In a fall marked by major events in this province, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is launching its 75th anniversary celebrations with the world premiere Oct. 1 of a full-length ballet that it is hoped will be a milestone in the story of race relations in Canada and with that bring a new public appreciation of the human issues at stake. The ballet, Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, grew out of the testimony put before Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its arduous, recently completed hearings, and recreates the stories, “told and untold” by Indian Residential School survivors and their families.
The ballet, commissioned by the RWB, has a full-length musical score, which is also having its world premiere. The music is being performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
The inspiration for the work happened over 10 years ago, a RWB release explains. Well-known elder, Mary Richard, a long-time patron of the RWB, nursing a “dream of reconciliation” between aboriginal and non-aboriginal races, approached artistic director André Lewis with the suggestion a ballet be created to bring the two communities together. She has since died.
It took a few years, but in time Lewis and associate producer Tina Keeper, the well-known actress, media producer and former MP, established a creative team for the project, with the support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, under Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair. From the start, the project was in immensely able hands.
With famed choreographer Mark Godden, the distinguished best-selling Métis author Joseph Boyden, costume designer Paul Daigle and Metis visual artist KC Adams in charge of set design, the job was underway. Greek born, internationally renowned Canadian composer Christos Hatzis was commissioned to write the full-length ballet score and which features on stage famed Inuk throat singer Tanyaa Tagaq and Cree traditional musicians, Steve Wood and the Northern Cree Singers.
The RWB outlines the story in an online release (www.rwb.org/75thseason/lineup):
“Going Home Star explores the world of Annie, a young, urban First Nations woman adrift in a contemporary life of youthful excess. But when she meets Gordon, a long-haired trickster disguised as a homeless man, she’s propelled into a world she has always sensed but never seen. Not only do they travel the streets of this place but also the roads of their ancestors, learning to accept the other’s burdens as the two walk through the past and toward the future. Together, both Annie and Gordon learn that without truth, there is no reconciliation.”
This isn’t a written story. Author Joseph Boyden, collaborating with André Lewis, created with this piece a story that would be told through dance.
Boyden, on video, speaks with a quiet passion, always articulate. In a comment recorded while the work was still being created, he explained: “Ballet cuts right to the heart of what’s most beautiful, physically, in humanity and what’s most beautiful in story. We are taking a very European form and introducing it to a First Nations experience. We’ll find a way to meld this meeting of these two very different places in a fascinating way on the stage.” It’s said he has.
But let the last word here go to Justice Murray Sinclair: “These are profound, compelling themes, not just for aboriginal families and communities, but for all Canadians,” he reminds us.
The ballet is being performed at the Centennial Concert Hall from Oct. 1 to Oct.5. The RWB is hoping to tour the work later, but no formal announcement has yet been made. For tickets, please call 204-956-2792.