When the originally billed group accompanying Mexico?s Ballet Folklorica of Veracruz was forced to withdraw, the wise ones at the Performing Arts Center in Cerritos scrambled and by serendipity found the superb singer Perla Batalla to open the show.
It?s hard to guess the chemistry in such a show with its appeal to old country culture but on this night the blend was perfection. Without a stereotype in sight or any sponsors meddling, the singer and the dancers made this a special evening for those of Mexican blood. Getting a jump on this week?s over commercialized festivities, Perla and the Ballet just did their people proud. Like St. Patrick?s day for the Irish, this show just made you want to be Mexican, if only for one night. If your people were from verdant lands of Jalisco or the balmy climes of theYucatan this evening would have made you feel the glow of Old Mexico.
The Ballet Folklorico de Veracruz certainly held up to their high standards. The troupe presented a pageant in fours with four segments comprised of quartets of dances representing folk customs from regions in their country. Ancient Mexico, Guerrero, Baja California Norte and Veracruz were the inspirations for the music and dance.
The costumes were dazzling and the footwork crisp, providing its own percussive harmony to the sound of ?Quetzalli.? Twelve dancers and six eclectic musicians carried a narrative that followed in Aztec steps and moved forward to the frolic of ?La Bamba? which represents the Jarocho musical style of their native land. Highlights included the entire segment from nearby Baja in western Mexican garb, the dance of the viejos (which struck a personal chord), a beautiful harp solo and the parade of ?La Rama? that saw the group move through the entire hall. The large crowd loved every minute and cheered with gusto each dance of the diez y seis.
However, the star of this night was clearly Ms. Batalla and her astonishingly rich voice. There might have been some in the hall who were unfamiliar with Perla or thought of her as a fill-in. She was a fill-in like a dazzling full moon fills in the autumn sky. Dressed exquisitely and looking great she sounded at the top of her game from the first note to the last lively chords of " Guantanamera."
With an all-star band setting a tropical groove the casually elegant lady glided to center stage and launched into ?Heaven and Earth,? a lyrically intriguing tune by songwriter/band member David Batteau. Although this piece was one of the only songs performed in English the line ?love is in the details? described much of the music to follow.
Performing classic Mexican songs requires an appreciation of the tradition from which they sprang and Perla Batalla has not forgotten her roots. It's not what she takes from her time at her parent?s knee in the family-Latino record store that set her far apart. What she gives lovingly to the classics through her own rare musical gifts is what turns a simple song like "Ma?anitas" into a profoundly emotional experience. At Cerritos, "El Reloj" caused sighs of recognition then awed admiration for the vocal that breathed fresh life into the old favorite. A percolating "Cuando Sale La Luna" put a Cuban edge on the great Jose Afredo Jimenez love song and Batalla's strong voice reached for the sky in the mysterious "La Llorona."
The best of what music can do is to provide moments that allow us forget everything else but the exquisite melody and words which link a gentle current directly to our hearts. Those instants are far too rare, when endless meetings; clogged freeways, grievances and aggravation melt away. Such was the case in one of the hall's most riveting performances in memory.
Perla Batalla sang the song " Cucurrucucu Paloma " which has been done countless times since the gem was written, including versions by artists as varied as Julio Iglesias, Harry Belafonte and the mariachi band at ?Money Panchos.? What Batalla did with it was simply otherworldly, painting the tender melody with small brushstrokes, ever so delicately but with deep feeling.
The entire hall fell silent; no one seemed to breath as the tale of heartbreak unfolded. You could have heard a dove?s heartbeat in the upper balcony. The final notes came clear and sweet as fine crystal as a sweet shudder of emotion passed through the hall. The audience that came for dancing, unexpectedly had found much more, something to take home and keep like found treasure. Not a soul who heard this jewel will ever forget the name Perla Batalla.
A rousing "Guantanamera" followed with an exhilarated crowd giddily singing along with their new, favorite young singer. After this exceptional evening of song and dance it was easy to say ?Viva Mexico? con gusto.