by Jenna Rocca
I always love to immerse myself in other cultures. So many different communities from all over the world have formed hubs in our beloved City of Toronto, making themselves available to one another from which to learn and to enjoy.
So I was very excited about joining in the Mexican fun at the Day of the Dead Festival at Harbourfront Centre this past weekend. This was a celebration that always beckoned to me and that I felt akin with, even though I’m Italian and our views of death are highly morbid.
The Skulls of Posada was a special performance put on once each day of the festival (November 6th and 7th). From the director’s note: “The duality of Life and Death is a basic concept among all cultures, but Mexicans embody it in a very peculiar way: passionate, fatalistic, solemn, farcical, humorous [sic], irreverent, disrespectful, are just a few of the adjectives […] that depict Mexicans’ way of living… and dying.”
I was indeed seeking authentic exposure to this incredible celebration that went beyond what I’ve read about and seen in films. That is certainly what I got. When the mock-funeral procession began to make its way through the audience to the stage, I was immediately captivated. Which is to say nothing of the beautiful solo performance by a male vocalist that accompanied it.Oscar Ortiz of the Double Double Performing Arts Group took all of the Mexican notions and sentiments surrounding our mortality and created a performance to express all of those things. Presented entirely in Spanish, it felt more like a celebration and reaffirmation of their customs and the ideas surrounding death, than an educational, cross-cultural expression of community. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand a word.
However I am fluent in the language of colour, movement, and performance. And this piece (written and staged by Ortiz) “inspired by the engravings of Jose Guadalupe Posada,” did not disappoint. The show was fairly brief at around forty-five minutes and made up for the brevity and language-barrier with impassioned and intense performances and staging.
The cast of fifteen, filling the stage the entire time, were clad mostly in colourful, over-the top representations of caricatures of who they were to be while alive. This much was clear. I was astonished to notice that one character’s invisible guitar later manifested without my noticing. For all I know it was a lighting trick. All (save one) wore beautiful skeleton masks with full skeletal makeup. Some characters from the beginning even had bones painted on their bare arms. This is the sort of thing that I greatly appreciate.
With several interludes of musical numbers, clashing with dark, mysterious movement sequences underscored by electro-soundscapes, the pace of the show was simply wild. The mostly Spanish-speaking audience was roaring with laughter at a regulated pace. This can only be a testament to the writing, which at times I did notice, was metered with rhymes.
Though I later got to read the production notes which did explain things in more detail, it would have been fine without, not to say that I don’t wish I knew the meaning of each word uttered.
I am not sure if Day of the Dead is celebrated annually at the Harbourfront Centre, but I hope it is. Their “World Stage” is a fabulous platform for international artists and I can only imagine the breadth of interpretations from an authentic Mexican perspeecitve of this incredible celebration.