The Mayans beyond their famous calendar

Did you know that one of Asheville’s sister cities is Valladolid, Mexico? It’s a cute town centered around a shady square that is equal parts marketplace and urban park. It’s close to Mayan sites Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, and the Mayan language is still widely spoken.

But you don’t have to book a flight to Mexico to get a dose of Valladolid’s Mayan flavor. Asheville Sister Cities International brings it to your doorstep, with (according to a press release) “a series of events on Mayan archaeology, history and culture, giving audiences an opportunity to explore this Mesoamerican civilization beyond its famous calendar.”

The featured event in this series is the U.S. premiere of Palenque Rojo which is both the name of the performance (inspired by the historic attack, in 711 BC, when the the Dynasty of the Cranium of the Snake took Palenque ruler Kan Joy Chitam II into captivity) and the the company, which is based in Asheville’s other Mexican sister city, San Cristobal de las Casas. That locale, in the Chiapas region, has a population of 121,100 and is known for its Colonial-era architecture. According to the Asheville Sister Cities website, “the Zapatista Army of National Liberation used San Cristobal as one of the four cities where it began its revolution” in 1994 — the same year San Cristobal de las Casas signed the Sister City declaration with Asheville.

That’s a pretty fierce story; so is the Palenque Rojo performance. It involves more than 20 actors, dancers and musicians. According to the company’s website, “live pre-Hispanic music, dance, rituals, and magnificent costumes recreate priests, servants, warriors and rulers in a fascinating performance full of colors, aromas, and sensations that will transport us into the heart of the Mayan world.”

The spectacle takes over the Diana Wortham Theatre stage on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 9 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students.

Want to start learning about Mayan culture prior to the September Palenque Rojo performances? Your first chance is next week, on Thursday, Aug. 23:

According to a press release: “Complementing the performance will be a pair of lectures by George Stuart, one of the preeminent experts on the Maya. Stuart, who now resides in Barnardsville, has devoted more than 50 years to the study of the Maya people, including nearly 40 years as a staff archeologist for the National Geographic Society.”

• His first lecture, to be held on Thursday, Aug. 23, will focus on Palenque. 8 p.m. in the Ferguson Auditorium on the campus of AB Tech. $10 per person and $5 for students, and tickets may be purchased in advance from Asheville Sister Cities International or at the door. Mamacita’s Baja Kitchen will cater a themed dinner. 6 p.m., $20. Reservations are required: contact Gwen Hughes at

• A second lecture on Thursday, Oct. 18 will focus on sites of the northern Yucatan peninsula, such as Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Tulum, Uxmal and others. Also $10/$5. AB Tech’s renowned culinary department will cater a Mexican dinner prior to the lecture. The dinners will begin at 6 p.m. with a cost of $20 per ticket. 6 p.m., $20. Reservations are required: contact Gwen Hughes at

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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