One, “Die de los Muertos” has become a staple of the ballet company’s schedule and played a role in familiarizing the Lexington community with the annual Mexican celebration of the day of the dead. But while she was there, she ran across another story that seemed custom made for ballet.
While in Oaxaca, Aranda visited towns that specialized in alebrijes — pronounced ala-bree-heys — small sculptures, often in wood or paper maché, of fantastic creatures that were often mixes of animals.
“I had seen them before,” Aranda recalls. “When you leave your country, you start missing things that are so unique and special to your culture.”
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What she learned was the story behind them: Mexican artist Pedro Linares became deathly ill when he was 30. In the midst of his illness, he had a dream of his death and rebirth in a mountain setting surrounded by fierce, fantastic creatures who shouted, “alebrijes!” at him.
“It doesn’t actually mean anything,” Aranda says. “It’s just the word they yelled.”
But it became the name for the creatures Linares molded from paper maché when he got better.
And it became the name of the ballet Aranda’s company will present for the third time Friday evening and Saturday afternoon at the Lexington Opera House.
“Alebrijes: Pedro’s Magical Spirit Creatures” tells the tale of the artist and his creations through numerous styles of dance, from classical ballet to contemporary, set to Mexican and Latin American music with colorful costumes by artist Penny Sisto to rival the artworks.
Aranda says that when the company first presented “Alebrijes,” students in the company helped create some of the creatures portrayed and their stories. The tales include a fox and peacock who end up switching tails and alebrijes split between night and day.
The show is a bit counter-intuitive in the ballet world, where companies tend to rely on familiar titles to draw audiences. The unusual title and relatively unknown story can make it hard to break through the many entertainment options available on a mid-October weekend.
But since the last presentation of the show in 2010, the title has gained a fresh pop culture reference: The creatures were a part of the story in the 2017 Pixar animated feature “Coco,” inspired by the Day of the Dead. “Alebrijes” gives audiences, a chance to learn more about the roots of the creatures in Mexican culture. And clocking in at just over an hour, it should not tax the attention spans of young people in the audience.
“The point is we’re trying to teach things they don’t know,” Aranda says of her educational group. “When we started Die de los muertos,” nobody knew anything about that either.”
IF YOU GO
‘Alebrijes: Pedro’s Magical Spirit Creatures’
What: Original production by Bluegrass Youth Ballet
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 12, 2 p.m. Oct. 13
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: $17, $20