This Fall, Asheville residents got a chance to experience the rich cultural heritage of their sister city San Cristóbal de las Casas, thanks to Asheville Sister Cities International! ASCI’s “Palenque Rojo” cultural project was the culmination of two years of planning and fundraising and successfully leveraged community resources and partners.

San Cristóbal de las Casas is home to the renowned theater group “Palenque Rojo.” ASCI brought more than 20 Palenque Rojo actors, dancers, and musicians to Asheville for their first ever performance in the United States. In two sell-out performances on September 8 and 9 at the city’s 500-seat capacity Diana Wortham Theater, the group showcased a vibrant performance, telling the story of two Maya dynasties – Palenque and Tonina – at war in the year A.D. 711. Palenque Rojo’s unique historical and theatrical performance is based on archeological work and aims to showcase the grandeur of Mayan culture.

Prior to the Palenque Rojo performances, the San Cristóbal de las Casas Committee also worked with a community expert to gear up local interest. World renowned Mayan studies expert, Dr. George Stuart is an Asheville resident. The committee arranged a lecture on August 23 at the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College featuring Dr. Stuart. He spoke on the ancient ruins of Palenque, effectively drumming up interest in the community. Russ Martin, Vice President of ASCI says, “George Stuart delivered an exciting, insightful lecture, really bringing the Maya civilization to life!”

The day before their main performance at the Diana Wortham Theater, the group also made a special appearance at the local Claxton Elementary School. In an interactive session, the actors enthralled the kids with their vibrant performance costumes, much to the children’s delight.

After the theater performance, Palenque Rojo members attended a workshop at Western Carolina University (WCU) where they interacted with Cherokee Language Program students. Describing the workshop, Roseanna Belt, Director of the Cherokee Center at WCU who moderated the exchange says, “We had a group conversation being carried out in at least three different languages.  Even with that, the strong, emotional ties were very strong.” “Meeting the cast and learning about the culture of Mexico from them was also a great educational experience,” adds Hartwell Francis, Director of the Cherokee Language Program at WCU.

Palenque Rojo’s appearances along with the lectures and workshops were attended by approximately 1,800 people and provided the community with immense educational opportunities on Maya culture. As Gwen Hughes of ASCI adds, “For some of the students who’ve been born and raised here and never been away from the area, this was a marvelous exposure to a different culture…..The group also effectively tied the past to the present, and demonstrated to us that the Maya civilization is still living today.”

The project also raised the visibility of ASCI and their work in connecting the community to a global network.  More lectures and performances are already lined up for the year!

Click here for the latest update on what’s in store.