Sophia Lee and Liang Xing as Annie and Gordon in the Going Home Star, presented by The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. | Image source: rwb.org
A traditional drum performance by the Bear Creek Singers and a prayer led by Elder, Andrew Wesley opened The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s, Going Home Star performance at The Sony Centre for Performing Arts, February 5, 2016. Artistic Director, André Lewis then came on stage and spoke about the significance of the ballet’s role for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to move forward together in reconciliation. Lewis expressed his hope that the ballet would reach an audience of people who might not otherwise be exposed to the truth about residential schools. The ballet marks the first collaboration between novelist, Joseph Boyden, Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, and The Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
Going Home Star explores the world of a contemporary, young First Nations woman, Annie (Sophia Lee), who meets a trickster named Gordon (Liang Xing), disguised as a homeless man. In the first act Annie is educated by Gordon about the horrible atrocities that occurred in residential schools. In the second act they journey together, accepting each other’s burdens, and learning that without truth there is no reconciliation.
Dancing to classical music blended with Inuit throat singing and traditional drumming, the performers were eloquent and passionate as they conveyed the stories of physical and sexual abuse survivors endured in the schools. Dmitri Dovgoselets, who played the abusive clergyman, exuded an ominous and strong onstage presence invoking the darkness and oppression that often occurred. This is important because Going Home Star’s strong point is that it doesn’t shy away from the residential schools’ dark history.
Going Home Star is presented in a time when Indigenous people are asserting their stories be told in culturally appropriate ways. Aside from Métis writer Joseph Boyden writing the libretto, no Indigenous dancers, dance forms, or artistic direction was included in Going Home Star. Artistic Director, André Lewis, did incorporate some Indigenous cultural elements such as the opening prayer, traditional drum music, and Inuk throat singing. That being said, Indigenous people, artists and performers have a right to be disappointed that a story about Indigenous people is yet again not being told and performed by Indigenous talent. Seeing non-Indigenous performers as Indigenous characters, in a production about residential schools, funded by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begs the question: why didn’t funding go into a production with more Indigenous connection?
Ballet as a dance form is known for its rigidity and strict structure and perhaps using this form to expand reconciliation also works to confine it. Going Home Star is an important first step towards education for an audience that might not otherwise engage – however there is still much room for ground-breaking artistic collaboration that carries depth, re-builds relationships, and pushes artistic practice. I hope that funds allocated towards reconciliation and the arts will also create opportunities to showcase Indigenous forms of dance, Indigenous survivors and artists with stories that speak to all kinds of audiences.
The production started touring in mid January in Ottawa and will conclude in Vancouver in April 2016. http://www.rwb.org/whats-on/show/going-home-star