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20 July-6 Aug 2013. A continuation of the story of Oaxaca’s Guelaguetza Festival:

ESPECTÁCULO MASIVO! That’s what the program said. Delegaciones Danza de la Pluma – 60 danzantes! Delegaciones de Chinas Oaxaqueñas – 100 Canasteras! Delegaciones de Flor de Piña – 100 Bailarinas! It was one of many free dance performances. Ten days of dancing and we actually paid an entrance fee for only four of them. The whole town was buzzing with daily free dance and music performances, a food festival and a mescal festival.

There’s a large square next to a church in the central part of Oaxaca called Plaza de la Danza and it is there that we saw this espectáculo performance of the dancers from Chinas Oaxaqueñas in the central valley, with their bright skirts and colourful baskets on their heads. A canastera is a basket maker and the dancers would have all come from the villages where basket making was the major occupation. One hundred of them. Dancers, not villages.

Before the performance

Many of the dance groups included quite young children, who had no trouble keeping up.

The dance of Chinas Oaxaqueñas

The pineapple dance, or Flor de Piña is a Tuxtepec dance from the Papaloapan region. I think. Information is sketchy, sometimes contradictory, and often in Spanish. What I do know is the pineapple dance is definitely espectàculo! Imagine one hundred dancers in a line coming at you at a fast trot, then weaving in and out, waving their pineapples in the air, and at the end of the dance hurling the pineapples into the crowd! I’m not joking. Guelaguetza is about mutual gifting. The word itself means the mutual sharing of gifts, or mutual helping. Every group hurls gifts into the audience at the end of their performance. The pineapple dancers are no exception. When we first got to Oaxaca we couldn’t buy a pineapple for love nor money. We soon found out why. We also soon got a couple of pineapples.

Truly espectàculo was the performance of not one or two, but six Danza de la Pluma groups with nine dancers in each group, a couple of Major Domos to keep them all in line, and two young girls, one representing the indigenous people and one representing the Spanish conquistadors. At the performance we saw at the stadium there was also a large group of dancers representing the conquistadors. There are photos of them in the previous post.

The Danza de la Pluma is a ritual enactment of the battles between the indigenous people and the Spanish conquerors, originating in Cuilapan de Guerrero. It is a great honour to be chosen to dance, and if chosen there is a commitment to dance for three years. Some are chosen in childhood and learn the steps from a very young age.

Before the performance:

and during.

The performance at the stadium

and Don’s photo at the Plaza de la Danza

We went to see Centeotl, a contemporary stage production presented by the Oaxaca Traditional Folk Dance Company. According to the program it was:
a work that tells of the mythic origins of the Aztec culture and the worship of their gods, among them the goddess and protector of corn, Centeotl, who has become the connection point between the ancient rituals of Mexico and . . . . . the modern practices brought by the Spanish. Contact with western culture during the conquest transformed these early practices into Catholic celebrations. It was yet another espectáculo masivo!

Resplandor Del Istmo was magnificently resplendent. An evening performance of mime, poetry, story-telling and dance in a darkened theatre by the people of the Istmo (or isthmus) region of Oaxaca. Best costumes ever! Truly glorious. These are the fashions after which Frida Khalo styled her dress. It didn’t matter to me that I couldn’t understand the Spanish announcements or narrator, or that the dances were slow. I was too busy photographing, and inhaling the beauty of the costumes. Don was less entranced and called the dances glacial. One of the dances is actually called La Tortuga, meaning the tortoise. Not a name to conjure images of a whirling dervish. But he did love the beauty of their sumptuous outfits. We saw the Istmo dancers at Santa Maria Del Tule, at Resplandor Del Istmo, in the parade, and again at the stadium. The photographs are chosen from all four locations.

I hope you’re not all getting sick of the onslaught of the dancers and dances and fabulous costumes of the indigenous people of Oaxaca. This is the third post, and one more to come. Perhaps I’m overdoing it, but it was such an amazing experience, so rich in colour and movement and music and joy that I want to share everything! So next post – more of Guelaguetza. Viva Guelaguetza!

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.