September 1, 2017 marked the 100th birthday of Amalia Hernández, making the magnificent picture book biography, Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh, extra special. Tonatiuh, a superb illustrator, his standout style based on Mixtec art, creates digitized, hand drawn illustrations with elements of collage for this book and they are mesmerizing. He captures the movement and importance of the the dance, and with his text, he informs readers of the cultural, social, and ceremonial significance of the work of Amalia Hernández.
Tonatiuh begins Hernández's story with a family vacation where Ami saw dancers stomping and swaying to the music. Ami was destined to be a teacher like her mother and grandmother, but she decided she would become a dancer. We see Ami grow and evolve, from her early studies and time as a student under international dancers and her experience of "modern" dance in 1939 to her growth as a choreographer, to the 1952 debut of a piece called Sones de Michoacán, featuring the regional danza that first inspired her passion for this artistic expression. The excitement of the moment and Ami's decision to form El Ballet Folklórico, her travels and research guiding her choreography and costumes, continues throughout Danza!, with the growing success of her work. Tonatiuh also includes the hard work of managing a dance company and Ami's decision to stop dancing with the troupe to better manage and choreograph new dances. Tonatiuh brings Danza! full circle, with Ami opening a dance school in 1968 in a building designed by her brother, an architect, telling readers that, in the end, Amalia Hernández did become a teacher like her mother and grandmother.
Tonatiuh ends Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico with an author's note, glossary and bibliography. Tonatiuh's author's note gives context to the importance of Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico in terms of the inspiration that Mexican artists in all mediums were finding in the history of their country in the 1950s as well as the role of cultural ambassador that Amalia's Folkloric Ballet became. Tonatiuh also shares that Amalia was sometimes criticized for "appropriating and misrepresenting the folkloric dances of Mexico." Yet, she was always, "clear about her intentions, though - namely, to preserve and capture the spirit of traditional dances, which exist for ceremonial or social purposes, and adapt them so they can be enjoyed in a theater." As someone who knows only a little about El Ballet Folklórico and even less about Amalia Hernández, Danza! was a magnificent introduction!
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Source: Review Copy