Oh, what a night! Saturday evening, November 13 in the Angela Peralta Theater our beloved and incredibly talented professional ballet company celebrated its tenth anniversary with a gala performance. The entrance to the theater was decked out in draped red velvet, there was a gorgeous candelabra stage left, the theater was packed but with social distancing and mandatory masking, and the energy and execution of the evening were terrific!
One of only four professional ballet companies in Mexico (the National Ballet in Mexico City, Monterrey and the more recently founded Youth Ballet of Jalisco), we have been blessedly spoiled by their presence in our city these past ten years. Young professional dancers from here have gone on to dance in Mexico’s National Ballet, in Monterrey, and in renowned professional companies in the USA and Europe. In the finale of the show on Saturday, students from our Municipal School of Classical Ballet joined the pros on stage, in a nod to Mazatlán’s future generations of professional dancers.
The company’s very first production seems to me like yesterday; the comedic ballet La Fille Mal Gardeé or TheWayward Daughter was performed on November 18 and 19, 2011 with costumes from Bellas Artes in Mexico City and scenography by Raúl Font. That was during a golden age of the Municipal Institute of Culture, Tourism and Art, when artists banded together under Raúl Rico González’ leadership with a goal of positioning Mazatlán as home to the highest quality cultural arts in northwest Mexico. After performing The Wayward Daughter here, the company took it to Culiacán and La Paz.
During the tenth anniversary gala on Saturday night the company’s 14 professional dancers presented eleven movements including nine pas de deux from classical, neoclassical and contemporary choreographies. The scenography was gorgeous, with classical pillars made of curtaining and a constructed bridge that, combined with changing projections on the big screen, leant themselves well to the various settings of the choreographies. Costuming was lovely with a broad variety of styles to appropriately accompany each dance.
The pieces performed were Romeo and Juliet, Le Corsaire, Thaïs, The Parting, The Flames of Paris, Adagio, Penumbra, Andante, Spiegel im Spiegel, A Mí and Venetian Carnival. Two of the pieces were accompanied by live music: violin, piano and cello. Artistic Direction was by company co-founder, Guillermo Carrillo. Sadly, Oscar Treto Hevia injured his leg tendons in rehearsals and was unable to perform; he was to be the principal male dancer in Romeo and Juliet pas de deux. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
This is a young company, with one dancer performing professionally for the very first time, yet all danced with incredible aplomb, strength, grace and beauty given the early stages of their careers. The audience could feel the youthful joy and vigor of the dancers. Venetian Carnaval was the most substantial piece of the evening, with the full company on stage and costuming made for the narrative of the ballet. This is a challenging choreography that had both principal dancers, Sandra Fernández Hernández and Carlo Bravo, leaping repeatedly.
Cultura Mazatlán Director José Angel Tostado Quevedo congratulated the company for their hard work and exceptional contribution to our port. Standing with him was Zoila Fernández, company co-founder and current Artistic Director of Cultura Mazatlán. Also on stage for the rounds of applause and “bravos” were Ballet Director Guillermo Carrillo, and current and past company and ballet school members and staff.
The current repertoire of the Mazatlán Ballet includes:
La Fille Mal Gardeé or TheWayward Daughter
Swan Lake (2nd act)
Romeo and Juliet pas de deux
I am proud to say I have enjoyed each and every one of these with them, some of them several times. The company has become an integral star of our local arts scene, participating in arts and cultural festivals, operas, the Mazatlán Carnivals and Day of the Dead festivities.
Maestra Zoila Fernández, Artistic Director of Cultura Mazatlán and founder of the Mazatlán Ballet, told me for this article, “The company now dances in classic and neoclassical styles. My greatest satisfaction these ten years, after so much hard work, is seeing that today the Mazatlán Ballet Company is a focal point in the port, that we enjoy a public that always fills the seats of the theater, and that more than anything, we serve future generations as a source of work and a mirror. It is truly a luxury in Mazatlán to have such a serious and dedicated cultural work.”
The Mazatlán Ballet company has deep roots and connections in the National Ballet of Cuba. Its two founders, Maestra Zoila Fernández and Maestro Guillermo Carrillo, both worked and studied there. Maestra Zoila has worked with the Municipal Ballet School for 23 years, and Maestro Guillermo arrived here in 2010 with the goal of starting the new company. During its first season, 2011-12, Maestra Ramona de Saá Bello, grand dame and maître of ballet in Cuba, cancelled contracts she had in Brazil and Italy to reside here and advise. Two and a half years earlier, her daughter, Margarita Naranjo, a beloved teacher in Mazatlán’s Municipal Ballet School, had died as a victim of domestic violence.
Upon the occasion of the company’s founding, Maestra Zoila was interviewed by none other than Héctor Guardado, our much-esteemed local cultural and arts journalist with the Noroeste. She told him at the time, “This was a dream that we have been forging with much work, over two and a half years. Maestra Margarita Naranjo and I visualized it for many years, together with Maestra Ramona de Saá, one of the most important ballet maitres in Cuba. This year everything came together thanks to the enthusiasm of Raúl Rico and private interests in Mazatlán. There are many people backing this project.”
The Maestra also invites everyone to the gala on November 20, a fundraiser to put a much-needed elevator in the Angela Peralta Theater, to make the theater inclusive and attractive to everyone. I have tickets available, if you would like some, or you can stop by Cultura offices or the theater box office.
This past Saturday evening, November 6, Delfos Contemporary Dance Company put on an outstanding show at 7:30 pm in the Angela Peralta Theater. The performance, directed by Víctor Manuel Ruíz Becerra, was dedicated to co-founder Claudia Lavista’s recently departed father, and what a tribute it was! Entitled “Painting that Moves,” the dances reflected the lives and work of Salvador Dalí, Leonardo Da Vinci, Frida Kahlo, Toulouse Lautrec, Edvard Munch, Jackson Pollock, William Turner, Vincent Van Gogh, Remedios Varo, and Diego Velázquez. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Heavy on the Spanish, particularly Catalán painters, what fascinated me was that this performance was not so obvious. The choreography and scenography did not directly replicate the painters’ work, but most definitely evoked the spirit of the painters’ lives and work. The transitions between pieces were also masterful, weaving together elements of each seamlessly.
Throughout the evening audience members wondered why the stage was wrapped in white paper, much like a gift to the audience. That became clear during the last choreography, when the colorful paint splatters of Jackson Pollack fell from hanging cans all over the performers, to culminate in an exhuberant communal climax.
Nine dancers played multiple roles with quick costume and energy changes: Johnny Millán, Surasí Lavalle, Karla Núñez, Xitlali Piña, Daniel Marín, Diego Alcalá, Jonathan Alavés, Luisa Escobosa, and Rodrigo Agraz, as part of the 2021 Mazatlán Cultural Festival.
This was the first event in the theater I have attended in quite some time, due to the pandemic/endemic. I want to let you all know that I felt very comfortable during the evening. Cultura issued many reminders for those attending to keep on their masks, there was an empty seat between groups, and people were staggered between rows. The main level was fairly full, given the seating restrictions, and I would guess the first balcony was perhaps one-third full based on current capacity. Now that we are vaccinated, it would seem to me to be worth it to get out and about, safely, again.
You will have another terrific chance next Saturday November 13th when our local ballet company celebrates its tenth anniversary! Can you believe it’s already been ten years? What a gift to Mazatlán these two companies are, the ballet and the contemporary dance. Be sure to get your tickets as no doubt the theater will fill.
If you believe our beloved Angela Peralta Theater should be fully accessible to those with mobility impairments, I have a very special treat for you!
On Saturday night, November 20th, a group of people passionate about accessibility will gather together to raise funds to help install a freestanding glass elevator in the Angela Peralta Theater in order to make the galleries fully accessible. We will enjoy symphonic music and a four or five-course dinner prepared by our beloved Chef Gilberto del Toro of Gaia fame. If the tasting is any indication, you do not want to miss this! Wine will also flow freely.
The evening will begin at 6:30 pm with a “blue carpet” in honor of those who are differently abled. The performance will begin at 7:30 in the theater, followed by dinner and an art auction at 8:30 pm. Vaccination certificates and proper use of a face mask will be required.
Tickets are 3000 pesos per person; Chef Gilberto is donating his time and expertise. Wines and artwork to be auctioned are also donated. Proceeds from the event will go towards purchasing a freestanding glass elevator to be installed near the bar of the theater, to allow access to the upstairs galleries without affecting the structure of the protected building. Artists who wish to donate pieces to support the cause are welcome to contact me, as are those wishing to make a donation towards the elevator.
For me this is a dream come true. You may remember a few years ago when I had a photo exhibition on the second floor of the opera house. It was the best-attended art event in the history of Mazatlán, CULTURA told me. However, friends on crutches or in a wheelchair were not able to join me at the inauguration, nor was anyone with mobility issues able to view the six-week exhibition. It was so unfair! An elevator will help us rectify that and make the opera house of which we are all so proud accessible.
Please contact me via WhatsApp to get you your tickets or more information: +52-669-122-8962. To make a donation to the cause send your money to the Bancomer account on the flyer above, with your name so Cultura can thank you, or send a note via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll make sure it goes to the elevator account. Thanks!
The mayor, El Químico Benítez, has been planning a Plaza de la Banda for Mazatlán, inspired in Guadalajara’s Plaza del Mariachi and Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi. Those plans were put on hold during the COVID pandemic, but activity seems to have resumed in recent weeks.
While nothing is yet firm, locations discussed for the plaza include the empty lot in front of the aquarium, where buses and tourists now park, as well as possibly building an extension of the malecón out into the ocean.
When I recently saw an incredibly Instagram-friendly projection of a five-meter-tall public artwork intended for the new plaza, El Pedro Infante Besador (Kissing Pedro Infante), I was motivated to interview the artist. He is one of the best muralists in Mexico today, widely exhibited internationally, and a native-born Sinaloense from Mocorito (1968): Ernesto Rios Rocha. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Maestro Rios told me that in 2019 the mayor called to request him to draw up the initial plans for the plaza. He worked on them for four months, and the plans he presented included kinetic sculptures with illumination and music. One of them was the Pedro Infante, and another a sculpture of Don Cruz Lizárraga with a 30 meter tuba!
Ernesto Rios is the artist who spent three years (2008-2011) living in Mazatlán, and with a crew of 28 built the Guinness-record-holding large mural on the outside wall of the convention center. He and his helpers also painted the striking figurative-surrealist murals inside. He has works displayed in the national palace in Mexico City and was commissioned for AMLO’s presidential portrait.
Maestro Ernesto is quite a Renaissance man: he paints, sculpts and composes music. He studied with the Fridos, those well-respected students of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Arturo García Bustos, Rina Lazo and Enrique Estrada. He has campaigned for the past five years or so for the opening of a School of Muralism and Monumental Art in Mexico City. Such an endeavor sounds smart to me; Mexico is so well known for its tradition and artists in that vein.
During my interview Rios Rocha made two main points that he’d love for me to share with our readers:
Murals need maintenance every five to seven years. Properly cleaning them will double their lifespan. He urges everyone in Mazatlán and Sinaloa to campaign to have Mazatlán’s convention center mural properly cleaned and restored.
There is a beautiful Byzantine-style mural by the artist Rolando Arjona Amabilis (the same artist who made Mazatlán’s escudo in Olas Altas) in Culiacan’s Parque Constitución, on Obregón Street, that is badly in need of restoration. This is a valuable piece of art and heritage that he strongly urges us to preserve.
Driving in rural southeastern Wisconsin recently I came across a sight I’ve never seen before: brown paper bags topped the stalks in a field of corn. What?! Was this the first step in early Halloween decorating? Instead of a corn maze were they going to draw jack-o-lantern faces on the bags? Playing cornhole bags is a popular yard game here; were these bags some sort of play on words? The above conjectures are a joke; I knew the bags had something to do with serious farming. So, I had to stop and ask the farmer what the paper bags were all about.
That’s how I met Jasper. He told me he was hand-pollinating the corn. I came to learn that he was basically chastity-belting corn stalks with paper bags: keeping the male and female parts of the corn under wraps to prevent errant cross-pollination.
Jasper works for a seed breeder, and they cooperate internationally with those looking to enhance the nutritional value and hardy heritage of the grains we eat—corn, oats, sorghum, and amaranth, while increasing soil health. He introduced me to his colleague, Alexander, and their boss, Dr. Walter Goldstein, founder of the Mandaamin Institute, a non-profit agricultural research firm based in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Mandaamin is the Algonquin word for corn or the spirit of corn—a connection to so many indigenous gods of corn and fertility in this western hemisphere and a reminder of its importance in our world. Walter worked for over twenty-five years as Research Director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy prior to starting his institute. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Nutrition would seem to be the reason we eat. We all want to be healthy, and we love good tasting food. Yet, many of us grumble that the fruits and vegetables we eat today don’t taste as good as we remember, and our bodies suffer because food doesn’t contain the nutritional quality it used to. Our soils are degraded, and mass production of food today requires expensive chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and machinery. We have a running joke in our family that we will all show up on our cousins’ low-tech farm in Indiana after the zombie apocalypse. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, the supply chain breaks down quite easily, and secure, healthy food sources are paramount to our survival. The Mandaamin Institute’s program is the result of 49 growing seasons in Wisconsin, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. The objective: to naturally breed corn that is more nutritious, efficient and that is farmed in ways that leave our planet healthier.
This is not only good news for our soil, water, and those of us who eat corn, but also for the animals who consume corn. He and his team discovered nutritional value traits hidden in old land race corn back in 2004, and nitrogen-fixing corn in 2009. The photos on their website of the difference in the bright orange yolks of the eggs laid by chickens who eat Mandaamin corn vs. GMO corn, and in the color of the skin of the chickens producing such carotene-rich eggs, is remarkable. They’ve produced nitrogen-efficient or “fixing” corn as shown in the photo below and have naturally nitrogen-rich corn varieties that have the inherent smarts to produce bacteria that are partially consumed by the plant, feeding it with minerals and proteins. Those bacteria encourage the plant’s roots to grow numerous and large root hairs. The plant ejects that bacterium into the soil, enriching it, and then takes the bacteria in once again with new roots. Those bacteria make their way into the new seed and are stored there for the next generation. Thus, this corn is itself both a farmer and a seed breeder! Mandaamin also has varieties of corn that resist pollination from GMO pollen, a huge hurdle in organic and biodynamic farming.
Amazingly to me, Walter told me that in breeding ancient corn for modern soils, he has discovered that his nutritionally rich, hardy, soil-enhancing corn grows BETTER without fertilizers—including without manure! While that runs counter to gardening 101 principles that even I know, it is exciting stuff as these heritage plants naturally morph and reposition their own genomes in a relationship with the grower and the environment. They would sure seem to be just the seed I want on my cousins’ farm post-apocalypse!
Interestingly and typically, in my initial drive-by I had only noticed brown paper bags on the corn stalks—tassel bags. Visiting on foot the following day, we saw there were also white bags covering the ears (shoot bags), and learned that Jasper and Alexander use green and red tassel bags as well. The tassel bag colors are code for the process being used. Brown bags for their purposes indicate self-fertilizing (pollen from that same stalk is shaken onto the corn silk). Green bags are for sib mating sister plants in the row. Red bags designate crossing or cross-pollinating. The white shoot bags are used to cover the ear/silk so that it is not pollinated until that process purposefully occurs.
The process that we observed in the field, to my limited knowledge and observation skills, was this:
As shoots develop and before tassels mature, its shoots are covered with a white waxed bag to prevent the silks from being pollinated. The bag must have plenty of room in it for the husks/silks/ear to grow and not pop the bag off. Interesting note: each pollinated silk produces a kernel of corn!
Once a tassel matures sufficiently and develops anthers (pollen), it is covered with a bag that is tightly closed to contain the pollen. Jasper and Alexander used a staple gun to close the bags. There is usually a 2-to-3-day window when pollinating can occur, and it must be done in dryness.
At the same time as the tassels are bagged, the white shoot bags are removed, and the husks and silks are trimmed. The shoot bag is then quickly replaced, to limit exposure to airborne pollen.
The following day, the tassels are shaken into the tassel bag to collect the pollen, and the bag carefully removed. The shoot bag is removed to reveal an overnight growth of silks ready and waiting for pollination. For the self-pollination we witnessed, the pollen is sprinkled on the shoot (ear/silk) of that same stalk. The numbered tassel bag is then stapled securely over the pollinated shoot.
Once the silks have dried and kernels have started to develop, the shoot bags will be removed.
They want to breed “synchronous plants,” those that develop pollen and silks at the same time. If a plant doesn’t, it will be ignored. Their plants are all organic, though they are not officially certified. The ears will be hand harvested.
I can tell you from personal experience that once that pollen gets shaken off the tassels, the bees come out in droves! They are very, very excited to smell all that fresh pollen, so it’s a good thing the shoots get covered again quickly and tightly.
Each of the paper bags has a date on it, so that when the ear is harvested, they will know when it was pollinated. Each range in the field is numbered, as is each row, and there are tags indicating those locations. Thus, it’s very easy to track progress.
I watched Jasper discard a shoot whose bag had fallen off and its silks exposed to the air; that’s no good for their testing purposes. The corn plant puts most of its energy into the top shoot or ear, so that is the one that they pay most attention to when covering. However, Mandaamin is working on corn that is more productive, minimum two ears per stalk, so they cover the shoots they see growing. I found it sad to learn that most corn produced today only has one ear per stalk! Very different from my youth. I was told that is why it’s now planted so much closer together than it was when I was a child.
I also watched him perform “surgery.” Jasper found a shoot whose silks were not exposed, and he had to cut back the husk a bit for them to gain freedom. He told me this is not ideal, but necessary. He then covered the shoot for pollination the following day.
Another memorable thing I witnessed was one ear of corn on the tassel of the plant! What? Even I know that’s not “right!” Turns out this was a hermaphrodite, produced by a sucker plant that lives off a main plant. I thought that was cool. Jasper says they leave those be, not covering them, as they are not useful for their research purposes.Another memorable thing I witnessed was one ear of corn on the tassel of the plant! What? Even I know that’s not “right!” Turns out this was a hermaphrodite, produced by a sucker plant that lives off a main plant. I thought that was cool. Jasper says they leave those be, not covering them, as they are not useful for their research purposes.
Finally, I learned that my beloved huitlacoche, that corn fungus that Mexicans cook up so deliciously and that I love in a cream sauce over chicken, grows here, too. Here it is called “smut” and is a sign of a corn plant out of balance—one which cannot control the fungus Ustilago, which naturally infects corn.
Mandaamin’s process of emergent evolution selects the best plants and grows them under hardship conditions: sandy soil, in the gravel left behind in a quarry, under severe drought. Locally here in southeast Wisconsin they experiment with about 20 acres each season; only three to four are hand-pollinated, the remainder are seed trials. They partner with traditional and organic farmers and a medium sized seed company called Foundation Organic Seed. They collaborate with Professor James White and his lab at Rutgers and with North Carolina State University. They do not use fertilizers but occasionally spread manure to maintain soil fertility. They have published their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals and base their approach on feedback from farmers obtained at the turn of the millennium in workshops with the Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Minnesota Organic Growers, and the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference.
Most of Mandaamin’s seed of old-time corn comes from the USDA, which he tells us has a fantastic collection of corn. The plant introduction station in Ames, Iowa is where Walter usually goes to get corn from anywhere in the world. Oats, wheat, and other small grains he obtains from the repository in Idaho. “These centers and their plant introduction system are one of the best things about this country. They have rich sets of seed varieties from all over the world, and very supportive and helpful people who help us identify races and their traits to aid our research. They also gift seed to people all over the world.”
Walter showed me corn that’s part Mexican chapalote—the oldest corn in North America, which they’ve bred for nitrogen efficiency. Mandaamin has winter nurseries in Puerto Rico and Chile, so breeding continues year-round. This is not seasonal labor. Jasper, for example, works year-round, working on research and development and preparing seed for planting.
Besides an ongoing quest for funding to continue operations, and talent committed to pursuing biodynamic and organic corn breeding, Mandaamin faces the dilemma of how to get their seed used by farmers while protecting their discoveries from the opportunism of other seed breeders who could pirate their hard work. They want to get their work out there, but don’t want to be stupid. They refuse to patent their work, though they do license it; they rely on an honor system based on the ability to genetically track their seed.
Humans have been cultivating new plant varieties to suit their purposes since farming began—plants suitable to local climates, flowers with new colors, drought- or pest-resistant crops, higher-yield varietals. It makes sense that we would care for plants in a way that makes them more of what we want and need. There are at least two ways of doing this.
Hybrids are developed in the field using natural, low-tech methods. Hybridization from cross-pollination happens naturally in the wild. Classic open-pollination plant-breeding takes six to ten generations. Modern controlled crossing takes only one generation (F1). A belief frequently underlying this process is of a two-way relationship between the grower and the plant; one takes care of the other.
Genetically modified (GM) varieties are created in a lab in combination with field work using complex technology such as gene splicing, which can mix genetic material from differing kingdoms such as bacteria and plants. GM seeds are also frequently implanted with pesticides or fertilizers. A belief frequently underlying this process is of a one-way relationship: plants provide sustenance.
Corn is a wild grass that has been selectively bred by humans since its domestication in Mexico over 10,000 years ago! That wild grass—teosinte—produced only 5-10 kernels per stalk, while modern corn can have over 500 kernels! Corn today is a staple food for billions of people worldwide and a source of livelihood for millions of farmers in hundreds of countries. It has hundreds of varieties with numerous colors and traits. Corn feeds humans as well as livestock, can be turned into ethanol, used for brewing beer, turned into high-fructose syrup, cooking oil, and even bio-plant-based plastics.
The paper bags in the corn field are a way of testing and hybridizing corn in a controlled manner. Seed breeders like Jasper combine the scientific method with natural, simple yet very labor-intensive techniques to enhance the nutritional value of our food and improve soil health. Their techniques provide a natural alternative to GMO.
The problem with both F1 hybrids and GM plant varieties is that they create a dependency on seed companies because growers must purchase new seed every year. Newly developed GM formulas and hybrids are licensed for one-time use: farmers buy seed to plant yet cannot harvest productive seed from the crops they grow to produce more food. Our agricultural industrial complex has broken nature to recoup its research and development costs and make money, making it impossible to reproduce such seed naturally. In the case of Mandaamin, the farmers have demanded hybrids rather than open-pollinated varieties because they want the traits that hybrids provide.
Mandaamin is a labor of love, a non-profit that is looking out for our common good. They need donations and investment to continue their research. Please donate via their website or this link if you are able. If you know like-minded breeders or farmers, or are interested in a possible partnership, please contact Walter (+1-262-248-1533 or via email to email@example.com) for more information on partnerships and support.
How can people learn about this type of farming? Walter told us that the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, some provinces in Canada) has a farmer-breeder club. Most university programs sadly do not teach this type of farming; working and apprenticing are the only way to really learn. He would like to organize a national association and start an educational and training program through that association.
This method of agriculture is truly a blend of art and science; it represents a dedication to the understanding of being one with the planet. I am grateful to these brown paper bags in the field and to the men who tend them; it gives me hope for our planet’s and our future health.
I am better off by having met these men, and I thank them for it. Through them I learned that I grew up just miles away from the oldest biodynamic farm in the USA—the Zinniker farm! I know we have at least two respected research institutes here locally, aimed at improving our health and that of our planet via better farming. I learned about an awesome sustainable farming school run by an incredible Norwegian immigrant to this area: FarmWise Education‘s founder and Walter’s wife, Bente Goldstein. And I sincerely hope that some positive connection and collaboration will come from this article.