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Dance, Theater and Comedy in Chile

Theater and dance are deeply rooted in Chilean culture, with many existing companies dating back to the 19th century.  Although the Pinochet dictatorship threatened the future of creative arts, its oppressive rule actually ushered in an inventive, contemporary movement, with performers using artistic expression as a vehicle for political criticism and reform.  Since the return of democracy, the Chilean performance arts scene has blossomed, with dozens of companies, old and new, thriving in Santiago, as well as other culturally rich cities like Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.  


The cueca is Chile´s national dance, said to have originated from 19th century peasant folklore.  This lively courtship dance, inspired by the mating ritual between a rooster and a hen, begins with a man approaching a woman, and follows his persistent attempts to capture her elusive attention.  The couple engage in flirtatious, intimate (but never touching) choreography, twirling handkerchiefs and stomping their feet to music, which traditionally involves a guitar, harp, piano and two singers.  Although initially simple and straightforward, the dance picks up speed and complexity by handclapping and percussion.


Live cueca dances can be found throughout Chile.  One of the best times to witness, and participate, in live cueca is during fiestas patrias, the national holiday of Chile.  Starting on September 18, this multi-day celebration has a variety of performances of traditional dance and music; cueca performances can be found in every major city during this celebration.  Travelers in June should head to the Apaza Valley for the Concurso Nacional de Cueca, the region’s annual festival celebrating the national dance.


For fans of classical dance, Chile has a variety of reputable ballet companies.  In Santiago, head to Teatro Municipal (Agustinas 794, Tel: 56-2-463-1000, URL:, a beautifully elegant 19th-century building that hosts a variety of classical music, opera and dance.  The theater is home to The Santiago Ballet, and a variety of other national ballet companies travel to the venue for performances.  Another dance company worth checking out is the University of Chile’s Ballet Folklorico Antumapu (Av. Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 1058, Oficina 240, Tel: 56-2-978-1014, URL:


Chile has a thriving and diverse theater scene. Santiago is the main hub for theater, with dozens of theaters offering an array of performances ranging from classical to contemporary.  The Teatro Municipal (see above) often has international opera performances passing through.  For a slightly more contemporary feel, check out the University of Chile’s Teatro Nacional (Sala Antonio Varas, Tel: 56-2-324 9780, URL:, which puts on a variety of productions throughout the year.  A hip new modern theater gaining considerable popularity is Matucana 100 (Estación, Tel: 56-2-682-4502, E-mail:, URL:


Chile’s most spectacular display of theatrical prowess occurs throughout January during Santiago’s Teatro a Mil (, the country’s annual summer festival devoted to celebrating and promoting performance arts.  Since its inception in 1995, the festival has grown to include over 40 acts from 30 different countries, with international and Chilean acts performing side-by-side at over 15 venues throughout the city.  With performances scattered throughout the city – both indoors and outdoors – the festival aims to make theater fun, accessible and cheap (the name Teatro a Mil means "Theater of 1,000 pesos"). It’s definitely worth checking out


Outside of Santiago, dance and theater can be found in other culturally centered cities.  Northeast of Santiago, on the central coast, picturesque beach town Viña del Mar hosts touring groups of classical music and theater in its Teatro Municipal (Plaza Vergara, Tel: 56-3-268-8466).  The bohemian port town Valparaíso also has a Teatro Municipal (Uruguay 410, Tel: 32/225-7480.)  Located off the main Plaza O’Higgins, this theater offers ballet, theater and opera.  


Comedy is harder to find, but the larger cities have a few options.  In Santiago, check out Teatro Circus Ok (Av. Providencia 1176, Tel: 56-2-236- 8105, E-mail:, URL:, a comedy and music theater run by Chilean’s own “King of Comedy,” the legendary Coco Le Grand.  



Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Chile: Isabel Allende, Art in Chile, Chilean Cinema and Music in Chile.

02 Mar 2009

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