Highlights from the Rolex Arts Weekend

A voyage of creativity

As guests streamed into the Centro Cultural del Bosque for the Rolex Arts Weekend on 5–6 December the sense of anticipation was palpable. Hundreds of arts lovers from Mexico City joined cultural luminaries and arts journalists from around the world who had travelled to the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to celebrate the work carried out by the mentors and protégés of the 2014─2015 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. 

Among the star-studded gathering, at one of the largest performing arts complexes in Mexico, were artists and creative leaders from the Arts Initiative’s growing community. Current mentors, Mexico’s multi-Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu among them, joined former mentors and advisors, including Mira Nair, William Kentridge, Julie Taymor, Mark Morris, Lin Hwai-min, Kazuyo Sejima, Sir David Chipperfield, Robert Wilson and Pierre Audi. Many of the 43 protégés from past cycles of the Arts Initiative – each with a growing international profile, were also in attendance.

Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy at Rolex, hailed the weekend a great success and paid tribute to the achievements of the mentors and protégés. “The fascinating journeys taken by the current protégés over the past year under the mentorship of some of the world’s most respected artists were brought to life through the performances, exhibitions, discussions and readings that were presented during the two days of the Rolex Arts Weekend,” she said.  “We thank the mentors for giving so generously of their time to these creative collaborations and salute the protégés for their impressive achievements.” 

True commitment

Joseph V. Melillo, Curator of the Arts Weekend and Executive Director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), echoed her sentiments. “The performances and events that took place this year revealed the element of sharing between masters of their art and a new generation who have had an exceptional voyage through creativity. In my position as curator, I witnessed a true commitment on both a professional and personal level between mentor and protégé.” Allegra Cordero di Montezemolo, an up-and-coming curator from Mexico City, served as Melillo’s official apprentice for the Arts Weekend.

Portuguese composer Vasco Mendonça opened the event in the Teatro El Granero with celebrated Mexican ensemble CEPROMUSIC performing his compositions, along with another piece, Lichtbogen, written by Mendonça’s mentor, Kaija Saariaho. The Finnish composer introduced the performances, which included a world premiere of her protégé’s ensemble work, FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE. As an added attraction, former music protégée, mezzo-soprano Susan Platts sang Mendonça’s chamber music piece, Boys of Summer.  
 
Following the concert, American Jennifer Tipton – “the world’s most remarkable creator of lighting”, according to The New York Times – introduced an installation by her theatre protégé, Mexican Sebastián Solórzano Rodríguez. The audience lined up in small groups to experience his highly original work comprised of broken and discontinued lighting devices.

Next up, in the Teatro Julio Castillo, was a conversation between Congolese artist and photographer Sammy Baloji and his mentor, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, who is acclaimed internationally for his large-scale art installations. Among other subjects, they focused on Baloji’s powerful photographic and installation work, which was mounted in the theatre’s lobby, and which examined post-colonial identities, borders and African urbanization. 

Spiritual communion

Unsurprisingly, the biggest draw of the day was Mexico’s film-maker-of-the-moment, Iñárritu and his protégé, Israeli director Tom Shoval. The Teatro Julio Castillo was crammed with film buffs eager to hear about their mentoring year, particularly the time spent together during the filming of Iñárritu’s newest film, The Revenant. The pair also viewed and discussed excerpts from their own films, with Shoval revealing how his mentor’s seminal early film, Amores Perros, had changed his life as a young boy and helped set him on the path to becoming a film-maker. Daniela Michel of the Morelia Film Festival was moderator and introduced Iñárritu, whom she called “a great master of cinema who had changed Mexican film forever”. For his part, Iñárritu said he felt “a spiritual communion” with Shoval from the beginning. “When I saw his work, I saw a compassionate human being,” he said. 

The presentations on Sunday, 6 December began with a spectacular performance at the Teatro de la Danza of five works by American dance protégé Myles Thatcher, together with nine dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. Renowned Russian choreographer and dance mentor Alexei Ratmansky introduced the performances, which included the world premiere of Body of your dreams, choreographed by Thatcher. Contributing to the magical effects was the lighting by Sebastián Solórzano Rodríguez and the set design by the 2015 architecture protégée Gloria Cabral. Such was the anticipated demand, the performance was repeated in the evening.

In a change of pace, but no less captivating, was the wide-ranging conversation on architecture between revered Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, a Pritzker and RIBA prize-winner, and Cabral, who, during the course of the mentoring year became project manager of her mentor’s tea chapel project near Seoul. Zumthor’s superteastar status in Mexico meant the presentation had to be moved to a large tent on the Plaza Ángel Salas, which accommodated the hundreds of university students who gathered to hear their idol. 

Continuing on a cerebral level, famed Sri-Lankan-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje and Bulgarian literature protégé Miroslav Penkov named their literary influences and read from their own works. Actor and former Rolex theatre mentor Kate Valk joined them in the Teatro El Granero and read excerpts from such diverse writers as Anton Chekov, Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King. 

Joe Melillo best summed up the success of the Arts Weekend in conveying how the mentoring process benefits both master and emerging artist, and underscores the importance of handing on great art, and artistry, from generation to generation, the programme’s raison d’être. The Arts Weekend helped “give voice to the merits of this process”, he said.