There are a lot opportunities to enjoy traditional and not so traditional Mexican music here in the state of Jalisco. Last week I attended the major Latin Music business conference, FIMgdl, and enjoyed 29 cutting edge bands from Latin America, the US, and Canada. A few days later I tuned into Mexican Univision and watched the Latin Grammys. But one of the most unusual, and fun, venues was Calaverandia, a cross between the movie “Coco”, Disneyland, a Day of the Dead cemetery and a Mexican music and dance festival.
Produced by the local Mexican company alteacorp entertainment group, Calaverandia is about 5 acres of music, dance, light shows, scary critters, not-so-scary critters, and happy children. Held in a public park, Parque Ávila Camacho in Guadalajara, it is an annual event to celebrate – and profit from – the Day of the Dead.
While not quite Disneyland, the producers of Calaverandia have paid almost as much attention to detail as Disney does, including to music and dance, but a smaller scale.
Like Disneyland, it is divided up into various separate areas – a Mexican Plaza food court, a lake with boat rides that circle a floating mariachi band, and larger lake with a 4-Dsound and light show that is stunning, a animated cemetery, a Zona Neon where you paint yourself with glow-in -the-dark paints and walk through a glow-in-the-dark Mexican wonderland, an Aztec adventure where you meet warriors and princesses and strange animals, and a Grand Altar (three stories high) with giant Catrinas and Catrines strolling through, mariachi bands playing, cantantas singing, a photo spot, and even a full moon.
My favorite of the attraction was Expectáculo Catrinesque, a Las Vegas style floor show led by a Catrina singer and backed by a team of dancers and acrobats whose routine was tight, flamboyant, and well-practiced. Using the musical theme La Larona, the ever-popular Mexican classic song about the ghost of a mother who drowned her children and is wandering forever calling out for the souls, Expectáculo Catrinesque was as good as many shows in Las Vegas (except of course, the Blue Man Group and Cirque de Soleil, but definitely better than Barry Manilow).
The choreography, including women flying on rings and long sashes and a spectacularly talented Catrina singer (could not get her name – apparently it is not the same singer every show) who moved around and off the stage so everyone in the audience had a good sightline. Music was supplied by two women, one with a saxophone and one with a cello, plus backup recordings. It worked on many levels: the music was top notch: the dancing was tight and the choreography held your attention when it wasn’t diverted by the acrobats swinging over the stage; and the singer was full of emotion, power and energy as she moved from one end of the theater to the other.
My second favorite was Alma Espectaculo, a multimedia 4D, a light and sound show taking the audience through a wonderland of giant fish, Dia de Muertos altars, Catrinas, rain, fire and many other huge illusions done with projections on water and smoke. The music was more Disney and theatrical, although at one point we did hear (and see in the illusion) great mariachi, it was mostly background to the multistory tall light-generated illusions glowing over the lake. It was fun and very well done
While not as satisfying as seeing La Santa Cecelia and over 25 other bands live on stage at FIMgdl a few days earlier, Calaverandia was certainly entertaining, and a great look into one aspect of Mexican music, dance, and entertainment culture. If Coco was ever to go to Disneyland, I think Calaverandia would be the result.
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