CCAH and Thunder River Theatre Company join forces for annual Dia de los Muertos celebration |

CCAH and Thunder River Theatre Company join forces for annual Dia de los Muertos celebration

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico performs a dance during a Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, celebration at Thunder River Theatre Company in Carbondale.
Heather Rousseau | Heather Rousseau

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What: Dia de los Muertos celebration

When: 6-9 p.m. on Saturday

Where: 4th Street Plaza in downtown Carbondale, procession down Main Street to the Third Street Center

How Much: Free

Instead of asserting that death is an ending to be feared, a long-standing tradition in Mexico, El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), teaches that the dead should be celebrated for the lives they lived and for those still living whom they affected.

“It embraces our dying as part of our greater lives in the generosity of spirit,” said Richard Lyon, who will lead the Invocation of the Dead at Carbondale’s Dia de los Muertos celebration on Saturday.

Lyon, a company member actor and associate artist with the Thunder River Theatre Company (TRTC), which partners with the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH) on this event, first experienced a Dia de los Muertos celebration 12 years ago when he performed with a Spanish language theater in Oregon.

“It was there that I marveled at the opening invocation and especially the closing ritual of our public performances, in which the entire audience was invited to call out the names of their beloved ones who had passed over,” Lyon said. “After each name was announced, the whole audience responded by shouting out, ‘¡Que viva!’ meaning, ‘That they shall live!’”

According to TRTC Executive Artistic Director Lon Winston, the TRTC started a Dia de los Muertos celebration about 10 years ago. At the time, it consisted of dance performances and poetry readings in the Carbondale Middle School cafeteria for an audience of about 30 people. After the opening of their current building, they held the celebration at the theater, and it has grown to see hundreds participating.

“Each year, it got bigger and bigger until there was standing room only,” Winston said. “Last year, the place was jammed, and you could see through our big double doors that they were out in the lobby and all the way on the red brick walkway with kids on their shoulders.”

At around the same time, the CCAH started a Dia de los Muertos altar art show, in which people could submit altars honoring the dead. About three years ago, Winston met with CCAH Executive Director Amy Kimberly to discuss a collaboration to create one large Dia de los Muertos celebration.

“We started the altar show as a gallery show because we thought that our Latino community was a huge part of the Carbondale community,” Kimberly said. “The altar show was a great way to incorporate the Latino culture with our Anglo culture.”

Now, the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration in Carbondale is a true collaborative effort, with the CCAH and TRTC serving as the backbone and other businesses and organizations — like the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) Folklorico dancers, Out of the Mud Puppet Theatre and Cocina del Valle— joining to create a richer cultural experience.

The Dia de los Muertos celebration will begin at 6 p.m. on the Fourth Street Plaza in downtown Carbondale with a bonfire and Lyon’s invocation of the Dead, which will be translated in Spanish as well. Then, everyone in attendance will walk down Main Street to the Third Street Center to view the altar exhibition and performance from ASFB Folklorico. Free tamales and traditional Mexican hot chocolate will be served, but guests will also have the opportunity to purchase food from Cocina del Valle, a brand new catering company that specializes in traditional Hispanic food, from Argentina to Mexico.

“It’s a tradition from a long time ago in Mexico,” said Concina del Valle manager Mario Alverde of Dia de los Muertos. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”

ASFB Folklorico director Francisco Nevarez-Burgueno said he’s happy to be involved in the celebration because it shows the Carbondale community embracing Mexican culture.

“They want to learn about us, and they want to celebrate with us,” Nevarez-Burgueno said.

Kimberly said over time, participation from the Latino community in the planning, execution and actual celebration has increased, with an estimated ratio of 60 percent Anglo and 40 percent Latino.

“Now there is huge Latino participation,” Kimberly said. “Our hope is that we’ll see more and more Latino participation in the direction this holiday goes. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the season. It really is a beautiful ceremony, and a beautiful way to honor the dead.”

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