Parade of the Lost Souls 2006
The Parade of the Lost Souls returned to Vancouver, after disappearing last year. This is a hard-to-define-succinctly, hybrid remembrance of the dead/parade/costume street party put on by Public Dreams Society.
Peeking Through the Veil…a Celebration of the Cycle of Life.
Begin at the end of life. The start is a reflection of death. No movement. Static displays.
Off Commercial Drive, in the all-weather field at William and Cotton a block away, the evening ‘begins’ with little fanfare. At the far end, projected onto buildings are images of skulls, dead leaves, and other memento mori, the flicking light visible from the road outside.
On the field itself, two curving parallel rows of lanterns mark a path through the grass, one that few people walk along but which few people choose to walk across as a shortcut either, preferring to walk around it. In a rough semicircle around the path, near the edges of the field, are sculptures, paintings, writings, altars, shrines. Some are artworks on or inspired by the subject of death; some commemorate real deaths, particularly violent deaths from murder or war, of months or years past; some are repositories for people to light candles and write down thoughts and memories.
This last type of participatory display is much participated in. Many are the candles lit, many are the words written, and many are the people who visit, pause, reflect, and sometimes share.
Then planned movement begins. Closer to the middle of the field are small stages, empty till now. Fire dancers now step up to perform. The dancing, the costumes, the whirling flames draw the crowd: movement is life. Music too begins, a trio on one stage, still somber, minor-key music—for the moment, but not for long. For this is preparation for a journey.
Now the bands begin to play. Multiple bands: a band of ghosts, dressed all over in white, clothes and faces both; a band of angels, white halos hovering above; a band of devils, glowing red horns sprouting from heads; drums, brass, woodwinds, bells; musical guides, playing increasingly cheerful melodies and rhythms, beckoning the crowd onto the street, forming a flowing river, a flowing river of people travelling, travelling from the field where death is remembered to the park where life, being alive, is celebrated.
To Grandview Park, then, orange from the multiple flames of many fire dancers—more than I’ve ever seen performing together in a mass display—on raised stages, and the open spaces between, the entire area of the tennis courts their stage. Here too, are the food and drink vendors, for after all, living things need sustenance.
On the edge of the park bordering Commercial Drive is another stage, larger than the ones back at the field at William and Cotton, with the lighting now brighter and the musicians playing music now more cheerful.
Beside the stage, a graveyard, guarded by gargoyles and ravens. Interred here are non-corporeal corpses. The foremost gravestone reads: “In this graveyard lies various regrets that people have asked us to bury. They are ready to move on.” The inscriptions on the gravestones range from the lighthearted and humourous to the earnest and poignant, from my Grade 9 perm to my bunion to unrealistic expectations that I impose on myself to painful shyness.
May your regrets rest in peace, and may you move on.
And onward. Beyond the park, the Drive, where the journey becomes a celebration in the delight of life, with dancing in the streets. Giant puppets bob above the heads of crowd. Skeletal birds on stilts caw as they stalk through the throng. And everywhere, costumes, costumes, as people take the opportunity to dress up, to show off their creativity and effort, to become another character, to leave their mundane selves behind, even if only temporarily. Numerous witches, skeletons, vampires, zombies, pumpkinheads, and demons, but too, medieval and renaissance garb, 1920s flappers superheroes, fairies, robots, pirates, giant dice, Lego minifigs, wolves, cats, a microwave-head, a banana slug, even just rainbow wigs, feather boas, domino and glitter masks, facepaint, glowsticks and LEDs. Even several blocks beyond the central hub of fire and music and dancing, there is a steady back and forth flow of people, enjoying the freedom to walk down the middle of a road, to see and be seen.
All good things must come to an end. The Parade of the Lost Souls ends about as quietly as it began. About ten minutes before the scheduled end time, a drizzle begins, a few drops at first, then falling lightly but steadily. This begins clearing the streets of people. The few who have umbrellas as part of their costume get to smirk. When the deadline does come, the musicians finish their last tune and bow. Without fuss, the lost souls parade out, a good portion heads southwards to the Skytrain station, some vanishing en route into restaurants or pubs along the way. But most of the costumes, however bulky or uncomfortable, stay on. To take them off would be a choice to return to normalcy.
An enchanting evening. Kudos to the organizer.
A word about the organizer, then, is appropriate. Public Dreams Society is a artist-founded group which organizes community events, not only as a production to provide mentorship and employment to people working in the arts, but also as participatory events for Vancouver-area residents. There are sponsors for events, but donations certainly help to keep such events going. At the Parade of the Lost Souls, there were donation/information tents, large donation drums (in both senses of the word: they functioned as both container and percussion instrument) in the middle of the street, and volunteers with collection buckets. Just how many people actually donated is unknown to me. My understanding is that at their previous event, Illuminares (as seen on Metblogs Vancouver&trade), the amount donated was rather meager compared to the number of people who attended. I wonder if the take was better this time round. I certainly hope so, because I for one greatly enjoy freeform, participatory public events like this one, whether they are formal, planned ones or more anarchic, flashmob-type ones. Donations are a contribution not only of financial support but of morale boosting to the organizers.
(Link: Write-up and photos of the Parade of Lost Souls (MEETin.org))