Towards the end of the first act came to the moment I was waiting for: the portrayal of birth of the mestizo Mexican. An entire nation of race identity can be traced to the subjugation of the indigenous peoples by the conquista—I found it unimaginable that a show like this, a jazz recital on steroids, would even attempt to represent such a troubled consummation.
It began with a swellingly romantic pas de deux between a handsome Spanish soldier and lovely, delicate Indian maiden (throughout Viva!, ballet was used to portray “beauty” and “grace” of the Native Americans, in itself an odd Western cultural oppressiveness.). He pursues—she resists; he chases, she submits; against their own better will and judgment of their peoples, they intertwine and love one another.
Suddenly, the music shifts: romantic violins to war-like trumpets. The dance turns into a vicious onstage battle between the Natives and Spaniards, guns, cannons, hand-to-hand combat, agonized screams, casualties and all. It ends with our two lovers facing the audience, at the far ends of downstage, trembling in the spotlights, gasping for breath. Narration booms out of the speakers:
“The Indians and the Spanish were to have many battles; and in the end the Indian would be defeated, but not destroyed; this religion would become a mixture of paganism and Christianity; this blood would mingle with Spanish blood to bring forth”—
Then—a spotlight gapes open high on a hill upstage center to reveal a man in a sombrero and poncho, standing tall and proud—
“…this blood would mingle with Spanish blood to bring forth [spotlight on]: the mestizo—”
Any remaining words were drowned out by cheers and screams as the audience, mostly El Pasoan—just goes wild.
On that note, lights come up for intermission. The moment succeeded so well with the audience, that the second act began with the exact same narration—only now, our lovers placed far upstage, in the past, and the mestizo standing front and center.
Again, with the phrase “…the mestizo”—the audience went wild, and the cast swooped into the Mexican culture section of the show, consisting of grand folklorico dance numbers, loosely threaded together by a good-naturedly burlesqued tale of courtship.
That’s when I caved.