Guanajuato is loco for the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. Of course, Cervantes created Don Quixote of La Mancha, a fictional nobleman who read himself into madness, and spoke a language so literary that no one could understand him.
Every October for the past 45 years, in Cervantes’ honor, this small colonial-era town has hosted the International Cervantino Festival, claimed to be the most important artistic and cultural event in Latin America. Since Cervantes is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language, the festival places special emphasis on artistic expressions in Spanish.
Like Don Quixote, the famous literary lunatic, the Cervantino festival includes a certifiably insane number of events. Instead of tilting at windmills; however, the festival carries on its noble duties for 19 days and “knights” to satisfy every person’s artistic interests. For nearly three weeks, there is a full calendar of music, dance, theater, opera, film, street spectaculars, and more.
Performances are held at dozens of theaters, plazas and other venues all around the city. Some of the events require a purchased ticket, but a great many performances are offered free of charge. I’m sure that Don Quixote would have found that quite chivalrous indeed.
The crown jewel of Guanajuato’s performing arts venues is the 19th century Juarez Theater, one of the most magnificent and prestigious theaters in Mexico. The exterior of the theater exhibits an eclectic collection of neoclassical design elements, including a series of columns with brass capitals, and bronze statues of the muses standing along its parapet.
Inside the Juarez Theater, four levels of box seating surround the horseshoe shaped auditorium. When I went inside to see the University of Guanajuato symphony orchestra I felt like I had stepped back in time. As with the timelessness of the classical music, the plush, oriental-inspired theater seemed unchanged from its heyday over a century ago.
Each year the festival invites one of the Mexican states and one foreign country as its guests of honor. This year, these distinctions went to the state of Mexico and the country of France. On opening night, the French band Dionysos played a sold-out concert to inaugurate the festival.
On the second night of the festival, I attended the ballet folklorico performed by the official troupe from the state of Mexico. The traditional music, energetic choreography, and vibrant costumes combined to show off the proud and colorful character of Mexico and its people.
During the festival, I also had the opportunity to expand my appreciation of world music. On a whim, I went to see Systema Solar, a Columbian hip-hop rap band. Not normally my favorite musical genre, I surprisingly enjoyed the high-energy concert and the all-out dance party that erupted within the audience.
Much of the musical rhythms and performing arts of the International Cervantino Festival were foreign to me. Like trying to decipher the nonsensical ramblings of Don Quixote, I couldn’t sing along to the lyrics or follow a lot of the dialogue. Somehow, through the universal language of the arts, I was still able to understand. I know that sounds crazy.
Blogger’s Note: Just before Esther was scheduled to re-join me in Guanajuato for the end of the Cervantino festival, her mammogram revealed a suspicious mass. I flew home in time for her biopsy, which indicated that it was benign. We are greatly relieved, but she will still require surgery to remove the mass. As such, we have cancelled our month in Michoacán, and will be staying home to celebrate the holidays, and plan our next exciting month-at-a-time adventure.