Dispatches from the Field
Mexico City’s vibrance in the theater arts and all else
The theatre is small, hot and stuffy. They have held the house for the presenters from the US, Colombia, Brazil, Israel and Tunisia because we were stuck in traffic on our way to the show. They rush us into our seats and immediately two men enter the stage and begin a contest of sorts, asking the audience in Spanish to choose one of them and encouraging us to yell and clap for our choice. They speak Spanish too fast for me so I am only picking up a word or two, but the audience makes their choice. The lights go out. The show begins. This hour-long piece has everything. There is dance, there is song, there is a toilet. Instruments are made from objects and the audience is encouraged to join in the creation. My husband sits in front of me and he waves the bag he was given around in the air as instructed. His Spanish is better than mine. There is a toilet brush that is dressed as a young girl, a strange puppet that becomes beloved. This show is offbeat, funny, magical and brave, but most of all it is strikingly alive. As live theater always is. That’s the beauty of it.
I am Juli Hendren. The artistic director of Tricklock Company and the curator of the Revolutions International Theatre Festival. I am in Mexico City at Encuentro Nacional de Danza, a festival of dance featuring companies from all over Mexico. I am a guest in a group of nine presenters from around the world who have been invited to see these shows and speak about our respective festivals and companies. I am scouting for shows to bring back to New Mexico for Revolutions. I love being an ambassador of Albuquerque. All the usual things that we Burqueños joke about happen. I tell the presenter from Tunisia that I am from New Mexico. She says, “Ahhh, Mexico. You are from Mexico?” I say, “No, New Mexico.” She looks puzzled. “A new place in Mexico?” I say, “Albuquerque, Nuevo Mexico en Los Estados Unidos.” She still looks a little confused but she gets it. I am not from Mexico, but I am from somewhere unknown.
We all get into the van and travel from hotel to theater, to other theater, to other theater and so on. I see so much work that I love. So much I would like to bring to Albuquerque. I admit that I am surprised that I am not seeing more politically themed work. I had assumed that I would see some performances about the wall or immigration, but I don’t. I see a piece about homelessness, one about marriage, one about chaos, but nothing about Trump. I ask a dancer what the vibe is with artists and the infamous wall. She says, sure, this is sad for them but it’s not really what is first on the minds of Mexican artists as they begin to create work. Of course not. Why on earth would the world revolve around the US? I have to admit this is incredibly refreshing. A nice reminder that what humans care about most is what is immediately close to them: family, neighborhoods, home, work, love.
Mexico City is huge and full of life. It is a work of art. The architecture and public art, yes, but also the day-to-day dance of the people. The traffic is crazy. The city is never quiet, never still. People are generous and kind, helpful with questions and my Spanish vocabulary trials. Chapultepec Park is beautiful and paleta de coco makes the hottest day, the hardest walks and the ouchiest shoes disappear. I’m sure all of the food in Mexico City is great but I default to tacos every time. I have learned that I can indeed eat tacos everyday and never get tired of them. Most taco places put the salsa in a line on the table, in order, hot to mild, so you don’t get confused. Sometimes they get mixed up, but I can take it. I am tough. I’m an artist from New Mexico. We’re ready for anything.