Alberto Lopez + George Saenz of Calpulli Mexican Dance Company: Residency at JCAL

Katie Cox

Here at Exploring the Metropolis, we were thrilled to have Alberto Lopez and George Saenz of Calpulli Mexican Dance Company as resident artists for 2020.  While their residency time was unfortunately cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberto and George shared some of their thoughts on the residency, how the work has shifted in response to the current crisis and the importance of telling immigrant stories now.  


ALBERTO LOPEZ & GEORGE SAENZ We were very excited to use Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL) as a place where our collaboration can develop further. From the beginning everyone involved was very warm and welcoming. JCAL staff proactively checked in on us during our visits, and we very much appreciated how inviting they were to us. As Artistic Director and Musical Director of Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, respectively, we have collaborated several times before in different capacities.  However, this project is special in that it is the first time our musical director is composing music specifically from northern Mexico– a place that he knows well as he is from Laredo, Texas. 

Before the pandemic, the plan was to use all of the work from the collaboration for a new production called, “Monarcas.” Monarcas are monarch butterflies. “Monarcas” is built upon a foundation of real-life immigrant stories with an interweaving of the idea of a monarch butterfly– a beautiful creature that migrates through several countries every year.  However, given the circumstances, we have decided to split the work into both the “Monarcas” production of 2021 and our “Dia de los Muertos” production. 

Our process:

The collaboration began with the music composition. The idea for the region of Oaxaca was to focus on Dia de los Muertos and mix Afro-Mexican and native music into the production. We were hoping to use this in our 2020 Dia de Muertos production, but may present this particular component in late 2021. Through discussions, it was decided to focus on the region of Chihuahua to start.

George developed original music from the region of Chihuahua. He developed three original compositions that are informed by roots of the traditional music, but also allow for creativity. 

You can hear about his process in his video below:

Here are the recordings the three original compositions by George Saenz:

Here is an example of the vestiment from the region of Oaxaca. Note the detailed embroidery. This style of vestiment will be used for our Dia de Muertos production.

The next photo is an example of the movement and vestments from northern Mexico.

Using the northern rhythms of Mexico, we workshopped all-original content. With this piece, we are looking to document the traditions that the people of Mexico bring to the U.S.– everything from the music, to food, to customs, etc. Using the music of northern Mexico will help establish the immigrant story of the California vineyard owner who started off as a farmworker on the vineyard and worked his way up. 

Through research, we have found that California is home to several people who started as farm workers that later came to be the owners of the vineyards and now export wines throughout the U.S. and the world. We want to highlight stories about how these hard-working people are now impresarios and business owners and not seen as villains as some have come to think. Their contribution and their stories are important, and we seek to highlight these stories through “Monarcas” through original dance and music.

We would like to thank JCAL, Exploring the Metropolis and everyone involved in helping make this project possible.

Alberto Lopez Herrera is a Choreographer, Costume Designer & Maker, and Teaching Artist with over 30 years of experience in Mexican folk dance. Originally from San Antonio Chiltepec in Puebla, Mr. Lopez Herrera began his studies of Mexican folkloric dance at the age of 12 at the Centro Escolar Benito Juarez de Acatlán de Osorio. He completed the National Dance Institute’s intensive Teaching Artist training in New York. Mr. Lopez Herrera was a dancer and choreographer with several groups and companies working with distinguished choreographers Francisco Nevarez and Clarissa Marcovich. He continues to create traditional garments used in Mexican folkloric dance. Under his Artistic Direction, Calpulli Mexican Dance Company performed at noted venues including Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (Inside/Out Series), Wortham Center (Houston, TX), Humboldt State University, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Penn State Erie, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where Dance Critic Brian Siebert hailed Calpulli a “terrific company” after its performance. Mr. Lopez Herrera was named “Star of Queens” by the Queens Courier for his artistic accomplishments and commitment to community arts programming. Most recently, he was featured by People en Español in the program “New American Voices.”

George Saenz: Trombonist/Multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and educator, George Saenz is originally from Laredo, Texas. In May 2005, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts to study brass performance and jazz composition at Berklee College of Music. Since graduating in 2008, he performed with many award-winning artists such as Gloria Estefan and The Edge (U2), Ruben Blades, McCoy Tyner at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Bob Mintzer at the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, The Cornerstone Chorale and Brass Ensemble at Carnegie Hall, Maria Schneider and The Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, and Phil Wilson’s Rainbow Band at the Beantown Jazz Festival. In addition to playing the trombone, Mr. Saenz is also a talented button accordionist, bassist, pianist, guitarist and composer/arranger, having an original arrangement of the jazz standard “I Love You” be debuted at the Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico in 2008. Mr. Saenz now resides and works in New York City, working as a freelance musician, composer/arranger and educator. 



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