NEW YORK'S 37th ANNUAL VILLAGE HALLOWEEN PARADE
OCTOBER 31, 2010. NEW YORK, NY
DESIGN, CONCEPT, and DIRECTION: Alex Kahn, Sophia Michahelles, and Special Guest Artist Didier Civil
PROCESSIONAL MUSIC: Dja Ra Ra
ARTISTIC and TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Kate Whitehead, Linda Lambertson, Valerie Yanes, Stefanie Loeb, Sarah Wolfe, and many others . . .
NY VILLAGE HALLOWEEN PARADE PRODUCER: Jeanne Fleming
Twenty years ago, the Day of the Dead skeletons first took their place at the head of the Village Halloween Parade, linking New York's festival of All Souls to ritual traditions worldwide – the Guedé in Haiti, the Skull and Bones Gang of New Orleans, the calaveras of Mexico, the Midnight Robbers of Trinidad, and beyond. Memento Mori, or reminders of death, have dwelt in the corners of Western art and architecture since antiquity, but it is in places where tragedy is ubiquitous and everyday existence a struggle, that expressions of the Dead are at their most exuberant. These spirits – as they return to drink, to play, to linger and above all, to dance – offer us a mirror to see with fresh eyes the everyday things in our lives, rendered invisible by routine. Every sound, action, and motion we take for granted, they rejoice in - on the one night they can. So each year, when the giant skeletons take their place at the head of the Halloween Parade, they are not grim expressions of the morbid, but rather reminders of all that remains vital.
This year NY's Village Halloween Parade once again hosted a Carnival culture in crisis. Back in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, PAW had worked with refugees from New Orleans to design and perform a Jazz Funeral in the Parade. For this year's performance of Memento Mori, we were honored to collaborate with Carnival artist Didier Civil from Jacmel, Haiti.
Guided by Didier's experience in the ritual traditions of the Guedé, or spirits of the Dead, we worked together to create a Haitian shadowland of illuminated tombs ruled by the Voudou figures of Baron Samedi and Grann Brigitte. To lead the jubilant cortege forward, we created four Night-Mares (in homage to Maya Deren's "Divine Horseman") and incorporated imagery from related traditions worldwide – a medieval line-dance of Totentanz skeletons, and an entourage of giant Calaveras-style skeletons joining their brethren at the head of the Parade. The procession was anchored by dozens of members of the local Haitian community who gathered to take part, dancing to the deep backbeat and lilting horns of Dja-Ra-Ra, a traditional Haitian Rara band based in Brooklyn. As Memento Mori brought its syncretic fusion of celebration and remembrance to the streets of New York, we recalled another Latin adage: "Vita Brevis Ars Longa": life is short, but art endures."