WHITEHORSE, Yukon – To the sounds of 10,000 caribou, a thunderous clap of
hooves pulsated the ground with its continuous vibrations; a deafening echo
leaving spectators breathless as their hearts skipped a beat.
This wasn’t the annual migration of the famed Porcupine caribou herd north
of the Arctic Circle. No, these antlered animals don’t venture into the
city streets of Whitehorse, at least not by the thousands. Rather this
realistic experience was courtesy of clever sound mixing amplified in a
The “Caribou Song” is an original piece choreographed by Red Sky
Productions (RSP) that has had more than 15,000 audience members frozen on
the edges of their seats over the past three years. This Toronto-based
company emphasizes contemporary Aboriginal performances with disciplines of
dance, music and folk tales merging into a seamless array of visual and
Artistic director Sandra Laronde initiated Red Sky in 2000 upon determining
there was a void in modern-day theater for and about First Nations. After
approaching several of her colleagues who failed to take up the cause, she
pursued her own company.
“Aboriginal people have always come from multiple disciplinary cultural
expressions,” Laronde said about why Native arts should have a natural
market. “When we go to ceremonies and events, I hear songs, instruments,
[and see] dance, motion and storytelling.”
Red Sky is actually a continuation of a previous endeavor, one still
continuing since 1993. Laronde, originally from the Anishinabe band in
northern Ontario, is also the founder of Native Women in the Arts, a
company that’s promoted the careers of hundreds of women along many levels
including the literary arts and community development.
Describing Native Women as a grassroots movement, it’s been Red Sky that’s
elevated Laronde’s exposure on a national and international scene, both in
and outside of Aboriginal markets. Following the debut of the “Caribou
Song” with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2002, there has been a steady
demand for Laronde to export her creation.
“Red Sky is a creation with wings that can fly and move to other countries
whereas Native Women cannot,” she said about her travels to three
continents in addition to the United States and Mexico.
The success with the Toronto Symphony and its 70-piece ensemble then posed
its own challenges. How to duplicate the musical background to accompany
the dancers for a traveling show such as Red Sky’s recent stop, the 17th
annual Yukon International Storytelling Festival June 25-27?
Stepping in was Rick Sacks, the composer of the chamber version of “Caribou
Song”, written by Tomson Highway. It was Sacks who revised the music so
that he could operate the percussion repertoire with the help of Trevor
Toreski during the Whitehorse performance.
Armed with a cube van filled with instruments and electrical equipment,
Sacks has at his disposal a cache of sound-making devices that animate the
20-minute story of two siblings who follow the caribou by dogsled with
their family. Birdcalls and wind whistles, seashells and wood blocks, Sacks
is always an arms-length away from striking a multitude of objects by just
leaning over his xylophone.
“It’s a combination of the effects of a volcano, earthquake and a regular
stampede,” Sacks described about how he created the noise of 10,000
Bringing the caribou to life with an almost eerie mimicking of the animal
is Carlos Rivera, who has been with Red Sky from its onset. With pinpoint
facial and body twitches, Rivera evolves from a stumbling calf into a grown
buck during a rhythmic solo ballet when all eyes are cast upon these
graceful, and then explosive, movements.
Recruited by Laronde from his native Mexico where he excelled at the Mayo
Deer Dance, Rivera explained how he immerses himself into an animal. “When
I dance this part, this is my communication with the drum and I need to
control my body for the part,” he said.
With all of the excitement and motion occurring, “Caribou Song” also takes
the time to pay tribute to ancestors. Subtly there are seven honor beats
that give the audience an opportunity to relax during the frenzy.
“Built right into the music and built right in the dance steps is that
recognition with the people who have gone before us and this is a
heightened moment,” Laronde noted.
Before their Whitehorse dates, the RSP’s show was in Ottawa where the
performance “Dancing Americas” closed the Canada Dance Festival.
Encompassing Aboriginal music and dance from Canada and Mexico, there was a
definite physical tie between these countries at the opposite ends of North
“We used the metaphor of the monarch butterfly and we want that to come
between Canada and Mexico and we found the right vehicle which spans the
entire continent,” said Rivera.
Laronde’s own belief is that in time Native peoples between North and South
America will come together and it will first happen in the arts and
medicine. That’s why the long-term goal of Red Sky is to incorporate more
global indigenous performances.
“We want to be a world player in theater, dance and music … in five
years,” Laronde said with a hearty, but serious, laugh.
Red Sky continues its globetrotting when it returns to the United States to
perform in Washington, D.C. between Sept. 18 – 21 in conjunction with the
opening of the National Museum of the American Indian along the Mall.