The town of Mito, Peru. © J. Ashley Nixon
This is an extract from the book Behind the Mask
On December 27, 2018, photographer Jennifer Nixon and I began our journey to Peru to make a documentary about La Huaconada. I had been introduced to the dance earlier that year at a fund-raiser for the cultural group, Raíces del Perú, who were preparing for their first entry into the Calgary Stampede Parade.
I lived in Peru for four years before immigrating to Canada, so I was familiar with most of the performances I photographed that evening, but not the Huaconada. I was immediately impressed by the masks, the music and mythology behind the dance and began to plan my next project.
We gathered in Lima with our other crew members, Carla Diaz Silva, the director of Raíces del Perú, and Daniel Gomez, my in-country fixer for over twenty years, then headed up the Carretera Central into the Andes and through the altiplano into the mining town of La Oroya. Over twenty years before, on one of my first environmental projects in Peru, the pollution coming from its copper smelter gave me an asthma attack. This time, the shutdowns and closures had made the air cleaner, but we still had the soroche (altitude sickness) to contend with as we stopped for chicken soup at a café in the high street. The light faded fast as we drove into the fertile Mantaro Valley, then up and around the sixteen tight turns of the rough track to our hotel on the hillside.
The next morning, the last day of 2018, we drove back across the river into Mito. People in the town were preparing for their festival: cleaning the plaza, blocking off the side roads, and receiving a truckload of beer. A man in a red cap was perched high up on a ladder doing some work on his house. I walked over and struck up a conversation. Two days later, we were still talking with Medardo Verastegui Inga, his daughter Yamiley and other people in the community, learning more and filming this Peruvian dance that was globally recognized by UNESCO for its Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.
The Mask and More
The Mask and More (La Máscara y Más) is my documentary narrative about some of Mito’s people, their cultural identity and living traditions. The film seeks to reveal more about the masks and costumes, the rituals and personalities that make the Huaconada of Mito such a fabulous component of Peru’s rich and diverse intangible cultural heritage.
The Mask and More was a finalist in the RATMA International Film Festival in 2021.
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