Aboriginal groups shimmer together
By Tony Montague
www.straight.com- Vancouver's Online Source, June 15, 2006
For the past six years, Toronto's Red Sky has been pushing the boundaries of aboriginal performance, not just artistically, but also geographically. The company, known for interdisciplinary works like Caribou Song and Dancing Americas, has a mandate to bring together artists from world indigenous cultures, and to develop pieces that explore a shared indigenous experience. So when founder and artistic director Sandra Laronde went to Australia with Red Sky in 2005, she was on the lookout for creative collaborators.
At The Dreaming Australia's International Indigenous Festival, she witnessed a performance by a group of Torres Strait Islanders (from a small archipelago off the northernmost tip of Queensland), and a new project swam into her view.
“I was deeply moved by the beauty and fire in their traditional dancing,” says Laronde, on the line from Toronto. “What they did had a sense of mystery. I kept going on and seeing it, again and again. I knew the collaboration had to be with them. And I wanted it to be all men because I've never seen an all-indigenous male cast ever in my life on mainstream stages.”
Last month, the Islanders and didjeridu player Arthur Tamwoy, from mainland Australia, arrived in Canada to work with Laronde and Red Sky. The resulting spectacle, Shimmer, received a standing ovation at its June 6 premiere at Ottawa's National Arts Centre.
Shimmer is based on the notion of the warrior, a figure that carries very different associations for Native and non-Native peoples.
“My father is from the warrior class where I'm from, Temagami, north Ontario, and I'm very interested in what it means in indigenous societies,” Laronde says. “One of the things I'd heard was that warriors have a natural radiance, gentleness, grace, and dignity, and that comes from their deep connection to the forces of the world. I extended that and thought 'What about the radiance in nature itself in the star, the sky, the earth, and the water worlds?' Things shine and they're alive even in darkness, and often even in darkness, light still manages to come through the cracks.”
Shimmer, which plays next Friday (June 23) at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and Saturday (June 24) at 3 p.m. inside the Shabono stage at Earth: The World Urban Festival, draws strongly on traditional forms, including a grass dance by Matthew Pheasant from Ontario's Manitoulin Island and the dances of the Torres Strait Islanders that so impressed Laronde. Music is provided by Tamwoy, who also dances, and four singers and drummers from Vancouver who give the music a more contemporary edge.
The performers discovered unexpected affinities that helped them work closely together on the piece.
“There was such surprise at how similar the humour is between the different cultures,” Laronde says. “When you share the same sense of humour you relax, and when you relax you're in a more creative space. Humour is very potent.”
“And I felt another connection with the Torres Islanders,” she continues. “I grew up in Temagami, which means 'Deep Water'. I'm from a freshwater lake with about 1,600 islands, and although they're from an ocean, there are similarities between us, and the way we see the world, that come from living around water. We're so distant geographically, but in some ways so close. Really, this is the first generation of aboriginal peoples that can move around freely and discover these connections.”
Photo by Chris Randle