History

Calpulli Mexican Dance Company was founded in New York City in 2003 by Artistic Director Alberto Lopez and Managing Director Juan Castaño and later incorporated in July 2004. Calpulli’s mission is to celebrate the rich diversity of Mexican and Mexican-American cultural heritage through dance-based programming including live music. To this end, the organization produces professional performances via its touring company, designs arts-in-education programming, and provides low-cost, high-quality arts-in-education programming throughout New York City, most notably its program Calpulli Community. Calpulli aspires to be an entity that is celebrated by its community- while remaining accessible to a broader, mainstream audience- for its high-quality artistic works and also for the integrity of its organization. The name “Calpulli” was chosen for, in the Nahuatl language, it means “family” and “big house.” We are a calpulli of dancers, musicians, and teaching artists.

At its start, Calpulli developed a repertoire based entirely on folk dance (ballet folklorico) and music traditions,including mariachi, as the basis of its founding repertoire, which would later become the core of its arts-in-education programming. The company now tours nationally at venues including Cal Tech University, Wortham Center in Houston, TX, Festival of Nations in Tennessee, Jacob’s Pillow Festival, and featured locally at Queens Theatre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Botanical Garden, and a main stage performance at Carnegie Hall. In 2013, the company made its international debut by performing for one week in the middle east in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Calpulli continues to explore different art forms and dance styles within its repertoire including fusion (contemporary with folklore), photography, animation, and original musical compositions. In its exploration, Calpulli seeks to represent the cultural diversity of Mexican culture. In recent years, Calpulli commissioned contemporary works by Francisco Graciano and classically-inspired works by Roberto Lara. The company will continue to develop such works in line with its mission believing that artistic works of many influences- as well as folklore- can tell stories related to the Mexican-American experience.

The company’s first major productions represent story-telling with folk and contemporary dance and other elements. First developed in 2012, “Dia de los Muertos” is a love story that captures the colors and sentiment of the native Mexican tradition, employing theatrical elements and classical ballet to create a world of the living and of the dearly departed. In “Boda Mexicana” (Mexican Weddings), Calpulli explores traditions across Mexican regions, eras, and ethnic groups all related to the union of two people with a pair of lovers and the villain who seeks to separate them. And the company plans to tell more stories in the years to come.

The company performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in August 2015, which receive the following review by Brian Siebert, dance critic:

This terrific company of warm, generous dancers and a mostly female band gave a quick, vibrant tour of Mexican traditions — from Yucatán, Oaxaca, Jalisco — with eye-popping costumes for every stop. The finale with flying machetes was something to see.– The New York Times

Shortly after its founding, Calpulli began to offer arts-in-education programming which now includes in-school performances to interactive workshops, residencies, professional development opportunities for educators, and customized programming. Arts-in-education is a key way Calpulli engages audiences and creates cultural enrichment experiences for individuals. In 2012, the organization finalized its first formal study guide as a reference for teachers and students. Calpulli is a roster artist with several presenters for its arts-in-education services including the Center for Traditional Music and Dance.

In 2006, in response to requests for programming, Calpulli initiated its community-based program, named Calpulli Community, in Queens focused on folklorico dance. The program is an extension of arts-in-education services year-round targeting the Mexican immigrant community. The fee-based program was quickly changed to donation-based when dozens of families were not able to enroll their children due to their financial limitations. The Union Square Awards was an angel that allowed the program to flourish with this model. Now, Calpulli’s community program includes 9 dance classes for ages 5-18 in Queens (2 sites- Long Island City and East Elmhurst), Staten Island, New Rochelle, Red Bank (New Jersey), an adult beginner class, open rehearsals in Manhattan and Queens, and two music classes (guitar and accordion) serving nearly 200 individuals every week. Community programs target Mexican immigrant families across multiple boroughs in NYC and the tri-state area of NY, NJ, and CT.

Calpulli received the Don Quixote Award from Brooklyn College for its commitment to the Latino community. It received the Borimex award from Teatro SEA for service to the Mexican community. It was also the four-time recipient of the Union Square Award for its excellence in youth programming. It received its first award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2015. It was also hailed as “giving folklorico an innovative spin” by the Houston Chronicle at its debut in Texas and was given “4 out of 5 stars” for its Dia de los Muertos performance by the NY Examiner as well as additional positive reviews from the New York Times, Queens Courier, Queens Tribune, and Broadway World. These and more can be viewed on our “Press & News” page.