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Nahuatlismo: The Aztec Method of Acting (1999)
  • TItle: Nahuatlismo: La forma Nahua de actuar
  • Alternate Title: Nahuatlismo: The Aztec Method of Acting
  • Date: 4 June 1999
  • Location: Recorded in Mexico
  • Interviewee: Jesusa Rodríguez
  • Interviewer: Diana Taylor
  • Duration: 01:25:44
  • Language: Spanish

Nahuatlismo: The Aztec Method of Acting (1999)

Interview with Jesusa Rodríguez, conducted by Diana Taylor, founding director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. In this interview, Jesusa Rodríguez discusses the possibility of developing a non-Western, Mesoamerican acting technique, based in a pre-Hispanic conception of the human being, which understands the body in a conjunction of mind and spirit. Jesusa Rodríguez follows Alfredo Federico López Austin’s research on the Aztec worldview and on Mesoamerican religion, and explains how she concentrates her strength in bodily channeling the persons she characterizes in her shows. In the second part of this interview, she channels La Malinche, the interpreter and lover of Hernán Cortés in Mexico’s Conquest, to tell her true story. Through this example, and in a dialogue with contemporary indigenous communities’ struggles, Jesusa Rodríguez proposes alternative ways of knowledge, and alternative art and performance techniques, based on indigenous worldviews.

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What I’m going to tell you sounds kind of exotic, but it’s really the result of my past fifteen years working onstage. I’ve been tying together the loose ends of a rarely studied and very obscure world: the theater and acting techniques of Mesoamerica. Since I don’t know of any studies that deal specifically with Mesoamerican theater, how can I deduce that there’s a Mesoamerican acting technique? So this is what I’ve been working on over the past fifteen years. Alfredo López Austin, in his book The Human Body and Ideology: The Conceptions of the Ancient Nahuas (which is the first great systematization of the Mesoamerican worldview), refers to the soul as three entities: Tonalli, Teyolía and Ihíyotl, three souls in the body. One, which is here on the back of the head, is called Tonalli. There is another one in the heart, called Teyolía, and another one in the liver, called Ihíyotl. Each of these souls has its own functions and protective deities. But there are important differences. The Tonalli is the soul that enters and leaves the body; this is the soul that travels while you sleep at night, and then comes back. This is the soul that leaves and comes back every time you sneeze, or whenever you yawn, or when you’re startled, it leaves. That’s why it’s not good to sneeze and keep talking, because when you sneeze, your Tonalli leaves, and you have to wait a little bit, and then it comes back. At that moment, anything can enter your body. However, the soul of the heart and the soul of the liver only leave your body when you die; those two souls will exit only at the exact moment of your death. You will release them like humors.

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