"Puebla: The Story of Cinco de Mayo" was conceived by Artistic Director & Co-Founder Alberto Lopez Herrera who sought to honor the culture of his birthplace in Puebla, Mexico. At the same time, he wanted to take advantage of the American celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and the many misconceptions about what it represents and why. Lastly, its retelling of the history is through our own eyes as Mexicans, Poblanxs, and immigrants. Read the letter from the Artistic Director.
The production premiered in April 2019 at Queens Theatre and Basie Center for the Arts. The creation of the work was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts who granted Calpulli a National Dance Project Award that continues to support touring of the work.
Our story begins in the early 1860’s at the Atlixcayotontli Festival in the flower-covered town of Atlixco, Puebla. A young man proclaims his allegiance to Mexican President Benito Juarez and his efforts to separate church and state to the displeasure of a nearby friar. After a brief moment of tension, the celebration continues. The young man meets his beloved while the friar prepares a message intended for his European allies.
The Emperor of France, Napoleon III, receives the message of Mexico’s civil war and their growing debt to his country. The church and Mexican elite desire a French monarchy in Mexico, so the friars plead their case to Napoleon III describing all he and France will gain from such a plan. Convinced, Napoleon III requests Maximilian, an Austrian naval commander, to unite with the church under a new emperor and empress of Mexico.
On April 28, 1862, only days before the Battle of Puebla, a small Mexican army was unable to hold back the French forces at the Battle of Acultzingo, where our young man who is now a soldier is mortally injured. The spirit of the Maringuilla- a mystical healer- performs a ritual of both native Totonaca and African descent. The soldier lives to fight another day.
The newly appointed Emperors of Mexico, Charlotte of Belgium and Maximilian, arrive in Mexico City at the capital buildings of the Zocalo and are greeted by Mexican aristocrats, who are in favor of their rule and the opportunities it will create for them. Showing their own interpretation of French dancing, the aristocrats are shocked when the empress shows interest in the native traditions of Mexico.
Charlotte begins her work in planning their rule while Maximilian has other interests in mind. In his failed attempts at courting, the emperors realize that the Zocalo is home to bedbugs that overtake them and force them to find refuge at the castle of Chapultepec, where they live for their rest of their time in Mexico. From afar, ousted President Benito Juarez plans the retaking of his government.
The bright Quetzal headpiece honors the quetzal bird, its connection to Aztec gods, and its dances proudly represent Puebla. Quetzales dancers follow President Benito Juarez as leader before and after the French intervention. At the same time, the strongest army of the era approaches the city of Puebla, showing their united force of French soldiers and foreign mercenaries.
The couple from Atlixco say their goodbyes. They are aware that the Mexican army counts with few soldiers and, even with commoners at arms, is much smaller than the approaching French army. A defeat seems certain, but they persist. The soldier arrives at the Fort of Loreto and Guadalupe on May 5, 1862. Outnumbered but not out spirited, the Mexicans fight bravely and without end. To their own disbelief, the Mexican soldiers are triumphant. The strongest army in the world was defeated today in Puebla.
The people of Puebla celebrate their amazing feat returning to their families and to their festivals. The lovers reunite thankful and hopeful for the years to come.
Puebla: The Story of Cinco de Mayo
Supporters of Benito Juarez meet at a festival in Puebla
Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Dancers: Yuritzy Govea & Jose Maria Rojas
Alberto Lopez Herrera
Grisel Pren Monje
Alberto Lopez Herrera