The Canadian ballet reviewers often refer to as “the most important work produced by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in its 75-year history” is undertaking a nationwide tour in the Great White North.
Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation – is a dark, yet hopeful examination of the legacy of Canada’s brutal “kill the Indian in the child” indigenous residential schools. The ballet will traverse Canada beginning later this month until April and will include two major performances on February 5th and 6th at Toronto’s Sony Centre For The Performing Arts.
The production was developed with the support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and is presented in memory of the late Cree Elder and Activist Mary Richard (Ah Kha Ko cheesh). Richard conceived the piece in 2004 with long-time RWB Artistic Director André Lewis who wished to create an authentic, indigenous ballet as a successor to the ground-breaking 1971 Indigenous-themed play-turned-RWB ballet The Ecstasy of Rita Joe.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established in 2008 to tell Canadians about the history of Indian Residential Schools and the impacts it has had on Indigenous children who were sent to the schools by the Canadian government and to guide a process of reconciliation between and within Indigenous families, communities, churches, governments and Canadians.
The creative talents behind Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation include former company dancer and resident choreographer Mark Godden; Canadian novelist and TRC Honorary Witness Joseph Boyden; Cree actor, former Member of Parliament and TRC Honorary Witness Tina Keeper; Juno Award-winning composer Christos Hatzis; Polaris Prize-winning Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq; and Métis visual artist KC Adams.
In Boyden’’s story, Annie is a young, urban First Nations woman seemingly lost and feeling somewhat disconnected in her contemporary life of working as a hairdresser in an upscale salon, enduring the grind of commuting, meaningless encounters with a random lover, dabbling in cocaine and clubbing. Gordon is a reserve-born homeless First Nations man possessed with the magic and power of the Anishinaabe Trickster who escaped the Residential School system to live as a true survivor.
Gordon becomes Annie’s guide and shows her his harrowing story of being forced into the residential schools. Transported into the past, Annie realizes she shares Gordon’s burden and those of her people, and prepares for her new destiny as Healer. Gordon feels the damage that has been done and the anger he carries inside deeply. But the “going home star” (the North Star) is clear in the sky and Annie and Gordon both learn that without truth, even the most hateful truth, there is no reconciliation.
The ballet opened the Company’s 75th season in October 2014 to great acclaim.
“Creating this ballet transformed the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as an organization,” says Lewis, who commissioned it. “Our experience went beyond the creation of a new ballet. It ultimately became our artistic expression of reconciliation which we would like to be able to share with everyone.”
Boyden sees the arts as a powerful healing tool. “Art is the way to allow Canadians to begin to understand something of such huge pain,” he says. “I think stories, I think novels, I think film, I think dance, I think painting, all of this allows Canadians to absorb not just the pain and the anger but the beauty as well.”
Scheduled performances include Ottawa (January 28-30), Kingston (Feb 2), London (Feb 3), Burlington (Feb 4), Toronto (Feb 5-6), Brandon (March 21), Regina (March 22), Saskatoon (March 23), Banff (March 26), Kelowna (March 29-30), Victoria (April 1-2), Nanaimo (April 4-5), and Vancouver (April 7-9).
RWB representatives have confirmed to ICTMN that there will also be:
An Elder-directed multimedia display / exhibition of indigenous artefacts where attendees can learn more about Residential Schools at each performance;
Elders providing healthcare and cultural support including smudging for those who are deeply disturbed by images and survivor stories incorporated into the ballet;
An opening drum circle;
An Elder-led opening prayer.
The scale of additional offerings will vary according to each venue, but the Toronto performances will have the full program.
Visit rwb.org for tour and ticket information.
RWB on Twitter: @RWBallet Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/RWBallet
Read Joseph Boyden’s first-hand account of creating the story for Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation online in Macleans Magazine.
Follow ICTMN Correspondent Lisa J. Ellwood on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IconicImagery