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'Re-imagining her journey': Guadalupe Dance Company to explore a Mexican icon's controversial legacy in Friday show

"Soy Malintzin" is a kinetic companion piece of sorts to an ongoing exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Credit: Courtesy: Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

SAN ANTONIO — A temporary exhibit currently on display at downtown's San Antonio Museum of Art showcases several dozen pieces – digital photography, bronze sculptures, paintings on metal and canvas and cloth – in a kaleidoscopic exploration of a Mexican icon's complicated legacy. Come Friday, dance will be added to that list. 

Featuring choreography work by Mexico's Juan Carlos Gaytan, "Soy Malintzin" will see members of the just-down-the-street Guadalupe Dance Company exploring the eponymous figure's legacy through movement and music. Also referred to as "Malinche," she's an indigenous Aztec woman who played an instrumental role in Cortes's conquests in the 1500s for Spain. 

Depending on who you ask – and what facts you refer to – Malinche is a traitor, a victim of her circumstances or a founding figure worth revering. The debate's grey areas mean easy conclusions are impossible, making her an appropriate subject for an art exhibit.  

It's that ambiguity that the Guadalupe Dance Company, which specializes in Mexican folklorico (or "folk dance"), will embrace Friday on the historic Guadalupe Theater stage. 

"Normally you have dances that come from the State of Veracruz or the State of Jalisco, and it's very distinctive. Here it's more interpretive," said Jeanette Chavez, who has led the dance company since 2007. "But we do pull from that vocabulary that we have." 

The show itself, while rooted in historical significance, is contemporary in style, Chavez says, and based in Aztec rhythms. Running about an hour long and featuring a cohort of Guadalupe Dance Company veterans (as well as a group of musicians), it allows the dancers to give their own interpretation of Malinche's life. 

Which meant they had to do some research. 

"I don't think that Malinche was someone that any of us really knew about in terms of her history and her story," Chavez said. "And of course there's not a whole lot of information from her perspective. This is the entire dance company coming together to inform ourselves as we were creating and moving and working."

That isn't new for the Guadalupe Dance Company, which for 31 years has explored Mexican-American stories through original choreography and creative productions. 

"Soy Malintzin" manifests that creativity with some key aesthetic decisions, like having different performers portraying Malinche at different points in her life while not strictly adhering to presenting events in the order they might have happened. 

The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) exhibit itself has 60 pieces, the oldest dating back several centuries. Curator Lucia Abramovich Sanchez, who designed the layout specifically for SAMA, said the museum and Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center share a mission of showcasing culture through art. 

"The Guadalupe Dance Company has the unique ability to interpret this theme in a thoughtful way, and their impact on our community is undeniable, Sanchez said.

SAMA initially reached out to the Guadalupe Dance Company in July about the potential collaboration, which means Chavez and her team had much less time than they usually do to create an entirely original production—and to reflect on their own connections to it. 

"It has definitely been enlightening and interesting, looking in her history... and trying to discover how that makes me feel," she said. "We are kind of re-approaching and re-imagining her journey, and leaving it up to audiences to come away with hopefully a different perspective of what that journey for her must have been."

"Soy Malintzin," presented by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday at the Guadalupe Theater (1301 Guadalupe St.). Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased here. "Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche" is on display at SAMA until Jan. 8. 




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