Dancers from Ballet Folklorico de UCI (front) and Don Mariachi (background). Nikki Nelsen / el Don
Young and beautiful women with long and colorful dresses spin around on the stage, drawing viewers into customs and traditions of Mexican folklore dance. The slow-paced mix of sad and happy music plays behind the dancing figures until a singer breaks out a sustained high note, typical of the emotionally driven ranchera style.
The sounds of violins, guitars, and trumpets mix with the melodic vocals of Mexican traditional mariachi music, filling Phillips Hall Theatre for Don Mariachi’s semester-end concert on Friday night.
Santa Ana College’s Don Mariachi band was joined by guest groups, like the all-youth Mariachi Los Solecitos de San Juan Capistrano and Ballet Folklorico de UCI. Together, they entertained the viewers with two hours of dances and songs, most of which were well-known to generations of Hispanic music lovers.
The audience heard SAC music students perform classic songs from across the mariachi songbook, from rural folk rancheras like “El Rey” and “Paloma Negra” to romantic ballads called boleros like “El Destino” and “Entrega Total.” The dancers from Ballet Folklorico de UCI performed solo to the rhythms of “El Triste” and “La Negra,” songs typical of son jaliscience, itself a mix of Spanish, African and indigenous elements.
UCI student Cristian Hernandez, enrolled in SAC and joined Don Mariachi last fall because his university didn’t have any mariachi groups. For him, continuing the music is a sign of appreciation for the previous generations.
“Some of our parents are from Mexico, and sometimes when they come to the U.S., it is a big culture shock for them,” Hernandez said. “The fact that they can come here and hear the mariachi music, it kind of takes them home.”
Magician “Handsome Hector” showed his powers of wizardry during the intermission when he used his wand — named “Juan” — to put the mixed-up colors of American Flag in the right place.
Along with the magic, the concert had also a hint of the famous animated movie representing Mexican culture. Two teenagers from Mariachi Los Solecitos de San Juan Capistrano cheered people along with the song “El Poco Loco” from the 2017 Pixar film Coco.
Anabella Paik, one of Los Solecitos’ singers, has been in the San Juan Capistrano-based group for two years but was still nervous about performing.
“At the beginning, I felt a little shaky, Everyone was watching me and I didn’t know what to expect, but then I start singing and everything was fine,” Paik said.
Heather Romero Mercieca has been dancing for Ballet Folklorico de UCI for about one year. She said the passion to dance runs in her family. Her mom wasn’t able to continue dancing due to financial difficulties but she wanted her daughter to have that chance.
“My mom worked hard her whole life, and now I am going to university and I have the opportunity to dance, so I do it. I also like that kind of dancing. It’s culture, it’s dancing. I love it,” Mercieca said.
Every semester Don Mariachi prepares and practices for a new concert. Some students said that getting everything done in such a short time is difficult.
The hardest part is to make people show up for rehearsal at a certain time when they have other responsibilities but according to the band director Ernesto Viramontes, once everybody is together “it just falls into place.”
Viramontes believes that mariachi music is an important tradition, and that’s the reason why people continue to hire people to play it.
“I think it is just that kind of music that everybody grows up with, in Mexican families especially. As a kid that was one of the music I would hear at home from my parents,” Viramontes said. “People just like it. It is a tradition that has been with us for over a hundred years and it’s still very strong.”