You have to believe in ghosts, because they are all around us

ACDT celebrates Dia de Los Muertos

who: Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre
what: Festival: Dia de Los Muertos
where: BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St.
when: Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 p.m. ($15/$10 in advance; $17/ $12 at the door, discounts for students and seniors only. Info: 254-2621 or

On the Day of the Dead in Mérida, Mexico, Susan Collard, atistic director of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre, woke to the sound of shutters slamming against the windows. The lights in her 400-year-old house flashed on and off, and fans whipped over head. Leaping out of bed, Susan raced through the house and found a friend, a Mexican man from Campeche, who was resting outside in a hammock.

“I went to him and asked, ‘What is happening?’” Collard says. “He looked at me and said, ‘This is the Day of the Dead and you have a ghost in your house. He’s come back to tell you that he is still here.’” When she laughed at him, he replied, “Susan, you have to believe in ghosts, because they are all around us. They are here.”

According to Mexican tradition, it’s thought that, on the Day of the Dead, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead decipates. This is a time when a crossing between the worlds opens, and spirits come back to visit the homes where they once dwelled. “When you have 1.5 million people in an area praying for the dead to come back, weird things happen,” says Giles Collard, ACDT’s co-director.

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a national holiday, a time when families come together to remember and honor loved ones who have passed away. Altars, which are made for adults, children and pets, are decorated with sugar skulls, flowers, incense, photographs, instruments, food, drinks, paper garlands and other offerings.

“It is the biggest festival in Mexico,” Giles says. “It’s a family-oriented celebration where everyone cooks, and, as a family, they go to the cemetery where they have a festival on the graves of their ancestors. If grandfather liked beer in his life, they’ll pour beer on the ground. They’ll clean and paint the tombs; they eat, drink, dance and sing.”
This year, you don’t have to travel to Mexico to experience an authentic Day of the Dead celebration. Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre invites the public for an evening of performance art titled Festival: Dia de Los Muertos. There will be live music by local singer Blue Moonville, plus contemporary “dead dancing” (read: original modern dance, hip-hop and Japanese butoh dance about bones and spirits), drinking (small shots of strong tequila), traditional Mexican food and an elaborate altar.

“We will have an altar here decorated with bread, food, flags, photographs, and we’re asking people to bring something to contribute to the altar, a photo, flowers, incense, anything,” says Susan. “We’re hoping people will come dressed up. It’s not a Halloween costume contest, but a Day of the Dead costume contest … look at the Posada characters.” (José Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican illustrator known for haunting pictures of dancing skeletons and skulls.)

During the festivities, dancers and artists will come out into the crowd to perform. ACDT dancers will offer a hip-hop piece about bones; the ACDT “tween” company will also offer an original hip-hop performance, both choreographed by Stephanie Patrick.

Butoh dancer Jenni Cockrell will perform a solo piece inspired by the tarot card deck. Nicole Silver will present an aerial arts piece. Giles, Sky McDowell and Lucas Bowman will perform a dance about family members who have died. Mexican artist Roger Pech will perform a solo about the Day of the Dead. Amy Hamilton will perform a piece involving lots of paint and a confined space. A group-piece by six 10-year-old boys about the “crossing of the veil” will be performed to mariachi music.

Since ACDT has a long history of artistic collaboration with dancers and artists in Mexico, it’s fitting that the company wants to bring the Day of the Dead to their mountain home. “When you’re walking along the street [in Mexico during the Day of the Dead] you see altar, altar, altar, altar; it’s incredible,” says Giles.

“The main park is also decorated with altars, and copal incense is burning constantly,” adds Susan. “There’s also performance art going on as part of the festival, and I thought, we should do this in Asheville.” ACDT hopes that you’ll bring a photo, an offering, a flower and friend, and wade with them into the world of the dead.

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at



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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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