Mexico City theaters are as alive and magnificent as the dramas and musicals being performed in them. The theatrical venues that beautify our streets and our culture are the product of two sides of our capital’s history that we should acknowledge: on one hand, we can stumble upon the vestiges of Pre-Columbian times: the music, the dances and the religious ceremonies, all infused with a theatrical spirit; on the other hand the crucial leap towards the colonial, characterized particularly by the evangelical postures over those magical ones that came from the indigenous population.
The first theater in Mexico’s valley, which was destroyed upon Hernán Cortés’ arrival, was built in Tlatelolco and the performances that took place here were forbidden since they were inspired by the old religion of the Nahua gods. Theater is considered one of the most important tools used by the Spaniards during the conquest to convert the indigenous population, as it was perceived as a dynamic mechanism to spread catholic education, rather than an artistic or sensitive performance.
It’s precisely this immense breach between religion and the lack of sensibility on stage that paved the way for Mexican minds whose plays influenced the history of the performing arts in a decisive way. One of the most emblematic figures was Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Tenth Muse or the Phoenix of America, who, thanks to her early studies in Greek and Roman literature, wrote an infinite amount of plays that strengthened our theater and made the most sublime venues of colonial times brim.
At the same time, the Mexican Independence and Revolution each painted their own brush strokes on the landscape of the city’s theaters. During this period, Zarzuela, a musical-theatrical genre of Spanish origin, arrived to Mexico and underwent a transformation through the retelling of national stories that, as was typical at the time, turned into agitating and festive spectacles.
A side history of our capital, the city of theaters, lies in the independent performing arts scene, a more recent and yet crucial event in the defense of Mexican contemporary talent on stage. Independent theater is not the most acclaimed in our capital, but it is one of the most avant-garde and worth discovering. There are a lot of forums, houses and autonomous cultural centers in the capital dedicated to making theater; small corners that, just as the best spaces for theatrical appreciation, inspire beauty through their performances – sometimes without scenery and costumes to pull it off. Below you can find a list with a selection of the best theaters in Mexico City:
Palace of Fine Arts: Bellas Artes
The most emblematic space of the Historical Center; a museum and a majestic palace in which we can find events ranging from orchestral, dance and opera pieces, to experimental music and, of course, theater. This great palace was built in the spot where the National Theater was, by command of Gral. Porfirio Díaz to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Independence. As one can expect from any building of the time, its architecture and design are very elegant; its Art Déco decoration, sculpted in marble, is delicate and contrasts with the amazing enclosed murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo.
Address: Av. Juárez, Historic Center, México
City Theater “Esperanza Iris”
The place that used to be occupied by the Xicoténcatl Theater before it burned down is now the City Theater “Esperanza Iris”, perhaps one of the most beautiful in the city. Its illuminated façade shines through all of Donceles street and its interior is a beautiful passage of red velvet carpets and opulent chandeliers. In its hallways there are endless wooden doors that reach to the balconies. Besides plays, this forum features presentations by all kinds of musicians, allowing the younger generations to enjoy its outstanding acoustics.
Address: Donceles 36, Historic Center
Cultural Polyforum Siqueiros
Besides plays, there are concerts and other cultural events such as conferences with interesting political and social speakers in this forum. The March of Humanity by David Alfaro Siqueiros, an impressive mural in its façade makes it stand out, as well as the spectacular works of the painter in the walls and ceilings inside its Universal Forum which possesses a revolving mechanism on the floor.
Address: Av. Universidad 3000, Campus of the National University, Coyoacán. Inside the University Cultural Center.
Juan Ruiz de Alarcón Theater
It’s the main theater within the National Autonomous University of Mexico. A venue located inside the University’s Cultural Center, where other smaller theatrical venues, as well as the famous Sculptural Space are located. The Juan Ruiz de Alarcón Theater is small and very modest, but it has all of the essentials necessary to categorize it as a professional theater: comfortable balconies, an acoustic amplifying system, as well as sound equipment for special effects. Generally, they feature independent plays staged by the University, although it’s been used in several occasions for events with foreign artists.
Address: Ciudad Universitaria, UNAM.
One of the most outstanding underground creative spaces of the capital. This independent theater is actually an old house with a stage set up in its patio. The rooms are distributed as balconies from which you can take a peek at the crazy costumes. Although it’s a small venue, the Lucido Theater is a space, in the words of its owner, for the manifestation of poetic animals, a home for the most dreamlike plays and a venue for contemporary music concerts.
Address: Dr. Enrique González Martínez, Santa María La Ribera, Cuauhtémoc
The Blanquita Theater was one of the theaters that promoted a sense of “Mexicanity” and Pre-Columbian identity in the dramatic arts scene of the capital. It’s an emblematic space that saw the evolution of theater in the capital after the frenetic sequels of the Revolution. If its columns and floors could speak, they’d tell thousands of stories of what used to be the Theatrical Circus of the Orrin Brothers, the Bell Circus, the Margo Theater, and finally, the Blanquita, which was famous for bringing together an array of comedians, singers and famous theater actors during the sixties.
Address: Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 16, Guerrero District
Simón Bolívar Amphitheater
It’s an immense room with neoclassic ceilings, arches, balconies and doors. Diego Rivera painted his first mural on this stage in 1922: a 100-meter long painting titled The Creation. This beautiful venue is found in the heart of the Old School of San Ildefonso, and the UNAM’s General Office of Music features concerts of different genres very often.
Address: Old School of San Ildefonso, Justo Sierra 16, Historical Center
Fru Fru Theater
An old and rundown building on Donceles street in the Historical Center, hides a small and beautiful theater within. For a couple of years, it was used as a night club and then was abandoned until recently. The design of its interiors is slightly reminiscent to the Déco details of the Palace of Fine Arts, and its European style balconies are, by far, the main attraction.
Address: Donceles 24, Historical Center, Cuauhtémoc
Art and technology are two faces of human creativity, two that are also closely related, despite the differences they apparently have with each other. What art does on many occasions has been achieved thanks to a specific technical development, a technology whose existence allows the artists to enhance or limit their creative work. Yes, it conditions it, but possibly also encourages it to transcend those limitations.
In this sense, the relationship between one and another human activities could be found in virtually any era, but it is certainly in recent times when technology has a presence, so persistent, somehow so inescapable, that art has been benefited for incorporating it. Both as a resource, an instrument, as part of the examination of contemporary reality, when many of our practices and interactions almost necessarily pass through a technological device.
Thus, somehow the ideal professed by Nietzsche on the need to transform life in a work of art, but this time through art and technology. Somehow the aesthetic sensibility, the discovery of the admirable or the frankly beautiful that any of us can perceive, finds a vehicle, a means of transmission and expression in how art can be magnified through technology.
Nowadays, it is becoming more and more complex to achieve high levels of consciousness, and to create a community without being outside of technology, but ww can use it as a tool to improve our sensitive abilities. To the same extent that we depend on technology to survive, it has become part of our lives, even in its most spiritual and even transcendental recesses. Art, now more than ever, demands to be a vehicle to explore different states that bring us closer to the dimensions of the infinite
Ilumina is an installation created by the artist Pablo Gonzalez Vargas, who through a deep exploration with the power of interconnectivity, proposes a method to improve the energy field of the planet. Pablo Gonzalez created a majestic interactive sculpture of light and sound that is activated by the emotional states of people, generating a beautiful light show and a sound landscape where the participants enter a state of coherence and deep harmony with themselves and with each other.
Ilumina is a metallic art monument, completed with aluminum and LED lights that together form an architectural piece full of harmony. The piece of art combines technology with a design of ancient wisdom. Ilumina has a program that responds to external stimuli, being able to shine more while more “coherent” is the group that hosts, generating a unique shared experience.
Ilumina is a chilling visual experience, and the volunteers who participate in the exercise of meditative immersion that lasts three minutes, are transported to a state of coherence and deep harmony with themselves, with their fellow participants and with the cosmos through a patented fusion of modern technology and transpersonal art.
The biometric sensors are connected to the ear lobes of each participant, which measures their unique state of coherence and averages them together. This is how lighting design and moving soundscapes respond to a unique algorithm, a product of HeartMath that uses biometric sensors for personal self-training in the regulation of emotional states where the sculpture becomes brighter to the extent that the users experiment with their emotions.
The team that created Ilumina included about 20 people from different disciplines and contributions. There was a large industrial design team that shaped the exact model that was taken to manufacturing. Marco Kalach worked with an expert manufacturing workshop, because as it is a public use facility in particular events, it had to comply with all the rules, structural regulations and with protection codes. The executive producer of the project was Gaby Vargas, who was responsible for the expertise at HeartMath, and joined by mexican musicians and audio engineers to make the experience of 360 degrees of immersive sound, led by Billy Mendez. The lighting team, directed by Paolo Montiel, coordinated all the programming and lighting design that makes symbiosis with the audio.
It was at Burning Man 2012, where Pablo Gonzalez Vargas created an art car called Mayan Warrior: a luminescence project and a spectacular audio show featuring pieces by the artist Alex Gray and musical performances by elite artists from Mexico and around the world.
In the penultimate edition of Burning Man, Pablo Gonzalez and his team decided to go a step beyond the great proposal that is Mayan Warrior, by presenting Ilumina, this piece of sacred geometry that radiates not only light but an algorithmic sacrality, it’s as mystical and hypnotic as an art piece can get. The tower of almost 12 meters high illuminated the Nevada desert at the Burning Man Festival 2017, and users managed to enter a mental state full of concentration characterized by a complete absorption, a wonderful moment of loss of the notion of spacetime.
It is expected that later there will be replicas of these sculptures, so that they can reach new locations around the world, and we can experience this amazing spectacle of light and the soundscape that connects us with the profound mysticism that exists in ourselves and that highlights the interconnectivity of our planet with the global energy fields.
Here are some photos of this beautiful project, in which lies the probability of a coherent and luminous future that would be worth living.
If you want to know more about this beautiful project or about the creative artist and allies that integrate it, visit their social media channels:
Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons