Light show in honor of Mexican Revolution wows audiences, but skips parts of history

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For starters, it’s bigger than big.

The multimedia ‘spectacle’ playing its final show Wednesday night on the vast Zocalo central square in Mexico City employs enormous light projections and audio systems, 12 semi-transparent jumbo screens, fiery pyrotechnics, a chorus of 325 live dancers and performers, and a breathtaking fireworks finale.

The ‘Yo Mexico’ show tells Mexico’s history, from the dawn of time to today. It’s meant to honor the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, observed on Nov. 20. The show easily rivals the degree of spectacle of the one-night festivities celebrating the bicentennial of Independence in September. It has surprisingly ducked below the radar of political opposition that railed at the federal government this year for that event’s costs.

‘Yo Mexico’ uses animated designs projected onto the facades of the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and City Hall, portraying Aztec pyramids, sailing Spanish galleons, and locomotives choo-chooing. It covers the usual ‘great men’ and events of Mexican history but also gives attention to female figures not always seen at the center, such as Malinche, the Indian translator and mistress to Hernan Cortes, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a brilliant 17th century nun and poet.

Overall, ‘Yo Mexico’ is an 88-minute barrage of over-the-top sensory stimulation. The ‘wow’ factor is high. Take a look at this fire sequence:


Residents of Mexico City who’ve flocked to the plaza to see it after the opening night described the show as ‘surreal,’ ‘impressive,’ ‘grandiose,’ ‘rad,’ ‘sublime’ and ‘marvelous’ -- but also as ‘strange’ and ‘odd.’ (The link in Spanish has photos.)

The Education Ministry estimated that 800,000 people would see it, and crowds seem to be growing night after night.

‘It’s fantastic! Very complete,’ said Enrique Almeraya, 25, a public worker, after seeing the show. ‘I like that it gives you the whole pre-Hispanic part. It also boosts your nationalism. It was just really cool.’

Several other audience members interviewed by La Plaza echoed Almeraya, saying that ‘Yo Mexico’ reinvigorated their sense of citizenship, particularly while the country is gripped by the drug war. The final segment of the program is a stirring speech narrated by a woman challenging the audience to make the country better, but only in general terms.

‘They didn’t emphasize the war, I liked that,’ said Adriana Vasquez, 35, a therapist. ‘It’s usually always triumphalism, but now it’s about recognizing that we have to keep working.’

Six people were asked whether they thought any period or figure was missing in the show’s historical overview. Only one person responded affirmatively.

‘Yes. What happened in 1968,’ said Antonio Campos, a 21-year-old student. Campos was referring to the anti-government movement leading up to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, which ended with the brutal government massacre of protesters at the Tlatelolco plaza. The event is seen as a traumatic turning point for the country but is still largely absent in official histories.

‘They keep quieting it,’ Campos added, ‘as if it never happened.’

Indeed, major events in the 20th century after the end of the revolution -- except for the 1985 earthquake -- are largely glossed over in ‘Yo Mexico.’ There are only subtle visual references to 1968, and no references to the regime under the Institutional Revolutionary Party or the electoral democracy achieved in the 2000 elections.

The federal government contracted a small French company, Les Petit Francais, to produce the show. They recently organized a similar ‘espectaculo’ for the bicentennial of Chile, ‘Pure Energy, Pure Chile.’ In an interview Tuesday, director Martin Arnaud said the Mexico show is not meant as a strict ‘history lesson’ but a celebration of the national identity.

The show doesn’t make explicit references to 1968, he said, in part because ‘there are children on the Zocalo. We don’t want to be too strong and go, ‘Hey kids, in ’68 they killed all the students.’ ‘

Arnaud called the show’s treatment of 1968 ‘voluntarily discreet,’ and said that there was no censorship of the content of the show from the office of President Felipe Calderon or the Education Ministry, the agencies that paid for it. Ultimately, what’s important to him, the director said, was the public’s reaction.

‘It’s been spectacular, really,’ Arnaud said. ‘We’ve had people of all ages, of all the social classes, very educated people, people with little education, and everyone understands what they want to understand. They emerge from the show super proud of their country, wanting to do something for their country, wanting action as citizens.’

The encore and final presentation of ‘Yo Mexico’ is Wednesday night.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City