Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

San Juan Takes to the Streets. (!Ojo!)

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

San Juan Takes to the Streets. (!Ojo!)

Article excerpt

THEY'RE DANCING in the cobble-stone streets of Old San Juan these days and around the shady square known as the Plaza de Armas. Young men and women dressed as plantation workers cavort with towering puppet figures, while masked rabble-rousers in polka-dot pajamas careen through the crowds creating merry may-hem. The festive goings-on, reminiscent of Puerto Rico's colorful Carnival, are, in fact, the final act of an exuberant piece of street theater called "Fiestas, Leyendas, Misas Sueltas, and Nostalgias del Ayer" (loosely translated as Celebrations, Legends, Other Business, and Recollections from the Past) that has been delighting visitors to the historic walled city since last July.

Presented on the first Saturday of each month at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the outdoor reenactments were written by Tere Marichal and directed by Rafael Rojas, whose Coribantes Theater Company supplies most of the fifty colorfully costumed actors. Separately or in groups, they bring to life a variety of historical events, celebrations, and lost or fading traditions born of the vibrant cultural mix of this Spanish-speaking island of four million in the Greater Antilles.

The presentation is part of an ongoing series of culturally themed events entitled "El San Juan Sonado," or San Juan of Our Dreams, according to Carmen Viera of San Juan City Hall's Department of Culture, the program's sponsor.

The sometimes overlapping scenes and situations unfold at a rapid-fire pace across the Old Town beginning at tranquil Plaza Arturo Somohano near the Tapia Theater, where a dapper Juan Ponce de Leon welcomes the crowd of curious onlookers and invites them on a fantastic journey into the past. Soon he is joined by a gregarious master of ceremonies, part cheerleader, part cultural interpreter, who leads his audience to adjacent Plaza Colon. There they witness the program's most sobering sketch, a slave auction that quickly develops into a heated fight between sellers and abolitionists and marks the beginnings of a movement that eventually will lead to the outlawing of slavery in 1873.

As the cortege of spectators wends its way along busy San Francisco Street, other scenes materialize: at the entrance to the winding walkway Callejon del Tamarindo, an African-influenced Catholic ceremony is under way while outside a fast-food restaurant on the corner of Tanca Street, a boisterous, simulated cockfight unfolds for all to see. …

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