Claudio Valdés Kuri

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Performing Arts (theatre)
America, Central
Mexico City
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Claudio Valdés Kuri
Claudio Valdés Kuri


Searching for new narrative techniques

ARTIST STATEMENT/ POSTCARD PROJECT OF THE HOUSE OF WORLD CULTURES 2007 "At present I am mainly interested in creating an artistic expression useful to others in the sense of being an evolution, the communication of an experience of life in which I have continually touched the extremes and in which I am now seeking a middle way, a way in which one is always communicating with one´s inner being." (Claudio Valdés Kuri) The young Mexican director Claudio Valdés Kuri has made a name for himself over the last four years at many drama festivals in the USA, Europe and Latin America with maverick productions, his most recent being ´El automóvil gris´. These are notable for mingling narrative techniques from various cultures and for modern interpretations of historical themes.
In 1998 a staging of Jean Anouilh´s “Becket o el honor de Dios” (Becket or God´s Honour) in the Museo del Carmen in Mexico City brought the maverick young director Claudio Valdés Kuri to attention. Having been actively involved in the music society ´Ars Nova´, he replaced some characters and scenes with old songs to guide and appraise events in the spirit of a Greek chorus and give the medieval drama of friendship, honour and betrayal a new sparkle. Kuri had been struck by the modernity of the power-relationships. Henry II of England had been befriended by the young Thomas à Becket but had later betrayed him and had him killed. This tale, in Kuri´s view, is no different to many in newspapers today (

Work with the baroque song-quartet ´Ars Nova´ also coloured Valdés Kuri´s provocative and original staging of ´De Monstruos y Prodigios – La historia de los castrati´ / About Monsters and Prodigies – the History of Castrati´ (2001). Based on a text by Jorge Kuri, it was received enthusiastically at festivals in Europe, the USA and Mexico, establishing the director´s international reputation. The work focussed on a historical phenomenon:
Under Pope Paul IV (1555-1559) women were forbidden to sing in the catholic church, so boys were castrated to replace them in the coming years. This practice continued up to and beyond the baroque period, with Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) surprising listeners even in the last century.

In this production, too, the narration was unusual in alternating between speech and song. The work was witty and subtly ironic but kept to the facts and the historical background.

Valdés Kuri´s latest work ´El automóvil gris´ (The Grey Car) with the Compañía Nacional de Teatro was inspired by a stay in Japan, where he was thrilled by the tradition of benshi. This involves furnishing films from the silent era with voices and other sounds from actors live. In ´El automóvil gris´ he used scenes from the silent classic (1919) by Enrique Rosas.

Traditionally the benshi had most often been used for foreign films and been called on less for exegeses than for live entertainment. ´The films arrived in Japan, and the benshi had little knowledge of the west. They just looked at the films and tried to divine the plots. On having worked with the material for awhile, they offered their interpretations to audiences. The latter knew no better, as they, too, had never been abroad´ (Claudio Valdés Kuri, interviewed by Carola Dürr in May 2002).

In ´El automóvil gris´ four figures sit next to the screen. Three of them are speakers - one Mexican, one Mexican-Japanese and one (Eiichi Suzuki) Japanese -and one of them is a pianist. "The speakers play the whole time with their voices but also with gestures and mime. They don´t just read a text out but also perform roles and change themselves into 20 or 30 characters onscreen" (Claudio Valdés Kuri, ibid).

The original film has a length of six hours and is one of Mexico´s first. The theme is a gang which terrorised Mexico City around 1915. "The film was the only one to document Mexico City at that time. The city is hardly recognisable. At that time it may have had less than 300,000 residents. There are now 30 million. The difference is crass. It´s fascinating to see the city as virtually a village, and fairly recently - not more than 80 or 90 years ago. But they might have been centuries... Everything was filmed in the houses where the robberies had taken place. Several victims play themselves at the moment of being robbed. In effect actors and laymen play together, which has a special effect. Even the police-inspector who finally captured the robbers plays himself. He is the big hero. He also helped write the script, so the film is certainly not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, since he is sure to have made himself more heroic. But the scene of execution is documentary, the shooting of the robbers authentic. Enrique Rosas, the director, filmed the execution in 1915 as news. The film was then written around it.

The film was produced mainly by General Pablo Gonzáles. He, too, appears onscreen and plays himself. He paid to have the film made, since he was rumoured to be actually the brain behind the gang. He may well have been under the wing of a very important person, since he was on his way to becoming the President of Mexico - though he finally fell by the wayside. The film filters events in several ways, so we set ourselves the task of finding the true tale, which wasn´t easy, since all papers had vanished" (Claudio Valdés Kuri, ibid).

Valdés Kuri claims that his staging of ´El automóvil gris´ is also a call to the public "to remember... It is about a journey into the unknown, which takes us to new places in our search for the old. It is a bridge to Mexico City in its long forgotten state in 1915. The streets already had their present names, but the city had about 25,000,000 fewer residents. This is an exercise in which the filter of time plays an important role: What then made us weep, now makes us laugh; what then made us laugh, now often has no meaning for us. Getting close to the past is often very complex and awkward. The thing is to use unusual narrative means of interpretation without betraying the quest to revive the spirit and essence of the past" (

Claudio Valdés Kuri was also keenly concerned about the present relevance of his material. "This conflict between criminals and representatives of the law affects us all... But as I see it, criminals are no less worthy or no worse than others. Naturally they have harmed society, but the question of the death-penalty must be seen in relationship with what we, as society, have done to them, which has led them to crime. My interpretation and summary pose a polemical question, which may never be answered satisfactorily. There will always be voices for and others against the death penalty"

To familiarise viewers with the tale, the first act of his ´El automóvil gris´ relies mainly on narration, and emphasis is placed on perfection of tone, expression and dubbing. Only in the second act does experimentation prevail with more vivid effects of speech and vocalisation.

Valdés Kuri wants his work to be widely intelligible, but since many scenes are shown out of context and the work has also been shown abroad to viewers with little knowledge of the historical background or Rosas´ film, this ambition is hard to fulfil. He has resorted to varying the presentation according to the land toured by having some key-sentences spoken in the viewers´ language and a few sub-titles added.



Valdés-Kuri’s theatre production ‘¿Dónde estaré esta noche?’ (‘Where will I be tonight?’, 2005) is a co-production by the Cervantino-Festival with the House of World Cultures and the Wiener Festwochen. The play gives a mythic European figure a contemporary treatment. Valdés Kuri has chosen the ‘Virgin of Orleans’ (Joan of Arc) as his heroine to explore the complex relationship between religious and national concepts of modernity. Occupied France in the Middle Ages and contemporary Latin America reveal surprising parallels: “Jeanne d´Arc stands for the struggle to go beyond oneself, the struggle of man against man” (Claudio Valdés Kuri in The nine actors, who could have come straight from the streets and are (at first sight) barely distinguishable from the audience, explore the contradiction between political pragmatism and religious allegiance. Valdés Kuri plays with the boundaries between theatre and reality, between audience and performer, and between past and present. “What I am showing here are very simple, strict aesthetics in a totally Baroque frame. I don’t have any specific influences. My language is personal. In this piece you see two chairs, a table, and the theatre seats. By tearing down the fourth wall we seek active audience participation, which is a part of the stage setting: the actor is a spectator, and the spectator an actor. The condemned are judges, victims, perpetrators…” (Claudio Valdés Kuri in

Author: Ruth Lemmen


Claudio Valdés Kuri graduated with honours at the Mexican Centre for Film Education (CUECO) in Mexico City.


La Piel

Production / Performance,
Project Direction, Mexico

¿Dónde estaré esta noche?

Production / Performance,

El automóvil gris

Production / Performance,
Mexico, Japan, USA, Europe, Latin America

De Monstruos y Prodigios – La historia de los castrati

Production / Performance,
Mexico City, Brussels, New York, Gerona, Cadiz, Granada

Becket o el honor de Dios

Production / Performance,
Mexico City


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Postcard Project

(01 March 07 - 31 December 08)


(02 June 05 - 18 June 05)

The Mexico-festival in Berlin

(15 September 02 - 01 December 02)


Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes

La Banda