WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — Carrying traumatic history on your shoulders while dancing feather light steps is a tall order for a ballet performer.
But that’s what the dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet are asked to do during performances of the groundbreaking “Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation”, a ballet based on the painful legacy of residential schools, where generations of aboriginal children were torn from their families, homes, and culture and put in boarding schools with the aim of “killing the Indian in the child.”
“Going Home Star” is a collaborative ballet between some of Canada’s biggest names in their respective disciplines. Ten years in the making, the idea was formed by RWB’s artistic director André Lewis, the late Cree elder/activist Mary Richard and Gemini-award wining actress and advocate Tina Keeper (Keeper is also a TRC honorary witness) who serves as associate producer.
Keeper approached celebrated Canadian author Joseph Boyden to write the story the ballet is built on. Choreography is by Mark Godden best known for his full length ballet Dracula. The score is by Juno Award winning composer Christos Hatzis. Sets are by Winnipeg based Metis multi-media artist K. C. Adams. The ballet was created with the guidance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and members of the Aboriginal community.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is Canada’s oldest ballet company, and one of North America’s most respected known for its technical prowess and versatility.
Story of a Young First Nations Woman
Boyden tells the story of Annie, a young, urban First Nations woman lost in a big city life of youthful excess. She wants to disassociate herself from her roots, yet her refusal to come to terms with what’s buried inside is a constant source of pain, and she feels rejection from the white world she is trying to integrate.
The first scene takes place in a hair salon where Anne works and in night clubs where she parties hard. It’s a first scene of engrossing drama and dance with dancers costumed in hair dressers capes and caps encircling Annie, danced marvellously by Sophia Lee, allowing us to share the hurt and disconnection she feels.
Annie meets Gordon, a homeless victim of the residential school system. He’s also a trickster possessing magical powers, and slowly leads Annie back to her roots, along the journey encountering other broken residential students and sadistic perpetrators of the system.
The second act brings about healing with much aboriginal symbolism that many audience members might not be familiar with (it’s extremely helpful to read the program synopsis before) and difficult to hear spoken text. From the anger, comes truth and the path to reconciliation.
Hatzis score is another highlight, starting in the first act with melodic strains of western symphonic music to a powerful passage by Inuk Throat stinger Tanya Tagaq as the story’s protagonist gains inner strength and reclaims her roots.
Adams elegant minimal sets which include slim suspended birch trees and arched whale bones are an integral part of the story.
The dancers technique and captivating style keeps viewers engrossed as the narrative unwinds, despite occasional moment of distracting kitsch such as a dancer carrying a maquette of a residential school over his head.
The work, for all its acclaim, was not without controversy. Using a ballet to tell the story of the biggest stains on Canadian history. Using this historically elite, western art form -ballet was founded at the court of Louis 14th of France- is to some questionable, especially with cultural appropriation such a hot button issue. But the ballet also brings the topic to a larger audience then the Truth and Reconciliation commission might otherwise.
And through its sensitive, if wrenching story telling, beautiful sets, and dancers who inhabit their roles like rarely before, the ballet honestly asks to help heal a nation.
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NATIONAL TOUR DATES
For Tickets : rwb.org/whats-on/show/going-home-star
OTTAWA – JAN 28 – JAN 30
KINGSTON – FEB 2
BURLINGTON – FEB 4
TORONTO – FEB 5 – FEB 6
BRANDON – MAR 21
REGINA – MAR 22
SASKATOON – MAR 23
BANFF – MAR 26
KELOWNA – MAR 29 – MAR 30
VICTORIA – APR 1 – APR 2
NANAIMO – APR 4 – APR 5
VANCOUVER – APR 7 – APR 9