Dead Reckoning

A warm embrace of paradox is at the heart of Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead that has its origins in indigenous celebrations of life in death -- and death in life.

"If I had to boil it down to one phrase," says Mesa artist Zarco Guerrero of the spirit behind the observance, "I'd say, 'Life is a dance with death.'"

And at Day of the Dead celebrations, what a dance it is, complete with eight-foot-tall dancing skeletons. Guerrero has sculpted the masks, or calacas, that dancers will don for the festivities sponsored by Xicanindio Artes on Sunday, November 4, in Mesa's Pioneer Park. The very-much-alive dancers who wear these colorful masks of death give festivalgoers an opportunity "to look death in the face and laugh at it," Guerrero says, "to chase it around and let it chase you around."

While this year's observances of the holiday are tinged with fresh grief, they still carry all the trappings of celebration -- music, dance, food, crafts and such. Each, however, has also made a place for remembering the victims of terrorism. The Xicanindio event, which begins at noon, will end at dusk with a candlelight procession honoring those who died September 11. And this year the group's community altar will include a special memorial to Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh who was murdered in Mesa four days after the attacks.

Pioneer Park is at 526 East Main, between Country Club and Stapley, in Mesa. Call 480-833-5875.

Other Day of the Dead events:

Museo Chicano hosts a street festival outside the museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, November 3. Step inside the museum at 147 East Adams in downtown Phoenix to view a related exhibit. Call 602-257-5536 for more information.

Arizona State University West's annual commemoration on Thursday, November 1, includes a Celebration of Life Marketplace from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the University Center Building's Delph Courtyard; a noon procession honoring victims of terrorism, among others; and "Stories of the Dead," a 7 p.m. performance in the University Center Building by Guerrero. The campus is at 4701 West Thunderbird. Reservations for the 7 p.m. event can be made by calling 602-543-8400.

The ASU Museum of Anthropology in Tempe invited the public to install altars honoring the dead, and the opening reception for the resulting exhibit will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 1. Poetry readings and a mask performance by Guerrero are among the highlights. The exhibit will remain on display through November 30. Call 480-965-6213.

The Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 North Central, offers a bilingual family program about celebrations of the festival in Mexico from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, November 1. Gregorio Luke, director of the Museum of Latin American Art, is the featured speaker. Call 602-534-0603.

In addition, the library's @Central Gallery is exhibiting altars created by local artists. A First Fridays opening reception is scheduled from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, November 2. The altars will remain on display through November 9. Call 602-256-3521.

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Laura Pimentel
Contact: Laura Pimentel