Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sumo, One Entire Day of a Ritual and Spectacle in our 21st century.

I had just finished my third day visiting Japan and I already had had one of the most exciting experiences ever, a Sumo Wrestling Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Stadium).

Sumo Wrestling is one of the most important sport-spectacles in the world: TV, press and Internet cover every contest and pay and charge for it all over the planet. But Sumo wrestling is also an ancient Japanese ritual which is still alive, deeply alive, thanks to the Japanese idea of tradition and of course thanks to the characteristics of this enormous martial art.

Sumo wrestlers are demigods, they fight to put the universe in order, they dance, they work religiously to be perfect, the biggest, the highest, the strongest, and they are commercial stars. When you see any sumo wrestler you feel small and weak, they must exist because they remember to all us that we are a superior race, because our malleable body (they can become 2 meters-tall and weigh around 120 kilos or more), because we can fight with natural intelligence, it means inside a ritual.

Ritual is part of our unconscious natural science, linked with our corporal roots and impulses, but ritual is also an elaborate game of laws, images, stories only made possible with human intelligence and imagination.

On January 21st 2008, I went to enjoy and to admire an ancient ritual fight, a spectacle and it was a success.

It was the ninth day of competition in this first 2008 tournament, a whole day with opening ceremonies, ritual dances, presentations and of course fighting, spectacular fighting.

I don’t want to write much about it, I experienced this theatrical sport as a spectator, not as a researcher; I’ve tried to analyze the whole program and using it in my future work. I was so impressed by them, by the fighters, those fantastic human bodies using their intelligence to gain a battle, a extremely elaborated ritual battle.

The next paragraphs are copied from the useful brochure (spectator’s manual) the organizers gave us accompanying out tickets, my videos and some comments about what I saw can give a comprehensive idea of my experience that day:

Daily time table for this tournament

8:30 hrs

Doors open

The day begins with the beatings of drums, welcoming fans to the wonderful world of Grand Sumo. You can check the colorful banners with individual wrestler’s names.

8:40 hrs

Preliminary bouts

These are bouts between new sumo trainees yet to be officially ranked.

8:50 hrs

Jonokuchi-Makushita division bouts

The real bouts begin from jonokuchi (the lowest rank), moving up in senority to makushita (junior grade).

14:00 hrs

from around 14:00 hrs, the senior division (makuuchi) wrestlers begin to arrive at the Kokugikan’s South Gate.

We arrived at this moment, so we could see those enormous wrestlers arriving to the stadium and how dozens of fanatics cheers to his favorites.

14:30 hrs

Juryo Wrestlers ceremonial entrance

Decked out in ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi), the intermediate division (juryo) wrestlers enter the ring. Fighters at this rank and above are considered full-fledged salaried sumo professionals.

14:50 hrs

Juryo division bouts

Wrestlers at this level range from young hopefuls aiming for the higher division promotion to weathered veterans of the circuit. These bouts are followed by a short interval known as the nakairi.

And we uses this interval to enjoy some “chanko” at the stadium’s restaurant: a kind of hot pot, a big stew dish with different vegetables and all kind of meat (fish, beef, chicken, seafood), the usual meal for sumo wrestlers. So, I almost finished with the feeling to be shaped like them.

15:30 hrs

Association chairman’s address

On the opening and final days of the tournament the Chairman of the Japanese Sumo Association steps into the ring with the top-ranked wrestlers, welcoming and thanking the crowd.
As our visit was on the ninth day of the tournament we didn’t see this event.

15:50 hrs

Makuuchi wrestlers ceremonial entrance

The wrestlers from the senior division step into the ring in their vividly decorated ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi), turn to face the crowd and form a circle.

This is a big good time for fans to cheer on their favorites wrestlers.

15:55 hrs

Yokozuna Grand Champion ring entrance

The grand champion (yokozuna) each make a ceremonial entrance in the ring, accompanied by two attendants. The Champions clap their hands and stamp their feet, drawing spirited calls from the crowd.

A very interesting moment. You see how different cultures we are.

16:15 hrs

Makuuchi bouts

Battles between the highest division wrestlers begin at the last.

The bout featuring the wrestlers at the top ranks generally begin form about 17:30. And that is the video I could recorded in two different angles, so you can appreciate most. They are the big winner (till that moment), Hakuho, fighting with a lower one, Wakanosato. Of course Hakuho was the winner.

17:15 hrs
Final-day top-ranked-wrestler ritual

On the final day of the tournament , the top three wrestlers from both the east and West sides step into the ring, and perform a brief ceremony heralding the climax of the 15-day event.

As we were on the ninth day we didn’t see that ceremony. Pity.

17:55 hrs

Bow dance ceremony

After the final bout each day, a lower-ranked wrestler enters the ring to perform the bow dance (yumitori-shiki).

Another really strange but interesting moment, you can see his ritualistic movements and enjoy how the people shout when the wrestler’s foot falls onto the sand.


The sounds of distinctive drumming also rings out this time encouraging fans to come again (till the last day of the tournament).


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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Emilio Carballido has died and with him the Mexican Modern Theatre.

Even when in Mexico there are still left many important playwrights, heirs to Modernist Drama, Emilio Carballido was without question the highest exponent of this school because of his considerable work, his quality and his substantial group of disciples.

Like within a family, I have seen colleagues and teachers die and leave behind their theatrical work, and I had seen how Carballido had been one who stayed for many years, always on top, working, receiving honors everywhere, living; he seemed destined to never die. Oscar Liera, Sergio Magaña, Héctor Azar, González Dávila, González Caballero, Hugo Argüelles, every one dying and putting Carballido in a more important position; older than anyone of them, some would say ‘bigger’.

Today, Tuesday February 12th 2008 I have read in some Mexican electronic newspapers the news: Emilio Carballido has died in Veracruz, the beloved province he was from. Only Mexican newspapers, no international, no Chinese ones. After reading it, I saw his portrait with a cat, “El maestro” (the master) I said to myself, and I started to remember.

I remember how during my adolescence my teacher, Antonio González Caballero, talked about Carballido, sometimes referring to him as a good friend, sometimes as a rival in work; many times he mocked Carballido’s tone of voice (which, coincidentally, was similar to his own). I also recall the moment when he, laughing, said how common people got confused with their names, naming him as ‘González Carballido’, and telling Carballido that he had written “Señoritas a Disgusto” (Carballido didn’t like hearing that, said González Caballero).

Those were my first remembrances, yes; then I was able to go deeper into my own experience with his work and his personality.

I remember his plays during my school ages; those plays written specially for students, Mexican students: short plays, simple characters, most of them comedies but also farces. He was a master at portraying Mexican customs, making those plays understandable to anyone in Mexico. That dialogue, so well done, simple, always simple and full of bad words (very Mexican), and I remember something else, his almost lack of writing down any important speech; I know he didn’t like that, he refused to protest against anything, to say something and change lives with his words, he wanted to tell stories.

Many people tried to introduce me to Emilio Carballido, 4 or 5 times indeed, and every one of them was like the first time to him: he never remembered me. Some of my older friends, his disciples, talked to him about me, some gave him plays written by me, he was moral sponsor of one Drama Reading organized by me (on that occasion I said something he refuted in front of the same public!) but, as always, he didn’t remember we had been introduced before. It was not annoying, it was funny. At the beginning I thought it was because he was always drunk, but that didn’t mean anything, drunk or not, he was always very brilliant and lucid; then, I thought it was simply because I wasn’t anything, because I didn’t have anything of interest to offer him; well I tried to put myself in that position and the experience was even funnier; again and again it was like the first time like, we were destined to be just unknown to each other.

His words, his ideas and plays never came to me like any thing coming from a master, those were ideas, words and plays by the master of others, the master of another way of doing theatre.

I remember when an American researcher (she was a specialist in Carballido’s work and Mexican Drama in general) got slightly interested in reading my plays, reacted negatively when I asked her to read my work putting aside references to the usual Mexican drama and, especially, to put aside Emilio Carballido’s vision of theatre. She never asked me why I had said such thing, her face was so transparent, showing her disgust at my insolence. Of course I couldn’t expect more, and she never talked to me again about my writings.

Dozens upon dozens of Mexican playwrights owe Carballido some published work (he was director of one drama magazine and chief publisher at many editorials), some sponsorship (like my drama readings in 1996), or even some government help (it seems he had always been in good terms with the PRI governments). The press always referred to him as ‘the master...’, as ‘the important playwright...’, and in times of scandal he was always respected, with the press keeping quiet. I remember gossips and some bad comments, but I can’t vouch for their truth.

I visited his house in Mexico City once, while one subway line was being built. But I don’t remember more, I don’t remember why I went there that day. I have the image of a large table with papers and books, old paper, magazines, dust, cats and their smell, one window and him, I was probably accompanying someone. Maybe it is a dream and I was never there. That’s an unwritten story, something to create from that vague recall.

I have talked about Modern Theatre because I see it in his whole work. The ideals of Modernist Drama in Mexico died with him; Realism (Naturalism would say some others) can also close its whole book, his Mexican master of the genre, dies with it.
The master of portraying died, the master of colloquial language, the master of historical realist drama. Of course, he wanted to say something, inside his characters, inside the stories, inside the language.

Why did Carballido never really explore other genres, styles and vanguards? Bar some isolated plays, he didn’t do it. It was like he didn’t want to risk his achievements. He was very important, he was at the top of the mountain, but at the top of the Mexican mountain, in a movement whose highest international figures polished and refined this way of writing and seeing theatre almost 50 years before his first premier at Bellas Artes Palace in Mexico City.

I’m sure that the movement called “Costumbrismo mexicano” will be remembered in Carballido’s complete work, as it won’t be with the plays written by González Caballero or Sergio Magaña or Hugo Argüelles, who are also called “costumbristas”, but they could survive with only one or two of their adventurous plays that Carballido never wrote.

I remember those “historical performances” during the 80’s with the National Theatre Company (Compañía Nacional de Teatro), 4-5 hour-long performances, you had to go for two days and book in advance; but I also remember many college productions, and those called ‘commercial’; every one of his plays were a success, people wanted to see Carballido’s plays, they enjoyed them. That is something good I think, that is something to recall, of course.

Emilio Carballido has died, and after the death of a great playwright as he was, I can only keep thinking about him and his work. I have to read his plays again and read those which I never did; I will recall more of his words, of his speeches, I will try to keep in my memory his tones and gestures, and then, years in future, I will see what happened with all that.


( Of course Emilio Carballido’s work and life are much more than these few words I have written, but this is not a study about him and his work, this is a short article where one person, a Mexican playwright also (almost 50 years younger) expresses his experience after reading those bad news. This is a moment for sharing also. )


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Thursday, February 7, 2008

González Caballero’s work has a new home in Mexico City, "El Foco".

After a long month of holidays (Chinese New Year and an amazing travel to Japan), I come back with very good news to write in this Blog, news I had read first on Internet and later had "officially" corroborated: Wilfrido Momox and a group of former disciples of González Caballero are now the people who manage the former Foro de la Comedia in Mexico City, a place which has been renamed as "El Foco". (1)

I have very little information so far, and I'm trying to find more and write a comprehensive post about this. It is said that "El Foco" will be a kind of headquarters for all of González Caballero's work in the arts; this means:

- Staging González Caballero's plays.

- Production of performances conceived with creative processes based on González Caballero's Acting Method.

- Painting Exhibitions of González Caballero's works.

- An archive of González Caballero's original documents.

- A Training Center with González Caballero's direct disciples as instructors.

This is not a project, it is a reality and it is working now.

Here is the e-mail Wilfrido Momox sent to me replying to my questions about what I had read in the cultural sections of some Mexican electronic newspapers (2):


It all happened very quickly, all of a sudden I was managing the space.

I've got a ton of plans for it. For the time being, it's already showing seven plays on weekends, we opened a gallery in honor of AGC, with 25 of Master Caballero's original "sing-sketch" drawings, and which will be the official seat for the homage were organizing for May (this year).

It will also become the official residence for Caballero's works, as we announced on January 14th in our official press release.

We're staging right now an exraordinary text by Caballero, called "The Exceptional Colonial Baroque Family from Narvarte" (La excepcional familia barroco colonial de la Narvarte), Fridays at 8pm, with very good response from the public.

I'm very happy, but I'm keeping a clear head, because there's not just creative work, but also the administration of the whole space, and that means keeping a hundred things in mind. Everything is marching alright...


Wilfrido Momox

I'm waiting for some videos and documents about this new venue in Mexico City and I hope to soon share them with all of you.

It seems that it is still called "Centro Cultural Foro de la Comedia" and the small theater "El Foco".
(2) Here is the original text in Spanish:


sucede que todo fue muy rápido y de pronto ya estaba al frente del espacio.

Tengo mil planes con ello.

Por lo pronto ya lo tengo con siete obras funcionando los fines de semana, se inauguró la galería con el nombre de AGC y con 26 dibujos originales y a un solo trazo del Mtro. Caballero.

Y será sede oficial del Homenaje que estamos organizando para mayo de este año.

Será así mismo la residencia oficial de la obra de Caballero, así lo anunciamos el 14 de enero de este año en nuestro lanzamiento oficial a la prensa.

Tengo un texto extraordinario en temporada de Caballero que se llama: "La excepcional familia barroco colonial de la Narvarte", los viernes a las 8 de la noche con muy buena respuesta de la gente.

Estoy muy contento pero con la cabeza fría porque no solamente es el trabajo creativo sino la adminsitración total del espacio y ello implica estar al pendiente de mil cosas. Todo marcha sobre ruedas...


Wilfrido Momox"


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