Puerto Vallarta nights: Dancing and Art Walking

Traditional Mexican dance demonstrations are held twice a week in Puerto Vallarta, Sunday nights at Los Arcos small amphitheatre on the Malecon and Friday nights at the park in the South End. Sunday was a beautiful day and glorious cloudless evening; the crowd on the Malecon was thick as we wove our way towards the amphitheatre.

The place was packed and the only spot where we could see the dancers was behind the stage – less than optimal …

We watched a flamenco-like version of Ravel’s Bolero and a couple of regional dances by a troupe of brightly-clad and beautiful people before crossing the street to the main square where a competing crowd of folks danced in front of the bandstand to recorded Glenn Gould big band music.

Sitting in between these two gave us a somewhat schizophrenic musical experience. The church of Our Lady of Puerto Vallarta, with its beautiful silver crown, glowed against the sky as the night darkened.

The tiny dog you can see in the shadows below was quietly waiting for its master while the Easter Sunday mass progressed.

Both Ty and I were sick for a couple of days; after fighting off a cold, we headed back out to the beach, frolicing in the high waves and enjoying the people-watching.

Wednesday night saw us out on the streets of centro again for the weekly Art Walk, a PV staple for the last fifteen years. Since we didn’t have a map of the walk, we asked in a few local restaurants if they knew where the Art Walk was; although it’s been going for such a long time, none of them did … sigh.

We did eventually find one of the galleries and from there, with map in hand, we were able to make our way around to almost all of the participating galleries. PV’s contemporary art scene is apparently second only to Mexico City’s but this night there weren’t too many people out, possibly because it’s nearing the end of the season here.

We saw some beautiful Mata Ortiz pottery at the Galeria de Ollas. Each of these exquisite pieces is hand built from coils (no wheels are used) and painted freehand – the detail is incredible. Just down the street at the Galeria Serendipity, the collection is eclectic, with surrealist painting, bronze sculpture, and folk art co-existing.

The weary looking gallery owner welcomed us effusively, happy that someone had seen fit to cross his doorway on a quiet night. Around the corner at the Galeria Colibri, specialising in Mexican folk art, we did break down and buy two painted coconut masks from their vast selection (although I’m not sure where in our bags they’re going to fit).

From there we followed the small crowd to Arte 550, the gallery and studio space of Patricia Gawle and Kathleen Carillo, two women who are a going concern.

They paint and sculpt, run a B&B and “art experience” workshops and retreats, and offer lessons in their studio. I loved their space – it’s big enough to have separate work and display areas with a largish open courtyard at the back.

The biggest and most diverse collection of art is housed at the Corsica Gallery, a vast complex of bronze figurative sculpture and surrealist painting, some of it soft-core-like images of young girls with their panties exposed a la a mid 20th century European painter whose name (beginning with a “B”) escapes me at the moment. While the painting did not appeal, some of the bronze sculptures were excellent and what a fantastic display space.

Across the street, at the Omar Alonso, abstract paintings co-exist with an interesting installation of bricks and water, with which we were encouraged to interact. I obliged, making a small inukshuk as my contribution to the PV art scene.

Our final stop on the Walk was the Galeria Whitlow, the showroom and studio of self-taught painter Michael Whitlow, orginally from California and now resident in PV.

He specialises in photo-realist still lives, framed and lit enticingly, and also carries the work of other realist painters; David was kind enough to chat to us about the PV scene and how he came to be there.

After a few hours of art, the stomach was rumbling and we rolled into Pipi’s for what turned out to be the most enormous burritos I have ever seen. I couldn’t do more than nibble on the corner of mine like a mouse; we packed them home for lunch later.

Walking back along the Malecon was like being in some other world; while the streets two blocks away were quiet and laid back, with art, artists, and good food, the boardwalk was absolutely packed with vacationers in a scene that could have been anywhere … Waikiki Beach came to mind.

See more pics here.

Ubud: Art, Music, and Dance

Yesterday was a culture-filled extravaganza here in Ubud – what an amazing place this is. For a quite small town the number of art galleries, museums, and places to see and hear music, drama, and dance is incredible. Our plan was to visit the Neka Art Museum in the morning and so we headed out down the main drag towards Kedewatan Village. Of course, I could not pass by all the small galleries without investigating them. The first one, a large barn of a place, is called the Art Zoo, run by Symon, full of colourful expressionist paintings, sculptures, and mixed media works, including silk screens of the usual cast of pop culture figures (Marilyn Monroe, Mona Lisa, Einstein) and a pop-art take-off on that hellenistic favourite, the Barberini Faun.

Close by in another small gallery I chatted with Ngurah KK, a Balinese painter in the Young Artist style, whose works are featured in many art museums world-wide and on Unicef greeting cards.

We nipped into the Sika Gallery of Contemporary Art just across the way, a huge modern space containing many interesting paintings and objects by younger Indonesian artists, a space which we really enjoyed. We actually purchased two small oil paintings – small enough to fit into the ol’ suitcase – by I Made Aswino Aji from Bali and the Javanese Awan Yozeffani.

Carrying our red bag of paintings, we continued up the road to the Neka Art Museum, one of Bali’s most important venues for Indonesian art and art by international artists focussing on Bali.

This place has several pavilions of paintings and some sculpture, most depicting village life and the everyday rituals and mythology of Bali. Traditional Balinese painting, like Buddhist and Hindu art I’m familiar with, is highly detailed, colourful, and representational, sometimes in a deliberately naïve style.

Some of the contemporary Indonesian painting on view looked much like western painting from the 50s, some was reminiscent of German expressionism, and some more like Gauguin.

After immersing ourselves in art, we felt a powerful hunger coming on and staggered out of the Neka and into Naughty Nuri’s barbeque house just across the street, where we munched on BBQ’d chicken and pork, along with several other art lovers. Back at the ranch we plunged in the plunge pool and had a little lie down before emerging once again for a night-time dance performance at the Ubud Palace downtown. Since it was raining a bit, and we were late, we grabbed a taxi and got to the venue early, luckily, because we were able to get a front row seat for the Legong and Barong Dance.

I had never seen Balinese dance before and knew almost nothing about it so the performance was a delight.

Everything was new and unexpected. The colours of the costumes and makeup of the dancers and musicians were fabulous, and each time the scene changed and new characters emerged, I was enchanted.

Rather than one continuous story, the evening involved several different dramas. The Legong dance, a historical 13th century romance, features pre-pubescent girls; the Barong dance a lion-dog creature representative of good, manipulated by two actors, duelling with a monkey;

and the finale a story from the Mahabharata of two giants, Sunda and Upasunda, a beautiful goddess, her attendant nymphs, and two clown-like figures whose purpose was unknown to me.

The movements of the dancers, both women and men, are highly stylised, and include fascinating eye, head, and hand movements. While the womens’ movements are graceful and sensuous, the mens’ are more angular and sharp, meant to indicate strength and power.

The Barong was very humourous and reminded me of a sasquatch or abominable snowman-like figure, as well as our dog Brubin when he plays grass alligator. Accompanying the action was a gamelan orchestra and a male narrator who voiced all the parts, which must have been exhausting for him! This spectacular performance is highly recommended.

See more pictures here.