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Richmond's Manchester neighborhood celebrates Mardi Gras with a parade and performances (photo by Dave Parrish).
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Dogtown Dance Theatre is the center of Mardi Gras activities (photo by Dave Parrish).
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Colorful costumes are de rigueur at Mardi Gras RVA (photo by Pfeifer)
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Events kick off with a Mardi Gras-themed parade from 3 to 4 p.m. (photo by Pfeifer)
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Live music gets the crowd moving between performances by groups such as RVA Dance Collective, Host of Sparrows, Claves Unidos and Boom Boom Basics Burlesque Performing Arts Studio (photo by Dave Parrish).
We caught up to the busy and adventurous Elli Morris the other day because she’s the chief organizer for the upcoming Mardis Gras RVA, which on Saturday, Feb. 6, celebrates its fifth spangled, flying, dancing year at the dance and movement arts center Dogtown Dance Theatre in old Manchester.
The parade, which is open to motorized and pedestrian participants, begins at 3 p.m., performances at Dogtown are from 4 to 7 p.m. and the dance party takes place from 7 to 10 p.m.
If this seems a little early to think about Mardi Gras, well, if you’d like to go in costume, you have some time to dream one up.
“Some people will show up one year in a mask and beads, but then say, ‘Next year, I’m going to spend some time on this,’” says Morris. “The creativity is what I enjoy most about seeing this happen.”
“And we’ll have good weather,” Morris says sternly, then laughs. Formerly two days separated the parade from the party, but this time, it’s all in one. The inclement weather date is Feb. 13. “We have indeed done the parade in the snow,” Morris recalls. “I don’t know this for certain, but I think we may be the only Mardi Gras parade that has done this.”
The parade, which always draws the curious to their porches and walks, is open to anyone — whether on foot, in an automobile, or riding a bicycle, horse or skateboard. The route starts at 15th and Bainbridge streets and takes revelers west on 15th to Porter Street, right on 10th Street and returns to Bainbridge.
A transplant from New Orleans, Morris moved in and out of Richmond a few times until settling here in 2009. There, people give directions in relation to the Mississippi, upriver or downriver. “I got here and couldn’t figure my way around at first and tried to speak in those terms,” she says. “It’s that people didn’t regard the river in that way.” Her inspiration for bringing Mardi Gras to Richmond came from attending Carnival on Mexico's Cozumel island. “And I wanted to go back, but I thought, why not just bring it here?”
She stresses that it’s a family friendly event. In the Caribbean, whole communities participate.
“People outside the Carnival, they see the scandalous stuff, but even the kids are dressed in their huge feathered outfits.” And to a certain degree, the abbreviated costumes, like in Rio de Janeiro, are a product of the warmer climate. But even New Orleans, during the two weeks of Mardi Gras festivities, has different kinds of parades.
Morris observes, “Our event brings out an enormous amount of creativity. People who’ve moved here or been here a long time, people have told me, 'This makes me feel like I have a home.' It’s whatever people can imagine and make, creating their own ways of expressing themselves, which is what Mardi Gras is, not just drunks on Bourbon Street.”
Here's the Host of Sparrows Aerial Dance troupe, performing at the 2012 Mardi Gras celebration:
The Richmond version incorporates parade and performance. Every group that rehearses and teaches in Dogtown is participating. The performance is to simulate how it might be to walk through Carnival, street by street, and happen across musicians and dancers. “But this is Richmond in February, so we’re inside,” Morris says. And there will be food and drink, adult and otherwise, at the cash bar. The edibles will be provided by Sophia’s International Cuisine.
Maybe you can't make it to NOLA this year. But you can drive across the river.
Tickets for the show are $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-12.