“If you believe in yourself, who you are, where you came from, your culture and more importantly your language, it will take you to places you have never even dreamed of.” – Steve Wood, founder of Northern Cree Singers
For the 75th season, Royal Winnipeg Ballet wanted to open with a ballet that represented Winnipeg in a unique way. The RWB chose to present one of the darkest chapters in Canada’s history: residential schools and the forced assimilation of the indigenous people. Andre Lewis told CBC, “Winnipeg and Manitoba has a large Aboriginal presence, and to include them and be part of the solution for this made total sense.”
Using the arts to connect the non-indigenous and indigenous to illustrate the separation there was between the two was something that I was honoured to be a witness to. Intricate symbolism, contemporary movement, and Aboriginal music was mixed with a traditional European dance, ballet, to tell the story and represent the culture of Aboriginal people beautifully.
Going Home Star tells the story of Annie, a contemporary First Nations woman, living disconnected from her culture, until she meets a homeless man who teaches her about her ancestors and the stories of children in residential schools. Joseph Boyden, the writer of the story, chose to set the story set in the past and the present, showing that the effects of residential schools carry on today.
The medium of dance communicated the dark facts of history in a deeply emotional way. The movements and music were haunting and dark. The story is drawn from testimonies of school survivors that experienced their culture being stripped away, their hair being sheared off, violent beatings, and, some even, sexual abuse. Though I knew these things happened, I felt them in an entirely new way as I watched them expressed through dance.
At the world premiere last night, the audience members consisted a mixed crowd of government officials, residential school survivors, and season ticket holders. Together, we watched and experienced a story that demands to be told over and over. As Andre Lewis said before the red curtain rose, “We are witnesses and agents of change of a story that we can never forget and never repeat.”
Post by Meghan Zahari – Photos by Vince Pahkala & Samanta Katz
Since she was little, Meghan has had a love for words and kept her nose firmly stuck in a book. Now, she’s a writer and a wife, with a baby on the way. She spends her days writing all kinds of stories for kids and working at a local stationery shop and a chiropractor’s office. She is also working on opening a donut and coffeeshop with her husband and brother-in-law.