It took a three-minute call for Ofrenda’s Day of the Dead Gala to set in motion.
“It is our passion and necessity to promote Mexican culture,” said Denise Cervantes, co-director of the gala happening Nov. 2 in Toronto, a city with a growing Mexican community.
The Day of the Dead gala will take place Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at TD Music Hall downtown. The event is an “ofrenda to Mexico,” a way to remember the home the directors left behind and a way to celebrate their roots.
Cervantes’ co-director, Sofia Armstrong was the one that made the call to make this event happen for the first time ever.
The night will be filled with folklore dancing by the Ballet Folklorico Fandango Jaliscience, an ofrenda, Mexican photographers such as Gus Mejía will be displaying their work, local singers like Luis Torres and Abby la Mexicana, and lots of other activities.
Day of the Dead in Mexico is celebrated starting October 27 until November 2.
All around Mexico, families set up their ofrendas (altars), with pictures of friends and families that have passed away, candles, marigold flowers, paper maché, their favourite food, and most importantly, pan de muerto, a bread made specifically for the holiday.
While everyone’s ofrenda might look different, the purpose is the same, to remember those who are no longer with us.
There have been many events in Toronto celebrating the Day of the Dead, but for Armstrong and Cervantes, this will be their first year hosting the event.
Their main mission was to bring the Ballet Folklorico from Mexico to Toronto for the first time. “If there wasn’t a festival to which we could bring them, we were going to make our own festival,” said Cervantes.
The Ballet Folklorico Fandango Jalisciense will be the main event of the night.
“We believe that the richness of Mexican culture is worthy of sharing,” said Ed Zapata, a dancer with Ballet Folklorico, “and we do that through dance.”
Folkloric dance is a big part of Mexican culture. It is one of the most ancient forms of dancing, dating back to the Mayans and the Aztecs, who would dance to their divinities as an offering.
“We want to share something traditional, pure folkoric dance,” said Armstrong, who is also a dancer herself.
In the beginning, Cervantes and Armstrong were unsure who could sponsor them, since people didn’t know them.
They wanted it to be something collaborative, where if someone had a talent, they could bring it to the event.
“We have a big community in Canada, in Toronto,” Armstrong said. “And like us, we need this, we need to feel at home and we need to have the opportunity of sharing something authentic.”
For their first year hosting the event, Cervantes and Armstrong did not hold back. They will host the Gala on Thursday in Toronto and over the weekend in Barrie, Ont., starting on Friday with a parade, performances, and food.
On Saturday there will be activities, a variety of Mexican food, and a raffle.
As Zapata put it, when Mexican people make their ofrendas they just don’t put tangerines, they make full dishes like mole or menudo, Mexican style — they will go all out to make every celebration special. No matter how tedious, time-consuming or expensive it is, they will make it happen.
“This year is a test,” said Armstrong, “if everything turns out good, we fulfill expectations … of course, we will want next year to be even bigger.”
La Ofrenda’s Day of the Dead Gala takes place at TD Music Hall, 178 Victoria St., on Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $70.95 CAD each.