After spending most of the afternoon photographing the Kalpulli Ketzal Coatlicue Aztec dance group at a private Dia de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) celebration, we moved to on to a public celebration at El Colegio Spanish/English High School in Minneapolis.
When we arrived, preparation for the evening’s festivities was well underway. One room was quickly becoming a chapel of sorts, with altars set up to honor various individuals (some very famous, some not) who have departed this world during the year. The heart of Dia de los Muertos resides in places like this, where space has been set aside to remember and connect with those who have gone before. This holiday is, after all, all about bridging the space between the living and the dead.
In another part of the building, the auditorium was also being transformed. A large altar was already in place when we came on the scene, however, there appeared to be much more to do. Teams worked to assemble flower-covered components. Marigolds – real and in tissue-paper form – are everywhere, as their scent is used to draw the dead back.)
As the flowered decorations are being prepared, the men are hanging colorful papel picado, strings of tissue paper cut with elaborate designs.
Of course, the dancers need to prepare as well. Even those that participated in the afternoon’s celebration need to prepare for the evening by painting their faces with skull designs. Some of this activity was happening in the hallway, but some was a bit more private.
While children of all ages are invited to participate, there are a few who have other things on their mind.
Finally the evening procession is about to begin!
Out on the street the group heads to a local church and then processes back to the school. A brass band leads the way, followed by a ceremonial casket and the leaping dancers.
It’s a grand show that becomes a glorious riot of dancing.
This part of the evening is multicultural, including Native American shawl dance and grass dance performances by Gavino Limon.
The multicultural element continues inside, where Mexican folk dancers skip around a very tiny dance floor.
At this point the crowds become too much for me – the building is packed. A number of other small dance groups have yet to perform and the heart of the evening – the spiritual ceremonies – are still hours away. It is too soon to leave, but I’m too exhausted to continue.
I’m already looking forward to next year.
Thank you again to Susana de León, the dancers of Kalpulli Ketzal Coatlicue Aztec dance group, and the staff and students of El Colegio for so graciously sharing their culture and allowing us to photograph. Thank you also to Richard Sennott and the Twin Cities Photography Group for arranging this photography workshop.
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