Dead On Their Feet

Arizona Ballet Celebrates 'Días de Muertos.'

By Margaret Regan

SAMHAIN AND THE Day of the Dead are over, barely, but they continue to work their haunting magic on the arts in Tucson this November.

Ballet Arizona returns this weekend with its second annual performance of Días de Muertos, a full-length ballet inspired both by the Mexican holiday and by Halloween.

Review Choreograpector, Michael Uthoff, the bittersweet tale recounts the immigration saga of an impoverished Mexican family to the freezing precincts of El Norte. The new production reprises the supple Bonnie Rich in the lead role of the young girl Tina, who leads the spirit ancestors to the family's new home in a bleak American city. A full compliment of 26 dancers, including stars Yen-Li Chen-Zhang and Qisheng Zhang, dance the parts of her family and the colorful spirits from the realm of the dead.

Painter Rafael Cauduro, a powerful practitioner of Mexican surrealism, brings the yellow marigolds and grinning skulls of folk tradition to the stage backdrops via photographic enlargements. Composer Eugenio Toussaint's score, played here on tape, draws on Mexican sources, and Berta Hiriart's story has a sweetness slightly darkened by political realities. Robert Alsopp's animal masks and Judanna Lynn's costumes make the most of the visual delights of both holidays--the traveling Mexican skeletons are dumbfounded by the witches and goblins on American streets.

Uthoff hopes the show will become an Arizona holiday tradition.

"Revisiting it this year, I'm very proud of it. It captures the mood, and it's a wonderful collaboration of four totally screwy artists," Uthoff said. And despite the haunting of its spirits, "It has a greater appeal than The Nutcracker because it's more human."

Ballet Arizona performs Días de Muertos at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 7, at Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona. Tickets are on sale at the box office for $16, $22 and $28, with half-price tickets available for children under 18 and students with ID. Faculty and staff get a 20 percent discount. Sylvia Lopez of Tucson's Ballet Folklorico La Paloma gives a free talk at 7:15 p.m. in front of the hall. A display of ceremonial Day of the Dead altars by Desert View High School students will be in the lobby. For more information call 621-3341.

Meanwhile, a ragged band of local underground artists known as the Spirit Group goes more free-form in its All Souls' Day Parade and Celebration (see Mari Wadsworth's story in the October 29 issue of the Tucson Weekly.) A horde of artist-in-residence collaborators, from avant-garde choreographer and dancer Jon McNamara to kinetic sculptor and performance artist Mat Bevel, processes through the downtown Saturday night, starting at 8 p.m. at the Zenith Center, on Seventh Street just west of Fourth Avenue. The parade goes down Fourth Avenue to Congress (a performance at the Ronstadt Transit Center will take place about 9:30 p.m.); continues down Pennington to the Main Library, and then on to the Tucson Convention Center Plaza and La Placita. All and sundry are invited to participate, however the spirit moves them.

Artists of both the cutting-edge and folk variety never seem to tire of the delicious imagery of the Day of the Dead. Some of their deadly art shows have already vanished with Halloween, but a few continue to inhabit the earth for more days or weeks. Here's a sampling:

  • Día de los Muertos Third Annual Exhibition by the Instituto Cultural Mexicano de Tucson and Xicanindio closes Friday, November 7, at the Tucson Pima Arts Council gallery, 240 N. Stone Ave. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 5 to 7 p.m. during Thursday ArtWalk. For info call 624-0595, ext. 16.

  • Catherine Eyde's mixed-media installation, Art Motivated by Death, will be at Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art, 437 E. Grant Road, through Saturday, November 14. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The phone is 903-0577.

  • José Galvez stages his Fifth Annual Día de los Muertos Group Exhibition through Saturday, December 5, in his new digs at 222 E. Sixth Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues. The gallery formerly known as Galvez is now the Mexican American Cultural Art Center. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. For info call 624-6878.

  • Local photographer David Burckhalter exhibits color photos of Día de los Muertos rituals in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. His show runs through Saturday, December 5, at the Arizona Historical Society, 949 E. Second St. A traditional ofrenda, or altar, displays the typical array of family photos, flowers and calaveras (skulls). Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The phone is 628-5774.

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