All About Pure Theatrical Joy
By Liz Nicholls
Edmonton Journal, February 3, 2006
I won't be the one telling you (or your kids) what the edifying moral of Sun Spirits is.
The fun, and the beauty, of this high-spirited double bill from Toronto's multidisciplinary Red Sky Performance is that it's way too sophisticated to be bandying edifying morals around the stage. Both Caribou Song and Raven Stole the Sun are more interested in launching vivid characters around the stage - and catapulting them into atmospheric First Nations stories with whole worlds conjured by movement and music. When it comes to a choice between an edifying moral onstage or a hot band of ingenious percussionists…well, duh.
There's magic in landscape, witness a powerful sense of the wintry northern tundra in Tomson Highway's Caribou Song and of the West Coast in Raven Stole the Sun, adapted by Drew Hayden Taylor from a traditional Tlingit Nation creation story. And there's magic in the discovery that man and animals are on a continuum that's calibrated, for purposes of the theatre, in choreography.
Directed by Laronde, the star of Raven Stole the Sun is a wise cracking bird with a sense of mischief and no small sense of his own importance. He is amusingly feathered, in every movement, by Jonathan Fisher, splendid in white. This is cosmology turned into musical theatre. There is, after all, something endearing about a story that explains universal light, and the placement of sun, moon and stars in the firmament, by accident and the ego of one hyper-curious bird. This is magic of the un-awestruck kind, intimately related to the human sphere where a crotchety dad (Carlos Rivera) and his daughter (Sandra Laronde) live. The way Raven stage-manages his own rebirth has its own goofball sense of humour.
The eerie attraction of Caribou Song is the way performers and musicians collaborate to conjure an animal essence. Laronde and Rivera play two kids (with giddy ease) who dance and sing their way into fashioning a living, breathing caribou. In doing so they connect with a spirit that draws an entire caribou stampede around them. It's strange and exhilarating, and in a way it has everything to do with the theatre and the imagination that comes with childhood. The score, by Rick Sacks, is remarkably evocative.
What sets the whole show apart is, in a word, joy.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann