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Santiago and Patagonia, Chile

PAP Curators in
Santiago and Patagonia, Chile

Posted: Friday, June 15th, 2012 at 2:55 pm in News

by Elizabeth Doud and Arnie Malina

In January 2012, the Performing Americas Program (PAP) curatorial team and staff traveled to Santiago, Chile to spend seven days at the Santiago a Mil Festival ( Held in January, the annual Festival boasts over two decades of providing the city with almost a full month of international and national offerings in music, dance and theater. The relationship between Santiago a Mil and PAP goes back almost to PAP’s beginning, and the festival’s director, Carmen Romero was the former president of La RED, NPN’s partner network in the program. One of the U.S. companies from to tour there, Universes, has been presented in the festival and the work of Guillermo Calderon and Teatro en el Blanco, a Chilean group commissioned by Santiago a Mil, has toured the U.S. through PAP.  U.S. curators have been invited to participate in Santiago a Mil on three separate occasions, resulting in several successful trips by NPN Partners and colleagues to this truly impressive, city-wide festival that commands the use of dozens of stages and draws some of the most gorgeous and sought-out contemporary performance from Latin America and the world.

As one of Latin America’s largest and most established festivals, it really shows the power of culture to galvanize a city’s population in a festival setting: everyone is out for these events! Coming to expect the best and brassiest work, Santiago a Mil not only invites exciting new and renown work from abroad, but also works just as hard to support the presentation of local artist companies and to commission new works by Chilean artists. PAP gives Santiago a Mil a big thumbs up in serving audiences for all their work towards supporting new contemporary performance.

Arnie Malina, in his capacity as PAP curator on behalf of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, not only attended the Santiago a Mil festival in Santiago, but also accepted an invitation to extend his stay and travel to Patagonia to attend a new festival called Cielos del Infinito (, an initiative by young festival organizers to bring contemporary performance to the more remote areas of the Magellen region.

Arnie Malina shares his impression of his experiences in Chile:

One of the important parts of being a part of PAP is traveling to see work, networking in Latin America, and, in this instance, going to the Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil in Santiago, the cultural capital of Chile. It was good to see the programming work of festival director Carmen Romero, whom I had met a number of times at various NPN meetings. The U.S. curators were able to talk to her about the challenges of putting on such a large festival and get her recommendations for “not-to-be-missed” events as we put our lists together, because over the course of six days we would get to see around 15 events (mostly theater, but also some dance and music) out of over 60 possible presentations.

During PAP curatorial trips, we inevitably run into our colleagues from La RED, and it was great to reacquaint ourselves with Celso Curi, who is the current president of La RED and had so graciously hosted us when we attended the festival in Sao Paulo in 2011. Among the many other La RED colleagues we met there was former PAP curator Cuauhtemoc Najera of UNAM in Mexico City, who had invited the PAP team to Mexico City in prior years. Each of these international curators and administrators are friendly, hospitable, and informed. They love to engage in dialogue about the works we’ve all seen, which provides an ongoing back and forth about aesthetics, who’s up and coming, what works made an impact, and about U.S. equivalents.  These encounters really help strengthen our ties to these colleagues and create a sense of international community.

Add to these Latin American presenters the colleagues from NPN and the international curators who come from literally all over the world (Montreal, Vancouver, Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, Japan and many European capitals) and you become part of a wide-reaching international web of presenters and that has much to offer on many levels.

In the ecosystem of a festival, there is also the camaraderie of figuring out your schedule, deciding on where to eat, getting up early to visit outlying destinations you’d been hearing about – like our day trip to Valparaiso, the historic port city with its multiple funiculars that take you to old neighborhoods high in the many hills surrounding the port. Real friendships get formed in these adventurous outings.

Of course, seeing work is what’s most important about attending a festival. In Santiago, there was a lot to choose from, not just from Chile, but from other Latin, European and Asian countries. As with most festivals, some of the work is stronger than others; occasionally you are left wondering about the value of the work, and some work you just don’t like, but there is also much stimulation, and occasionally something you will try to bring back to the States because you have been so moved and impressed. Some of the strongest pieces in this festival had to do, one way or another, with the complex politics and history of Chile, the idealism, violence, revolution and subversion, both the memory and complex reality of it.

Two standouts were Guillermo Calderon’s Villa + Discurso which was performed on-site at the Villa Grimaldi, one of the main centers of torture and disappearances in the Santiago area under the Pinochet dictatorship. This smart and ultimately visceral play brilliantly deals with real discussions held today about defending the memory of the victims. We watched this performance on tiers outside and towards the end of the play an actual earthquake tremor (minor) shook the audience – then at the end of this play, a theatrical bomb shatters glass. Another piece, directed by Lola Arias, En Ano En Que Naci (The Year I was Born) has young artists born under the dictatorship rebuild (and passionately argue about) their parents’ youth from photos, letters, tapes, used clothing, stories and forgotten memories.

One of the most pertinent and impressive museums in Santiago these days is the recently built The Museum of Memory, which has been elegantly and carefully designed.  The Museum features powerful video footage from the Allende and Pinochet years as well as recorded testimony, photographs, stories, and artwork, from the living and the dead, of this history that still burns in Chile’s present. It’s difficult to describe how important it felt to be a witness to this exhibition, which was heart wrenching and victorious at the same time.

Attending NPN annual meetings where La RED curators and guests are present for PAP convenings always results in an irresistible invitation to visit our La RED colleagues in their home cities. At the 2011 Tampa NPN Annual Meeting, I met Lorena Alvarez who is the communications director of the Festival Cielos del Infinito, which takes place in a number of towns in Patagonia, including Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. I had already started planning some vacation and hiking in Torres Del Paine, the exquisite national park in Patagonia, where I would go after the Santiago Festival. I was able to extend my trip for a few days and accepted Lorena’s gracious invitation to be a guest of the Cielos Festival – an experience that totally charmed me. The Festival was celebrating its fifth anniversary and they had a lot of reasons to be proud of it. Run on a shoestring, in towns that have no real theaters, the creators manage to bring some very fine work to people who don’t generally have access to it. A number of presentations, including the one mentioned above by Calderon, Villa + Discurso were also at this festival, and an earlier work by Teatro Milagros, a powerful, creative puppetry and film adaptation of Gogol’s El Capote (The Overcoat) were also programmed. An outdoor concert with a popular folkloric/rock band drew a crowd of nearly a thousand people.

Lorena and the two directors, Antonio Altamirano (artistic director) and Luis Guenel (development director) and their cadre of super volunteers and videographers (almost everything there was filmed, including me) were hard working, making it happen, and getting audiences to attend. They saved money by housing the volunteers in hostel/dormitory situations, and by feeding them home cooked meals (Luis’ mother hosted a lunch for us all in her home), and some provided by local restaurants. All the events were free to the public, and the directors scraped together what funding they could muster from various sources. Their idealism reminded me of my early years in Helena, Montana and the founding of the Myrna Loy Center (in a former jail). A number of their events actually took place in an abandoned prison, with tiers in three rows for audience and an empty floor for the stage, all surrounded by jail cells no longer occupied.

As a non-Spanish speaker, attending a festival where the theater is in Spanish is challenging in that many of the events don’t have English subtitles. Sometimes you lean towards the work that’s not too text heavy. You can sometimes sit with a Spanish-speaking colleague, who whispers translations in your ear, or just go with it and immerse yourself in a theatrical world you try to understand on a visual and dramatic level. Without the benefit of language, this approach can be a surreal, but a strangely meaningful experience, nevertheless.

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