By Valerie Milano and Audrey Rock
One of Hollywood’s fastest growing, and intensely beautiful, traditions took place October 27th. Who knew the biggest party of the year would be held at a cemetery? Dia De Los Muertos 2018, or Day of the Dead, celebrated its 19th year in Hollywood with the theme “Coatlicue: Mother of Gods.” The Aztec goddess gave birth to the moon, stars, and sun; she is the Great Mother, in whom both the grave and the womb exist—the Divine Feminine. Day of the Dead is not about mourning—it’s an ancestral celebration of gorgeous excess. It’s actually a celebration of life, and the people who came before us.
With 4 stages, a dedicated children’s area, arts and crafts, amazing food and drinks, a VIP lounge, exhibits, makeup, continual performers across 4 stages, and over 150 altars, it was a packed event from its early afternoon opening on into the early hours of the following morning. At least 40,000 people flooded the gates for a chance to experience this “Feast for the eyes.” If you’re looking for something culturally enriching, visually stunning, and intellectually stimulating to do for Halloween, this is truly the event to end all events.
If it isn’t the lavish costumery and makeup that catch your eye—Cynthia De-Meo and a team were actually on-hand to do professional makeup for VIP ticket-holders—it had to be the altars, meticulously build around graves both prominent and obscure, throughout the cemetery. Johnny Ramone’s famous statue and grave hosted a steady stream of onlookers, who took photos and reverently reflected on the legendary musician’s life.
Hundreds of Aztec ritual dancers dotted the expansive cemetery, breaking into dance in the middle of the streets in full ceremonial costume. Ballet Folklorico, Laura Marie Contemporary Arte in Movement/Dance Company, Fanny Ara Flamenco, and NoSIS with Ballet Eterna Juventud all performed on various stages. Singers and musical acts included Esteban Leon, Los Jaguares del Sereno, Conjunto Xi, Carlos Se, Andrea Zuniga, Tribu, Danny Munoz, Los Hijos De Santo, Mexican Institute of Sound, and event headliners Panteon Rococo.
The Cathedral Art Exhibit was perhaps the centerpiece of an already crushingly popular event. From 12:00 PM to 12 AM, the cemetery’s mausoleum was host to hundreds of guests at a time, who filed through its intricate marbled halls to get a glimpse of some of the most arresting, brightly colored artwork in Los Angeles. Artist of the Year Tino Rodriguez was featured; Artist and Curator of the Art Exhibition was Luis Villaneuva, with the work of artists Emi Motokawa, Lynn Elishaw, Mar Abella, Cecelia Ivy, Pola Lopez, Donna Marie Angers, Keryl Kris Reinke, Susan Z, Erica Friend, and Lili Flor on display.
This was the part of the celebration that demands, and expects, reverence, with its sheer majesty in both expression and artistic mastery. If you can’t find one other good reason to visit Day of the Dead (there are many) this is the single one that should get you there. It alone is worth the $25 admission price.
Another key landmark at Day of the Dead was the Marigold bridge, made entirely of blazing orange, fresh marigolds and stretching out across the cemetery’s lake. Bright-eyed children referenced the popular Disney film “Coco” repeatedly through the celebration, thrilled to see a part of the movie brought to such vivid life.
If you have the resources, VIP is definitely worth the upgrade. The additional food, traditional makeup artists, access to drinks, and private viewing area for the main stage made it a major improvement to an already breathtaking experience in tradition.
If you missed it, you can learn more about the celebration at www.ladayofthedead.com. Thankfully, you haven’t yet missed the 20th anniversary of this spectacular celebration of ancestry and culture, which is sure to be the biggest one yet.