If you have the chance, go to an event at the Anita Villalaz Theater in Casco Viejo. It is a charming and intimate theater, a type now disappearing. It was built between 1931 and 1936.
Originally, this neoclassical building was used as the Hearing Room of the Supreme Court of Justice, where different public order trials were carried out. The Supreme Court of Justice is the main judicial organization in Panama.
In 1916 the building was reconfigured as a theater which holds 250 people total. Stairs lead up to the 110 seats in the stalls. The gallery area has 140 plush red chairs. Backstage is a dressing room area. The staff consists of an administrator, secretary, lighting technician, stagehand and a general assistant.
Named “Teatro Anita Villalaz”, it’s a tribute to the Colombian actress in recognition of her theatrical career and work for the Panamanian Theater. Anita Villalaz was born in Bogota, on June 11, 1908. After she moved to Panama, she became a professor at the National Conservatory of Music and Declamation of Panama. The actress died in 1997. You can watch clips on Youtube.
We attended a fundraising event called Cruzando Fronteras, to support music, dance and poetry. It was fast moving with dancing interspersed with poetry readings, instrumental (guitar and keyboard) and vocal selections. Two of the singers had outstanding voices. One woman did not need the microphone at all, she could easily project her voice into the far corners. I’d love to hear more of her singing.
While each poem was recited or read, an interpretative dancer would perform her rendition through modern dance. All except one poem was written by Ginnie Haskins Bonifatti. Copies of her book were on sale in the lobby.
The dancers were fine arts students from the Ministry of Culture school, the National Ballet and the Folklorico dancers. As with any performance that has this many changes there are bound to be mishaps. A cable to the electric guitar wasn’t plugged in correctly, & I think another cable failed to work but was quickly replaced. Anything can happen during a live performance. The musician just waited patiently until the microphone worked again. When he re-plugged the cable into the guitar, it connected to the amp. All was well again.
A bus full of young girls dressed in their school uniform, accompanied by several Sisters of Mercy, sat with us in the stalls. All were from broken homes but each had a relative responsible for her, one of the nuns told us later. The girls were well behaved and seemed to enjoy the event. Afterwards, many of them bought cones of flavored ices from the vendors who were waiting outside.
It was a lovely evening of song dance and readings. The poetry stretched our Spanish. Our dance appreciation was enhanced by the juxtaposition of modern with traditional dances. Afterwards, we sat for a while on the base of a statue, enjoying the cooling breezes that wafted off the water. Another cultural experience.