PAP Curators’ trip to festival in Mexico City

February 23, 2010  •  5 minute read

In November 2009, NPN’s Performing Americas Program (PAP) traveled to Mexico City, México to attend various performing arts events, most notably the Latin American Contemporary Dance Festival produced by our hosts at the Federal University of Mexico in Mexico City (UNAM).

The group included active PAP curators Vallejo Gantner, Janella Sellars, George Lugg, Jennifer Mefford, and Erin Boberg Doughton, plus NPN staff, and we joined members of La RED from El Salvador, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador and Peru, among others, for their annual convening that occurred this same week.

Parallel to the dance festival, there was a city-wide month-long theater festival taking place, as well as the annual Choreographer’s Prize showcase, and our already extended 10 day stay wasn’t long enough to see the range of offerings in contemporary performance available.

Mexico City is one of the world’s most densely populated and largest urban areas, and we traversed miles and miles of highways to see work in many diverse spaces, from the city’s turn of the 20th Century Teatro de la Ciudad all the way to the modern spaces of the National Institute of Fine Arts’ Centro Cultural del Bosque, a sprawling seven-theater cultural complex.

Barreling through the endless transit of the city, it feels like Mexico City—also known as D.F. (the abbreviation for the Spanish ‘Distrito Federal’)—is on is on the verge of breaking off from earth and becoming its own planet.

Our host, Cuauhtémoc Nájera Ruiz, is the Director of the Division of Dance at the UNAM in D.F., and has a long history himself in the Mexican dance scene, having formerly directed Mexico’s national company, El Ballet Nacional de México.  Interestingly, there is not a Department of Dance at UNAM, but the Division of Dance exists as a producing and presenting entity that commissions work and produces artists’ work within the extensive cultural complex of the university, which includes a symphony hall, and two other 500-1500 seat theaters and a cinema, plus several smaller black box performances spaces.

George Lugg and MK Wegmann entering the MUAC for meeting with La RED  photo:  E. Doud

The newest addition to the Centro Cultural of the university is the University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC), which is the work of the renowned Mexican architect Teodoro González de León.  The museum’s interplay with nature, the use of light in wide spaces is breathtaking, and despite its clearly modern feel, it resonates with the energy of a temple built in reverence of the art it houses.  We had most of our daytime meetings in this building.

While UNAM has a visual arts and music program, it remains a mystery as to why they don’t have an equally established dance and theater departments.  The good news is that their Centro Cultural actively supports local artists and opens up rehearsal and theater space for their work, commissioning new contemporary dance by established and emerging choreographers.  UNAM has pledged support in partnership with PAP for UNAM commissioned artists who travel to NPN Partners sites as part of our Creative Exchange project.  If you would like to know more about hosting an UNAM artist in residence through the Creative Exchange, please contact Elizabeth Doud at .

Our visit also coincided with the annual convening of México’s National Network of Dance Festivals (Red Nacional de Festivales de Danza), which is a network of 39 different festivals across México.  We were able to attend a presentation about their extensive network and diverse dance communities, and the sheer number of annual events offered by their members was surprising.  According to the presenters, they are interested in knowing more about U.S. based dance artists and companies.

We saw dance and theater mostly by artists from Mexico City, including choreographer Alicia Sanchez and her site specific work Migrantes, which took place on a bus parked off of a plaza in one of the city’s neighborhoods. Twenty five audience members got loaded onto the bus as would-be passengers in an illegal border crossing from Mexico to the U.S.  Some of company is staked out among the passengers playing fellow ‘migrants’ in transit who get pushed around and yelled at by the ‘coyotes’ organizing the suffocating and dangerous crossing, as many of the dancer/passengers tell their individual stories.  The work was excellent and well measured, touching on many subtle and not so subtle contradictions, injustices and unanswered dilemmas around the ever relevant topic of immigration to the U.S. by Mexicans.

We also saw the latest work of Mexico’s Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes, El Gallo. (photo courtesy of the company)

from "El Gallo"

This piece is described as an ‘opera for actors’ that is performed, sung, howled and gyrated in a completely invented language.  The company’s director, Claudio Vales Kuri, was one of the artists hosted at REDCAT in PAP’s 2009 round of Creative Exchange projects, which was also supported through NPN’s partnership with the City of Los Angeles.

Creative Exchange residency at CalArts

CalArts School of Theater/PAP Creative Exchange workshop with Mexico’s Claudio Valdes Kuri and collaborator Claudia Mader in Los Angeles, November 2009.  Photos by: Scott Groller

Their remarkable ensemble has toured some in the U.S. with NPN Partners, and because of these ties with NPN, specifically MCA Chicago and REDCAT, they invited the NPN and La RED delegations to lunch at a donor’s home in La Condessa, which is a beautiful area of the city.  It’s hard to be in Mexico and not get treated to amazing food, and we were served an elegant traditional lunch of potzole and tostadas, and free flowing tequila.

One of the interesting things about Teatro Ciertos Habitantes, besides their outrageous and quality performance work, is their plan to construct a creative arts center on land they purchased outs

ide of Mexico City.  As they tell it, this land was purchased with prize money they won to support the company’s production for the year.  With this tidy sum, they collectively decided not to receive salaries, but instead to apply the monies to the purchase of the land that is the location of the future center.  According to them, the Ecocentro “is a model cultural project of artistic inspiration, low-impact technologies, and the preservation of natural resources through the theatrical arts.”  To learn more about the company and their projects, visit their website:

Our trip to Mexico City was intense, informative, and served to deepen our knowledge of contemporary performance in Mexico and our relationships within our partner network, La RED. We welcome all NPN Partners to join any of the PAP trips to Latin America and the Caribbean.  Please contact staff to find out how you can participate.  Coming soon:  reports from PAP travel to Chile and Trinidad-Tobago.

News Flash:  Deadline for PAP Creative Exchange applications is fast approaching.  Follow this link for more details on how to apply.