaspora to reconnect with their roots through dance and music. In the last 46 years, through the effort of many directors, master choreographers, dancers, students and parents, the company had its share of ups and downs. Many of the downs paralleled tough economic times. Many of the ups were golden performance opportunities, where Los Lupeños danced at Carnaval in Veracruz(’76-’78), at Candlestick Park for Pope John Paul II (’87), at the First Hawaiian Ethnic Dance Festival (’93), at the Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara (’94), on tour in England and Ireland (’98), in multiple performances with Linda Ronstadt (’92-’09), and in multiple San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festivals (’83-’11). In 2014, Los Lupeños de San José was acquired by the Cashion Cultural Legacy, a non-profit created by Susan Cashion to ensure that her legacy would live on.
Describe the organization’s activities and programs.
TF: As with any dance company, our main focus is performing. This effort includes researching, learning and staging traditional folk dances. Los Lupeños performs at different venues in and outside the Bay Area but also produces annual concerts. We also have an educational component, Los Lupeños Academy, because the dissemination of our art form strengthens our ties to the community. The Academy, co-sponsored by the School of Arts and Culture (schoolofartsandculture.org), offers classes to students of all ages at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San José.
How many dancers and artists/musicians does Los Lupeños work with?
TF: Los Lupeños currently has about 20 adult dancers with another 10 in a youth component, plus another 100 students in the Academy. Depending on the event, we have worked with mariachis, conjuntos, bandas, trios and individual musicians.
Describe the search for your new Artistic Director?
TF: After acquiring Los Lupeños last summer, the first big challenge for the Cashion Cultural Legacy was to find candidates that had the requisite experience, but also understood that maintaining the integrity of the traditional folk dance was paramount, in spite of being placed in a modern theater. We literally looked across the United States and in México, cold calling and cold-emailing as many artists as we could, following every lead, and using social media to get the word out. The addition of Samuel Cortez is the first time Los Lupeños has had an Artistic Director that did not come up from the internal ranks of dancers. It was time for a change and we are excited about the future with this talented director.
Samuel, what were you doing before moving to the Bay Area?
Samuel Cortez: I was in Chicago directing the Mexican Dance Ensemble (MDE), a company that I founded in 2001 and MDE Jr, founded in 2012. Under my direction MDE traveled to the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Taiwan, Turkey, Spain, France, Greece and Portugal. I had the opportunity to create 8 different concert programs and share the stage with several great artists including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, singers Eugenia Leon and Tania Libertad, and renown mariachis like Vargas and Los Camperos. In 2010 I was named Choreographer of the Year by Dance Chicago and I received the Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation award. I’m proud to say that more than 20 dancers and ex-dancers of MDE are at different schools and groups teaching folklórico dance.
What is your first dance memory?
SC: I remember myself dancing at age 6, at the Independence Day celebration in Dolores Hidalgo, México in front of the Mexican President. And I also remember accidentally kicking my partner in the head while dancing Jarabe Tapatio a few months later!
Is there anything unusual or unique about the work you do?
SC: Performing Mexican traditional dance is very unique. We get to share with everybody not just the beauty of dance but actually bring to stage the essence of our culture, the beauty of our traditions, and the variety of our costumes. The connection that we bring to people that were born or have visited Mexico creates a very special connection between the spectator and the performance. And for people that have a very vague idea about Mexican culture, it becomes a way of learning.
If no one knew anything about Los Lupeños, what would you want them to know?
SC: Los Lupeños is a dance company made of people that love and respect Mexican culture, people that dedicate many hours to prepare the ephemeral art of dance. The dedicated dancers prepare for months, striving for the highest level of excellence and then it’s gone in a moment. The Board of Directors and other people involved with Los Lupeños are motivated only by their love and passion for Mexican culture.
What is your favorite dance move/style?
SC: I enjoy the music and dance from the states of Guanajuato (my home), Colima (my alma-mater), and Guerrero (amazing music and style), but I enjoy ballet and modern dance as well.
A favorite song to dance to?
SC: La Malaguena Currena (amazing music from the coast of Guerrero)
SC: Juan Carranza Soriano (ex-president of the IIDDMAC), Rafael Zamarripa (Universidad de Colima) and the late Miguel Velez (Universidad de Veracruz).
Guilty dance pleasure?
SC: Cumbia and Huaracha
Shortlist of inspiring people, books, moments, classes, etc?
SC: Juan Carranza Soriano has been my dance mentor for the past 15 years and he inspires me to keep on working. I love Harry Potter books because I learned to read English with them! When I moved to the United States people asked me what I wanted to see in this country. I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Who knew! Now I am living close to it! Last year the dance company that I was directing had a day named in its honor in Illinois and it was very exciting to see the dancers’ faces light up with that great distinction.
Current artistic obsession?
SC: Right now I am obsessed with the idea of seeing Los Lupeños at its best. I want to take them as far as they want to go!
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
SC: My answer is complicated because, as an instructor, I enjoy every class. Definitely when I see the final product on stage it gives me an amazing feeling but the joy of dancing is in the entire creative process, not just in the moment of performance. I take pleasure in the entire process, from beginning to end. Working with these passionate people makes me feel very lucky. There is no better feeling than sharing our mutual passion.
What programs or activities does Los Lupeños have coming up?
SC: We are planning a full concert for late September and, of course, we are planning to be part of the traditional Mexican celebrations around the Bay Area, all throughout this year. We will do our best to keep Mexican Culture alive in any place that we get invited.
What haven’t we asked you that you would want people to know about you and or Los Lupeños?
TF & SC: Even though Los Lupeños is one of the oldest Mexican folk dance companies in the United States, we want everyone to know that we’ve been working just as hard as ever to bring our audience a little taste of México, one dance at a time!