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Posts Tagged ‘Dance of the Feathers’

In Teotitlán del Valle, the fiesta honoring Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo is the most important one of the year. It lasts eight days, includes two convites (processions), several special masses, and (in non Covid years) two fireworks’ displays. However, the highlight for visitors and villagers is the four performances of the Danza de la Pluma by the Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa.

El Picacho, the sacred mountain, watches over the village and the dancers.
The choreography includes athletic leaps, twists and turns, and complex footwork.
Maneuvering the penachos/coronas/headdresses as the dancers navigate the step takes strength and timing.

The Danza de la Pluma is a ritual re-enactment of the Spanish conquest.  The full version is told in 41 bailes (dances) and lasts from early afternoon into the night.  It is danced by folkloric groups throughout the valley of Oaxaca. However, in Teotitlán, it is a three year religious commitment. 

Rattles, paddles, and breastplates of old coins are part of the dancers’ costume.
In Teotitlán del Valle, Moctezuma’s penacho features the symbol of Mexico: Eagle and serpent on a cactus.
Moctezuma, accompanied by a Danzante, with Doña Marina and La Malinche

Moctezuma, Danzantes, Subalternos, Malinche, and Doña Marina are selected years in advance and make a promise to their god and, thus, their church and community to learn and perform the dance at each of the four annual major religious festivals in the village and any other special occasion they are called upon to dance.

La Malinche.
The dance divides the historic person of Doña Marina and La Malinche into two characters.
Doña Marina.

A 20+ piece orchestra accompanies the dancers, playing a musical score mostly comprised of waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, quadrilles, and schottisches. The first time I saw the Danza de la Pluma, I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance at the contrast between the costumes and the music. A little research (after all, I’m a librarian) provided the explanation. At the end of the 19th century, when all things European were being celebrated in Mexico, an orchestra playing European music replaced the original indigenous teponaztli (drum) and chirimía (flute).

Subalterno providing a little comic relief.
Wearing their trademark cross between a boar and bear wooden black masks, Subalternos posing for the camera.
Subalterno taking a break from his Aide-de-Camp duties of offering water to the dancers, dealing with wardrobe malfunctions, clearing debris from dance floor, and entertain spectators.

On two of the days the dancers dance for four hours and the other two, they dance for seven hours. The sun can be brutal and the wind can wreak havoc with the penachos. I don’t know how they do it — their stamina is astounding! I only managed to attend a few hours each at three of the performances. However, I will be back in September for the Natividad de la Virgen María fiesta.

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Yesterday, Teotitlán del Valle’s new Grupo de Promesa de la Danza de la Pluma 2019-2021 did battle, not only with Cortes, but also with the wind — which grabbed their penachos/coronas/headdresses like sails, challenging their balance, intricate footwork, and Busby Berkeley-like choreography.

Moctezuma holding on to his penacho/corona/headdress

Danzantes holding on to their penachos/coronas/headdress

Danzante appealing to the gods to stop the wind?

Throughout the day, wind continued to challenge the danzantes

Grasping their penachos/coronas/headdresses, Moctezuma, his warriors, and allied kings kept to their feet

The danzantes of Teotitlán del Valle didn’t miss a step at this most important festival day honoring the patron saint of their village, La Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.  Alas, the wind didn’t bring much needed rain to this agricultural community.

Stay tuned, the festivities continue for another three days.

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