The fall of the Aztec empire to the Spanish conquistadores in the grand metropolis of Tenochtitlán back in 1521 is rumored to have started with the Aztec leader Moctezuma.
Hernán Cortés, the Spanish leader who was supported by indigenous allies and his interpreter and companion, La Malinche was successful in carrying out numerous battles between the Aztec empire and his forces. But no battle in the Americas changed the course of history like the siege of Tenochtitlán, which led to the devastation of the Aztec population and the end of an era and reign of its last Aztec leader Moctezuma.
His death and that thousands of Aztecs led to the destruction of the civilization.
For centuries, this story of conquest has been read in history books.
Last week, that story was revisited by Calidanza Dance Company in its new production ‘Noche de Muertos’ (Night of the Dead), whose Mexican folk and contemporary dance ensembles along with a touch of creative theatrics brought the encounter between the Aztecs and the Spaniards back to life at the Crocker Art Museum.
The sound of beating drums and the harmonious flute set the mood for the night’s spectacle last Thursday evening, highlighting the popular Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration which originated in the Ámericas from indigenous populations where the deceased are remembered and their lives celebrated.
“Whenever we think of the story of Moctezuma, we never stop to think of the fall of an empire and the result of his death and an entire civilization. These are, in a way, our ancestors who have passed away and whom we must honor,” said Steven Valencia, Artistic Director for Calidanza Dance Company.
At a sold-out venue at the Crocker Art Museum, Calidanza displayed the tug-of-war between two powerful men: Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma; and two strong peoples in the struggle for power: the Spanish and the Aztecs.
It also displayed the root of the problem: a dance-off between La Malinche, who is considered a traitor by some, a victim by others, but mostly, the symbolic mother of a new Mexican people.
The new dance titled ‘Moctezuma’ was created by Valencia and meant to highlight the late emperors reign who viciously fought against the blow of the Spanish crown.
“Because of Day of the Dead and its significance, it is important to not just recognize the lives of those who have passed like our loved ones, but those who came long before us and are a result of our existence,” said Valencia.
On a stage platform, guests watched as images of an ancient México glimmered in the background of the dances. After Moctezuma’s death, a two-member ensemble Orgullo Regional strung their guitar strings and sang traditional Mexican music between each of Calidanza’s ensembles.
Following Moctezuma’s death, the stage turned into a runway as nearly a dozen ‘Calavera Catrinas’ reminiscent of the zinc etchings made by the famous Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer José Guadalupe Posáda graced the stage with authentic, glamorous and detailed costumes made by local, award-winning designer Rory Castillo.
The long dresses and large-brimmed hats capture a long history.
The original image of La Catrina was a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting of the upper class outfits sported by Europeans. At the turn of the 20th century in México, the image was used in a leaflet describing a person who was ashamed of their indigenous origins and dressed to imitate the French style while wearing heavy makeup in order to make their skin look lighter.
La Catrina eventually earned the nickname garbancera which was given to people of indigenous ancestry who imitated European style and denied their own cultural heritage.
“Rory has always been a very big supporter of the arts and of Calidanza. His creativity and imagination in creating these one-of-a-kind pieces and costumes for this and other productions have added enormously to the essence of our dances,” said Valencia.
The one-hour show also included the ‘Danza de Venado’ (Deer Dance), a struggle between the hunter and the hunted, a sacred dance from the Yaqui Indíans of Sonora, México which reflects their relationship with nature. The dance is a re-staging by Amalía Hernández of the Ballet Folkloríco de México.
The show concluded with a magical ‘Noche de Muertos’ ensemble where the indigenousMictlantecuhtli (God of the Dead) and Michlancihuatl (goddess of the underworld) convey the process that one may go through in reaching the underworld where some lives are reincarnated and special ones are lifted by the gods into Miclan (underworld).
In pre-Hispanic times, the ‘day of the dead’ was celebrated for a month and believed to have taken place in August. Valencia believes the growing popularity of Día de los Muertos across the Sacramento region and the strong presence of Calidanza is allowing for a deeper appreciation of Mexican culture.
“It’s really beautiful to see people ask questions about this specific holiday and the celebrations in general. There is a lot of curiosity and I do enjoy educating and informing those who come to the shows,” said Valencia.
His most recent production tried to shy away from the traditional folkloric dances and incorporate new dances with more theatrical elements. Seeing the response from the public was rewarding, he said.
“Seeing entire families enjoy a night out to celebrate Día de los Muertos and many other events growing dramatically across the country makes it a great opportunity to show those who are unaware of the celebration, the beauty and history of our culture,” said Valencia.Read more at:backless formal dresses | one shoulder formal dresses