This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Sharing stories, past and present

A single dancer commands the stage, her arms and legs lithely carving the space as the words of Gloria Anzaldúa’s poem “To Live In The Borderlands Means You,” simultaneously sculpt the air. A ballerina’s nimble fingertips etch lines in the sky as she dances with her partner in an ethereal, heart-wrenching pas de deux. Men in intricately embroidered jackets tap out a percussive and precise zapateado. Women in brightly colored skirts move together with force, muskets in hand. Ballet Nepantla’s “Valentina,which was presented in an abridged version on July 13 at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s Henry J. Leir Outdoor Stage, is composed of these vignettes, each centering around the stories of the women of Revolutionary Mexico: their pain, their joy, their loves, and their losses. 


Ballet Nepantla: “Valentina”


Henry J. Leir Outdoor Stage, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA, July 13, 2022


Sophie Bress

Andrea Guajardo and Jorge Naranjo in “Valentina.” Photograph by Christopher Duggan

subscribe to the latest in dance

“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

Your weekly source for world-class dance reviews, interviews, articles, and more.

Already a paid subscriber? Login

Though the company wasn’t performing far from their New York City home, July 13th’s show marked Ballet Nepantla’s Pillow debut. This made the work’s prelude, “Nepantla”—a contemporary solo performed by Piper Dye, choreographed by Ballet Nepantla’s founding artistic director Andrea Guajardo and set to Anzaldúa’s poem—a particularly apt introduction to the company, their history, and their mission. As Dye danced, the movement seemed to be coming from her, Guajardo’s, and the company’s collective soul, providing an insight into who Ballet Nepantla is and what their artists stand for.

Piper Dye in Andrea Guajardo's “Nepantla.” Photograph by Christopher Duggan | Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

When Guajardo and Martín Rodríguez co-founded Ballet Nepantla in 2017, they wanted a place where they could—just as “Nepantla” suggests—exist in the intermediary places that make up who they are. The Aztec Nahuatl word nepantla, the company’s namesake, even directly translates to “in-between.” Guajardo, who was born and raised in South Texas, is a graduate of the renowned Ailey/Fordham BFA program and an alum of MOMIX Dance Company. Rodríguez, who was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, spent his adolescence traveling across his home country to learn about each state’s traditional dance forms and culture. Their company takes both artist’s backgrounds and melds them into a mix of ballet, contemporary and traditional Mexican folklórico that honors both their shared heritage and their unique backgrounds and perspectives on movement.

Jourdan Epstein and Anthony Bocconi of Ballet Nepantla in “Valentina.” Photograph by Christopher Duggan | Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

“Valentina” is a testament to this, arranging sections of classical ballet pointework alongside separate displays of folklórico finesse—and in some sections of the work, combining the styles with inventive contemporary to form a beautiful tapestry of dance forms. Guajardo and Rodríguez’s own stories, as well as the stories of other choreographers who contributed to “Valentina”—Adolfo Salinas, company members Anthony Bocconi and Guadalupe Garza, in addition to the remainder of the company dancers—shine through in the movement, enhancing the work as the dancers and choreographers each share a piece of themselves.

“Valentina” proves to be distinctive, too, in its portrayal of women, not as ancillary characters, but as the central, moving force of the story.

For its primary inspiration, the ballet draws on the story of las adelitas, a nickname given to the women soldiers who fought in the Mexican Revolution. The story of las adelitas is a true one, and it has been told prior to “Valentina” by other Mexican folklorico companies. But, as Guajardo noted in the post-show talkback following the company’s July 13 Pillow performance, the women have never had a full ballet devoted solely to them, they’ve always been one aspect of a wider story.

Ballet Nepantla in “Valentina.” Photograph by Jamie Kraus | Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

In its focus on women, Ballet Nepantla honors las adelitas by never distilling them to one single characterization. Instead, “Valentina” shows the women as unique individuals, honoring their diversity in emotions—they weep, they mourn, they rejoice, they fight—and personalities—they’re doting, formidable, loving, and powerful.

And the women in “Valentina,” though full-bodied, vibrant, and alive, are never meek. Rather, they display a great strength, whether they’re tearfully sending their husbands off to war, thrown to the floor with the grief of losing them, or taking up arms to fight in their place.

The dancer’s movements reflect this. As they don their muskets, the women rise from the ashes, taking on a strength and resolve in stance and posture that they didn’t have before. They channel the transformative nature of grief into their bodies, creating a whirlwind of energy with their sharp and purposeful approach to the choreography. Even in their moments of joy, they’re forces, whirling about the stage like wind, unable to be pinned down.

Ballet Nepantla’s dancers breathe life into these historical figures, and in doing so, make las adelitas extensions of themselves and their own stories. Honoring in-between-ness, placing the spotlight on women, on culture, on uniqueness and personal identity and history, the work not only shares stories from the past, but stories that hold a great deal of weight in our present.

Sophie Bress

Sophie Bress is an arts and culture journalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. In her writing, she focuses on placing the arts within our cultural conversations and recognizing art makers as essential elements of our societal framework. Sophie holds a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. She has been published in Dance Magazine, L.A. Dance Chronicle, The Argonaut, Festival Advisor, and more.



A Little More Action
REVIEWS | Karen Hildebrand

A Little More Action

Smuin Contemporary Ballet is a different company than when it last came to New York in 2012, five years after the sudden death of its popular founder. Michael Smuin was known for his highly accessible works full of musical theater splash. While his San Francisco based company continues to perform his repertory, it has commissioned a broad range of new work under succeeding director, Celia Fushille.

Continue Reading
Summer Fun
REVIEWS | Merilyn Jackson

Summer Fun

In its Summer Series 2024, the Philadelphia contemporary ballet company offers three world premieres by choreographers Amy Hall Garner, Loughlan Prior and Stina Quagebeur. The extended run, July 10-21 at the Wilma Theater, is just about the only dance to be seen during summer’s dog days. And what a cool and breezy show it is. Just the boost we needed.

Continue Reading
India Week
REVIEWS | Karen Greenspan

India Week

On a scorcher of a day in July, New York’s Lincoln Center launched India Week, a cultural extravaganza celebrating the variety and vibrancy of Indian culture. 

Continue Reading
Good Subscription Agency