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Peru Dance and Theatre


Much like music in pre-Colombian Peru, dance was assimilated into the undertakings of farming, hunting and combat. The llamerada, for example, is an Andean dance still being performed today that imitates the act of llama herding as a means of ensuring the successful realization of the task. As with the "sun dances" of Native North Americans, dance was considered a sacred religious ritual with the supernatural ability to positively impact the quality of life for the indigenous inhabitants of Peru.

A well-known Peruvian dance that can trace its origins to the pre-Colombian era is the huayno; the most representative of Andean folkloric dances. It began as a dance ritual originally performed at funerals but which now serves as a purely celebratory function in the community. The dance is performed by couples in embroidered vests and bright, colorful dresses—the national hues of yellow, red, and blue predominate—who circle the musicians while doing abrupt spins, hops, and tap-like movements to keep time with the drums, harps, guitars and violins. Some variations include wind instruments such as trumpets and saxophones.

The Marinera is Peru’s most famous dance, in which both partners elegantly wave silk handkerchiefs and execute graceful and precise movements to the accompaniment of Spanish guitars, a Creole cajon (a percussive wooden box) and bugles. Frequently the woman, with her flowing, pleated, striped skirt, is barefoot, marking the rhythm and guiding her male partner, who is sharply attired with a white brimmed hat. The name refers to the coastal region where it originated, and the dance traditions of Spain, Africa, and indigenous Peru all contribute to the dance strongly associated with national pride.


There are several theatrical traditions in Peru, which have at times conflicted with one other, and other times merged. In recent times this has resulted in provocative work receiving worldwide acclaim. Before conquest and colonization, and as with ancient Greece, theatre was religious ceremony, celebrating such deities as the sun god Inti in the festival of Inti Raymi, or Feast of the Sun. The ceremony coincided with winter solstice. Following the conquest, it was banned by the Catholic Church, which also incorporated many pagan elements into its own religious pageants. The Inti Raymi celebration did not return until the 20th century, when a renewed appreciation of indigenous culture revived Inti Raymi as theatre, proudly presented in Quechua. As performed in the city of Cusco, a local is chosen to represent an Inca ruler, adorned with a helmet-like feathered crown and bearing a war hammer. He is born aloft in his throne to the town center, where rituals and prophecies initiate nine days of celebrations. Other religious festivals integrate elements of both the Catholic veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary with Andean ceremonial traditions and archetypes.

For its part, the Church instituted the theatrical-theological traditions of Old Spain to the New World, and the first play was performed in 1568 in Lima's Plaza de San Pedro. Over the centuries Peru secularized, obtaining wealthy patrons outside the Church, and by the 20th century playwrights such as Sebastian Salazar Bondy and Enrique Solari Swayne brought literary prestige and social conscience to the Peruvian stage.

However, Peru's most highly regarded contribution to the art of theatre is the innovative company Yuyachkani. Formed in the early 1970s, Yuyachkani, heavily influenced by the modernist, avant-garde philosophy of European directors such as Peter Brook and Jerzy Grotowski, brought about a renewed focus on the actor as the catalyst for stirring the political and spiritual conscience of the audience. The group itself survived through Peru's volatile political and social history to serve as a virtual Greek chorus for the country.

The company’s name is derived from the Quechua expression for, "I am thinking and I am remembering," and has not been afraid to venture into some of the most socially ravaged sectors of Peru, addressing issues such as terrorism and social injustice through a style that is both abstract yet accessible to all Peruvians. A production of Sophocles’ Antigone done in Quechua and Spanish serves a pointed commentary on the abuses of governmental power. The group has influenced a generation of theatre artists not only in Peru but in neighboring Andean countries.

The active theatre scene in Lima, Cusco, and other Peruvian cities offers visitors a wide-range of creativity; from classics to post-modernism. Notable theatres in Lima include the Teatro Municipal, the Centro Cultural de La Catolica, and the Teatro Britanico.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Peru: Museums in Peru, Art , Literature In Peru, Music in Peru, Yma Sumac - The Pop Life of an Andean Princess, Peruvian Cinema: From Crisis To Opportunity, Peruvian Culture and Arequipa’s Phantoms.

By Ricardo Segreda
Growing up in New York, Rick Segreda used to cut out of high school in order to hang out at the Museum of Modern Art and catch foreign-language...
13 Jun 2012

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