Chilean dancers kick off Folk Art Market

·4 min read

Jul. 6—Eight teenage girls and their teacher made their way to Santa Fe this week from their small town in Chile to showcase their unique dance styles to the city and the world.

Ranging in age from 14 to 19, members of Semillas del Orolonco performed their first local show Monday at the annual Pancakes on the Plaza community fundraiser. They also are among scores of artists and performers from around the world who will participate in this week's International Folk Art Market, with several performances scheduled on Museum Hill.

"It's really been an incredible experience," troupe member Valentina Triviño, 17, said in Spanish during an interview Tuesday. "We have gone to neighboring countries, but dancing in the U.S. is a whole other level."

Semillas del Orolonco is from Putaendo, a small town about 60 miles north of Santiago. The troupe combines traditional Latin American and modern dance moves as a way to share the teens' culture and keep it alive for future generations. Patricio Ordóñez, the group's instructor, said the girls have dedicated themselves to dance — some studying for more than a decade after starting when they were 7.

Traditional Latin American folklore dances come from Indigenous, European and African traditions that made their way to South America and merged to form new traditions, Ordóñez said. Combining traditional and contemporary dance became popular in Latin America for dancers hoping to connect with their roots, while having more freedom to express themselves, he added.

"Traditional folklore dance is limited with the types of steps and moves they can do," Ordóñez said in Spanish. "For example, there is no dance from Chile where the dancers throw themselves on the floor, twirl or do pirouettes."

The International Folk Art Market, featuring 164 artists from 49 countries, will kick off Wednesday evening with a community celebration on the Plaza, followed by a private gala for the artists on Museum Hill.

The market opens to the public Thursday morning at Milner Plaza on Museum Hill and runs through Sunday afternoon, with timed ticket entries.

Last year, the event was limited to just 200 attendees at a time due to COVID-19 concerns. This year, the limit has increased to 500 people.

Market CEO Melissa Mann said limitations serve as a precaution but also give guests a better experience.

"We found last year that when we had fewer people in the market, the people who were there really had time to talk to the artists, really get the context and understanding the art," Mann said.

The annual market provides a significant portion of the folk artists' income throughout the year.

"Given all of the craziness in the world with pandemic, with inflationary costs, you know, a lot of the artists have had very difficult times financially and emotionally," Mann said. "This is a chance to get all of them together ... and celebrate what they do."

Natalia Aguilera, 17, a member of Semillas del Orolonco, noted she has seen a love for art in Santa Fe. "The people here really appreciate art — something that doesn't happen a lot in Chile," she said. "It's really exciting to know people really like what you are doing."

When the girls aren't practicing or performing in the city, they are exploring a local culture that reminds them of home as well as new experiences — such as a Fourth of July fireworks show and getting caught in a warm summer rain.

"In some ways it looks a lot like where we live in Putaendo, and the people are very friendly," Aguilera said.

Getting Semillas del Orolonco to Santa Fe was a multi-year process that started more than two years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic halted international travel. Claudia Vargas-Gerst — a member of the Rotary Club of Santa Fe Centro who is a Chilean native — said she had known Ordóñez for many years and wanted to help share the troupe's work.

Vergsa-Gersta proposed the Rotary Club invite the troupe and worked with the Putaendo government to bring the girls to the U.S.

Putaendo agreed to fly members of Semillas del Orolonco to New Mexico as cultural ambassadors for Chile, she said, and the Rotary Club is providing lodging, meals and anything else the girls need during their stay in Santa Fe.

Vergsa-Gersta said she hopes people leave the group's performances with empathy and understanding of another culture.

"We are able to know each other better and to understand that people [are] exactly the same as you and me. ... We are human beings [who want] the same thing, no matter what part of the world you are from," she said.