Generation NEXT, the education initiative of The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is pleased to announce a collaboration between Ballet Nepantla and CULTIVAR, the partnership between The Tobin Center, Texas A&M University – San Antonio, and Armstrong Elementary School of South San Antonio ISD.
On Wednesday, 24 May, at 8 p.m., Ballet Nepantla will present a shortened form of Valentina, a collection of stories that speak to the strength and resilience of women during Revolutionary Mexico and illustrate the powerful history of the Adelitas, women who went to war, fighting for their freedom. The word “nepantla,” an indigenous term from the Nahuatl people of Mexico, means “in-between,” representing qualities of being from both sides of the borderland, the United States and Mexico.
This performance is a culminating experience for Armstrong Elementary School and the work of CULTIVAR. For the past year, the students and CULTIVAR team have focused on the wealth of experience children bring to school from home and the wisdom and knowledge of grandmothers. “Students have learned and recovered their own family history, many of them dating back more than four generations to the Mexican Revolution,” said Dr. Katherine Espinoza of TAMUSA.
“The word ‘Adelitas’ now describes a strong and courageous woman,” added Dr. Kimberly Stephenson. “Adelita history offers a wonderful connection between the learning at Armstrong Elementary and the opportunity for the children to participate in a show as powerful as Valentina.”
The performance, which will feature Armstrong students on stage with the professional cast, is offered for free to the entire South San Antonio ISD community. Fifteen children, ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade, will perform “Chiapanecas,” a traditional dance from the state of Chiapas. “It is powerful when children see their culture reflected in their curriculum,” Dr. Stephenson shared. “As educators, we can choose experiences that validate life experience and self-identity through the integration of the arts.”
A local dance troupe, the Senior Ladies, will also join the ballet company and children. Nicknamed “The Abuelitas,” these dancers are under the direction of Elsa Champion. Ranging in age from 72 to 84 years, the dancers wear traditional Jalisco attire, peasant blouses, and folkloric skirts for most of their performances. They perform folklorico, flamenco, tap, and line dancing, and Jesse Borrego once called them the “golden dancers.” During the school year, the Senior Ladies taught parents and children at Armstrong to dance in traditional styles. “We have enjoyed teaching all ages of children from Armstrong Elementary,” said Elsa Champion. “My ladies are so excited and privileged to be on stage with the children and to be invited to perform in Valentina.” In this performance, the Abuelitas will perform “La Negra” and “Guadalajara,” both traditional dances from Jalisco. Later in the performance, the Senior Ladies will join the students of Armstrong Elementary in performing a scene on stage with the cast of Valentina.
Andrea Guajardo and Martin Rodriguez began Ballet Nepantla in January of 2017 while working in New York. The idea of nepantla provides a historical, intellectual, and artistic framework through which to explore the “in-between” spaces of history and culture, fusing different traditions on stage. “The merging of the Senior Ladies and Ballet Nepantla at The Tobin Center is a capstone event for these students, families, and community,” said Dr. Espinoza. “They will see history come to life through dance!”
Dr. Espinoza understands the significance of this work and the impact it has on students. “As educators, we need to find ways to build bridges for students to connect their personal experience and the curriculum. Latinx students deserve to see themselves and their history reflected in what they are learning to foster their identity development.”
Karen Burgard, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University – San Antonio and Project Director of the CULTIVAR grant, explained the process for receiving the funds to support the CULTIVAR work. “The CULTIVAR grant is a project funded through the Assistance for Arts Education grant out of the U.S. Department of Education. This five-year, $3.35 million grant supports unique arts educational experiences and programming where students and community members can see their culture, heritage, and language expressed in a variety of art forms.”
GENERATION NEXT MISSION:
Generation NEXT connects education and the arts, promoting creative classrooms and culturally relevant learning. We believe creative empowerment is central to a 21st-century education. Generation NEXT removes barriers to participation in arts by providing inclusive and diverse educational and artistic experiences to more than 20,000 annually.