Spirited dance, lively music and colorful costumes will help Oakland Ballet celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in “Luna Mexicana” at the Bankhead Theater on Thursday evening, October 17, 2019. Created by Oakland Ballet’s artistic director Graham Lustig, the show highlights the holiday’s festive cultural traditions. The family-friendly program also includes “Viva la Vida,” a collaboration between Lustig and Martin Romero, artistic director of Ballet Folklerico Mexico Danza. Honoring the singular vision of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the piece’s striking visual energy draws on her love for animals and the passionate, bright colors that animate her work.

Celebrated on the first two days of November every year, the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos brings families together to welcome the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion in the real world. The symbols of the holiday feature skeletons and skulls, and there are costumes and parades, but Dia de los Muertos is not a Mexican Halloween. Instead, the celebration honors traditions that derive from early Aztec beliefs. The border between the spirit world and the real world was believed to be dissolved on that date and souls of the dead would awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with loved ones.

Oakland Ballet’s “Luna Mexicana” features the colorful costumes, striking visuals and intricate decorations that are traditional to the holiday. Mexican contemporary and folkloric dance works performed by Ballet Folklorico, as well as Nahui Ehekatl & Co. Aztec dance company, add to an exhilarating show that was described in 2018 by ArtsSF as “a feast of color and vivacity.” Prior to the event, mariachi music will set the mood and attendees will be able to purchase food made by the Granada High School Latino Club in concessions. An ofrenda set up by the Hispanic Heritage Center will be arranged in the lobby, in keeping with traditional altars set up for the holiday to honor ancestors with food and photographs.

The presentation of “Luna Mexicana” continues the relationship between Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center and the Oakland Ballet with a focus on bringing innovative theater experiences to young people. Last spring the company presented “Jangala,” Lustig’s southeast Asian take on stories from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The day before the public performance of “Luna Mexicana,” two abbreviated performances will be offered to local students in the Livermore Valley Unified School District, providing a priceless opportunity for students to experience the live production. To encourage whole families to attend, a special student price of $10 per ticket is being offered through the box office.

Next year, “Cruzando Fronteras” (Border Crossings) will be presented on Saturday May 9, 2020 at the Bankhead. The eclectic musical style, stirring vocals, and lively instrumentation of Jarabe Mexicano will come together with premier Mexican folk dance company Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles, in a joyous and colorful celebration of musical traditions from both sides of the border. Tickets for both “Luna Mexicana” and “Cruzando Fronteras” are available now at the Bankhead Theater Box Office or online at lvpac.org.