At the helm of Bogotá’s Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo, director Ramiro Osorio brings the best in performing arts for the capital. As the theatre approaches its first decade, intercultural dialogue, audience formation, youth engagement in the arts are among the many guiding principles of a theatre that transcends physical space.

The City Paper (TCP): Mr. Osorio, how would you describe Teatro Mayor’s accomplishments as it nears its first decade?

Ramiro Osorio (RO): This cultural center is among the most important of the city and has the unique characteristic of being both a public and a private entity. This allows us to generate interesting synergies and open our programming to endless possibilities. Our library receives a public of 60,000 visitors each month, this without including the 50,000 students enrolled in district schools who come here every month as part of the Cien Mil Niños al Mayor (100,000 Children to Mayor) initiative. Teatro Mayor has the singularity that comprises a library, a public park, two theatre venues and grounds to host events.

We receive close to a million visitors during the year, with resources for the library exclusively donated by the District. The theatre is a public-private agreement and the first experiment of its kind in Colombia. In this way, during nine and a half years, we have strengthened a model of cultural administration that guarantees longevity.

TCP: Does the success of preserving cultural patrimony and identity depend on the private-public model of administration?

RO: Co-responsibility is a key element as it permits cultural entities such as ours to commit to a long-term program with artists beyond local government time frames. At Teatro Mayor, we are already planning our 2023 cultural agenda with international acts and cultural organizations as all parties involved require planning and guarantees. Bringing great entertainment to Bogotá is an expensive undertaking from booking a renowned soloist to operatic co-productions.

TCP: What role has Teatro Mayor played in positioning Bogotá as a world-class cultural destination?

RO: The Teatro Mayor JMSD has become a “brand” and a reference around the world for hosting exceptional performances. Without sounding pretentious, we are a window on Colombian culture from the festivals we host to participative cultural engagement with diverse audiences. The role of citizens to enjoy and experience culture is an essential right and essence of public cultural policy. In order to deliver exceptional performances, we have to meet several requirements: design a program that caters to the rights of the general public to participate in their cultural expressions, provide access in the best possible conditions of equality to public services and infrastructure.

As we are a very diverse nation, and Bogotá is home to people from all regions of the country who have a right to enjoy artistic references of their cultures, at Teatro Mayor we launch the great music festivals of the nation that take place outside of the capital, among them the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata, Mono Núñez, and the Festival del Pacífico Petronio Álvarez. This generates an “identity effect” with audiences who find in our theatre space of cultural values and traditions.

TCP: How does cultural inclusion influence the yearly program?

RO: It is a fundamental issue and one that guides the way we come up with every event. We consider a scenario like ours to be an extraordinary vehicle for citizen formation in the arts and nation-building. This is also why we emphasize so much on the dialogue between the many cultures that make up Colombia with those of the world.

National artists work alongside international artists from opera productions to joint concerts and lyrical duets. Without a doubt, “word of mouth” among artists based overseas, who talk of their experiences at Teatro Mayor and reference the city, allows us to engage easily with world-class orchestras, dance companies and other renowned cultural entities.

TCP: Using the Metropolitan series of live opera transmissions as an example, tell us about Teatro Mayor’s online digital expansion?

RO: As we have two theatres with fixed seating – the main venue for 1,300 spectators and Teatro Estudio for 340, we can’t expand capacity. What we aim for is a “multiplying effect” with technology by transmitting performances with Caracol TV’s network and streaming though our own platform www.teatrodigital.org.

This permits us to present high-quality live acts like other great concert houses in the world. As of next year, every Thursday, we will offer free streaming of a performance. There have been concerts in which we have had at any given moment 900,000 viewers. If we take into consideration our physical audiences and online guests, 10 million have had access to our cultural line-up. This gives us enormous satisfaction because we want audiences to have “an experience.”

TCP: How can a theatre maintain interest with large audiences without becoming a fixture of the cultural scene?

RO: Festivals play an important part in generating “peaks” of interest through-out the year, and tailored presentations to those with specific interests. Take our Fado Festival as one example. This Portuguese art form has very consolidated followers, but what we have seen are audiences grow because of this genre’s extensive repertoire and interpreters. The encounter between artists and the audience in a setting that delivers an “experience,” and is friendly and generous, opens up personal spaces for cultural reflection. We try hard to transmit this to youngsters: the transformative power of art and culture in their lives. Since 2014 when we started Cien Mil Niños al Mayor, we have received more than 300,000 youngsters, many from vulnerable households. Next year alone we expect 65,000.

TCP: How do you see changes in your audiences? Is there a specific trend?

RO: Audiences around the world are aging, and the great challenge is how to draw in younger spectators. As a result, we are synchronized with many of the cultural events that take place in the city that don’t necessarily involve the theatre’s infrastructure, such as Rock al Parque, Jazz al Parque, the Bogotá Film Festival (Biff). When in 2012 UNESCO designated Bogotá a City of Music, we set out to devise ways to promote musical movements, music academies, and open up spaces for creation and production. In 2013 we started the International Music Festival to take a profound look at the repertoire of a composer or significant time in music history. Held every two years, and with 60 concerts over four days, we have delivered Bogotá is Beethoven, Bogotá is Romantic Russia, and Bogotá is Brahms, Schubert and Schumann. Our next edition in 2021 is Bogotá is Baroque with an engaging look at Bach, Händel and Vivaldi.

TCP: While a classical repertoire is essential to any theatre, dance also figures extensively in Teatro Mayor’s year-long program. What is the objective of Alma en Movimiento?

RO: It was created five years ago to give dancers visibility and help them perfect their art form. Next year, Alma en Movimiento becomes Teatro Mayor’s young dance company, and one of the few spaces in the city where talented dancers can grow and take that great leap toward their professionalization. The majority of our dancers who have passed through Alma en Movimiento perform with famous ballet companies in the world. As part of this initiative, we invite international choreographers to give master classes in genres from classical to contemporary and experimental.

TCP: With 135 events in the 2020 program and Canada invited as Guest Nation of Honor, what are some of the highlights?

RO: As mentioned earlier, it’s continuing the cross-cultural dialogue and covering a broad artistic spectrum from festival launchings to our Great Pianists series, family events and two operatic co-productions: Beethoven’s Fidelio conducted by Martin Haselböck and Mozart’s Don Giovanni with musical direction by Mexico’s José Arean. As members of Ola (Latin American Opera), these two operas are part of the 250th celebrations next year of Beethoven’s birth. Canada’s acclaimed theatre company Robert LePage will stage the award-winning Ex Machina. The Winnipeg Ballet joins the program as part of the Canada year.

Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler and Turkey’s Burhan Öçal Oriental Ensemble are fabulous interpreters of specific musical genres. We also welcome next year great pianists, among them Canada’s Alexander Panizza, Khatia Buniatishvili (Georgia) and French Philippe Jaroussky, one of the most acclaimed countertenors of our times.

TCP: In a city with well-known mobility issues, how does Teatro Mayor cater to specific audiences that require assistance?

RO: Our weekend performances at 11:00 am and 5:00 pm are very family-oriented and popular with seniors. Many of these performances are free to the public or have reduced admission prices. We have to remember that access to culture is an inherent right of belonging to a society, and we firmly believe that by offering the very best, with great quality, we can enrich and transform lives.