Day of the Dead is one of Mexico’s greatest traditions. Parades showcasing oversized grinning skeletons, macabre costumes, and a cacophony of trumpets and guitars draw millions. Streets lined with elaborate altars are crowded with offerings of food, and cemeteries are lit with candles and music as fireworks explode in the night skies.
Occurring annually from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, the three-day celebration full of music, dance, and culinary specialties pays tribute to loved ones that have transitioned to the spirit world. For most Mexicans, the tradition of remembering ancestors with love and respect is a cornerstone of their culture.
This year during Halloween week, as the veil between the spirit world and the human world is briefly lifted, the St. Albert Latin Cultural Association (SALCA) introduces Dia de los Muertas Celebration (Day of the Dead) as part of its first anniversary.
The colourful pageantry takes place Friday, Nov. 4 at the Arden Theatre. The two-hour production of Mexico’s music, dance, theatre and storytelling is borrowed from five states that are Day of the Dead epicentres: Oaxaca, Veracruz, Jalisco, Michoacan and San Luis Potosi.
“The show will be like a play of the Day of the Dead. The story is about a brother and sister talking and remembering their grandparents. In a dream, they are transported to different parts of Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead. This is a journey created by the imagination,” said Gabriela Jessome, artistic director of Ballet Mexico Lindo.
Jessome choreographed the vibrant folkloric ballet portion of the program. The dances integrate seven dancers attired in prismatic costumes capable of quickly changing and adapting to the different styles and techniques from across Mexico.
Jorge Vargas, a St. Albert guitarist who spearheaded SALCA’s inception in 2021, noted the program incorporates four songs from the family movie Coco. The Pixar tale recounts the fable of Miguel, a little boy who dreams of becoming an accomplished guitarist like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz.
Miguel’s family, however, has a generations old ban on music. But due to a mysterious chain of events, Miguelito finds himself in the brilliantly colourful Land of the Dead where he finally meets his idol. The movie reflects the importance of family, and that their love is unconditional. Not even death can stop love.
Edmonton based Mattias Perez Hernandez, 12, is tapped to play the role of Miguelito. He will sing four songs, including the iconic Remember Me.
“Mattias and his brother first saw the movie and were enchanted with it. Mattias started practicing the songs, but never had a chance to perform them live until now,” said Vargas. “We had auditions and the moment I heard him sing, I knew he was little Miguel. His voice was so beautiful.”
In an added theatrical touch, the script includes the grandmother known lovingly as Mama Coco. The gentle, wrinkled old woman is played by Deborah Ferh, a long-time Edmonton based community vocalist.
Mariachi bands have long been a staple of Mexican culture. Mariachi Borealis/Mundo, a full band complete with guitars, trumpets, violins and guitaron will fill the hall with romantic jubilation and at times heartbreaking sadness, both part of the arc of life. And St. Albert vocalist Alexa Leon joins the band at intervals for an added layer of Latin authenticity.
Vargas, who has travelled to Mexico many times, describes the culture as, “so effervescent, so rich. A lot of Canadian people would relate to our program because of their travels to Mexico. It is something different, yet familiar because of the folklore, dancing and music. It is one of those places you can go many times and will always learn something new.”
Dia de los Muertos Celebration starts at 7 p.m. at the Arden Theatre, 5 St. Anne Street. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 children 16 and under. Call 780-459-1542 or online at tickets.stalbert.ca.