We took the bus to the historic district of Mazatlan on Friday morning and stood in line for free tickets to a Saturday night Day of the Dead celebration in the lovely Angela Peralta theatre. This year’s theme was inspired by the underworld of Aztec mythology: a person who died went to Mictlan, a journey consisting of nine distinct levels.
Organizers created nine backstage events representing the nine levels and challenges of the Mictlan journey. Ticketholders were ushered into the building in groups of 35 and lead by costumed escorts from one level to another. Our first stop was an ancient Aztec ceremonial dance.
From there, we traveled through dark tunnels illuminated by black lights and fluorescent tape down to the dungeon and up to the balconies. Along the way we stopped for modern dance and classical ballet performances, each attesting to the different challenges that met the dead.
At one level, we stood in rows not knowing which direction to face when suddenly a heavy black curtain rose and we found ourselves on the auditorium stage as modern dancers swayed in the seats, reaching, kicking their way up from the underworld delinaeated by an enormous white fabric tarp through which each body was trying to escape. Up and down their arms, legs, torsos and heads writhed and swayed to the orchestra until all was quiet and they reluctantly returned to their fate.
Further along, we entered an asylum where the dead dressed in white tunics were scratching and pounding the walls in their tormented pain, as interpreted by modern dance.
We were escorted down a very dark corridor where souls screamed and lunged at us while on our way to a small stage where we witnessed the wedding of a corpse couple, portrayed by contemporary dance.
In small side rooms of the mezzanine the dead paced slowly, gazes fixed with dark, longing, melancholy eyes.
Our journey ended in the foyer, at an enormous alter dedicated to the deceased and guarded by a contemporary Catrina. On it was placed the requisite elements; marigolds, candles, favorite food and beverages, a basket of sweet rolls, photos, and shoes lined up on the floor at the base. The space echoed with a tenor's eerie solo, a soprano’s haunting aria, and a chamber orchestra's powerful requiem while a silks dancer dangled silently from the tall ceiling, expertly, slowly winding in and out of the silks.
We took more than an hour to journey through the underworld. We were captivated by the production, costumes, choreography, creativity, and the cultural significance of the performances. And to think that it was free, a gift to the public for the enjoyment of so many was an amazingly generous gesture.