By Michael MacDonald
My first interview was in Ottawa with Sandra Laronde and Carlos Rivera from Red Sky. Red Sky is a contemporary performance company that uses dance, music, and theatre to tell uplifting aboriginal stories. Sandra Laronde created Red Sky in 2000 to present adult and family theatre. Since then Red Sky has travelled around Canada, the United States, Australia and for the first time China in the spring of 2006.
They were performing at the National Arts Centre, so I bought a ticket and went to see the show. Afterwards they took some time with me and we talked about the show that I had seen and why dancing is important to them. I realized that I knew very little about the art of dance. It wasnít until after the show that I realized that they were dancing on stage. I was watching them tell parts of the story with their bodies. I was paying close attention to the story not thinking that they were dancing to tell it. Everyone in the audience understood what they were saying without words.
On Dec 10, 2005, I watched "Raven Stole the Sun" (Drew Hayden Taylor/ directed by Robert Faust and Sandra Laronde/music by Donald Quan/choreography Carlos Rivera) and "Caribou Song" (Tomson Highway/ directed by Mark Wilson/music by Rick Sacks/choreography by Peter Chin, Sandra Laronde, Carlos Rivera).
One of the lines in "Raven Stole the Sun" is Ďeverything dances.í I was interested in what Sandra and Carlos meant by that. This is what Sandra said:
"In the aboriginal tradition vibration is the beginning. Words didnít come first for us, movement did. That makes a big difference. Dancing in aboriginal communities is from the Ďwomb to the tombí; it is natural in aboriginal communities to dance throughout life. Look at the traditional dance forms; thereís the fancy dance that has really high leg movements. Thatís where young people start. Each of the different dance forms gets closer to the earth. Itís built into the form. Getting closer to the earth as you Ďget closer to the earthí by bending over as you get older. At the powwow you will see WWII veterans dancing. There are dances that the old people do. They can still dance.
"Dance is about image. An image in dance can speak a thousand words. Movement is central to all cultures. Movement can take a lot of different shapes. For instance, there is a story of how you can learn what a rock is. You go and sit on the rock and stay there looking around. The rock will come up through you and you will understand that rock.
"Think of petroglyphs [a petroglyph is an ancient drawing on rock]. It is basic mime. Simple lines that make you see something. It is like Picassoís painting of the bull. Simple lines and then you have the essential bull. Over time we have put so much stuff on top of those essential lines. Picasso got back to the root of motion. The Ďessentialí motion of the bull is lines, and he made a picture that you can find in cave painting. It is the essential movement. The power of motion is in your ability to get at the essence of it".
Sandra and Carlos explained different kinds of traditional dances to me. They also explained how they use the ideas of traditional dance when they make the theatre show.
"We use elements of traditional dance to help us create our contemporary dances. I like to think of the difference between traditional dance and contemporary dance this way. Itís like a band, a rock band. You have the drummer in the back playing the beat, holding it down. There is some movement to it; it changes a bit to keep it interesting, but always holds down the beat. Then you have contemporary dance; itís like the lead guitar. It wails away going in all sorts of different directions, then at some point comes back because all the while the band was held together by the drums. The contemporary dance that we create is like that. Our traditional dances are there to ground us but we get to make up new moves all the time to tell traditional stories".
For Sandra and Carlos dancing is a very important profession. They use aboriginal stories and act them out on stage for large audiences who sometimes aren't familiar with these stories. They believe that sharing these stories will help non-aboriginal people as much as it helps aboriginal people. The stories have positive messages that are helpful for everybody.
Sandra explained how she became a dancer:
"To become a dancer, thatís an important question. Thatís a matter of identity. We believe that when you dream, information is given to you. I take those dreams seriously. You are given information in those dreams that tells you to be a dancer. Some people donít dance at all until they have that dream. I had a dream that told me to do this".
Sandra and Carlos have been very busy since we talked in December. Sandraís company Red Sky has been putting on new shows all the time. To see what shows are being put on and when they will be in your community you can consult their website: http://www.redskyperformance.com/
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