Canadian Stage presents the premiere of Red Sky Performance’s new dance piece in Toronto
I only became aware of Red Sky Performance about a year ago when I saw them perform with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I became an instant fan not only because of the company’s unique Indigenous approach to contemporary dance but also because of the breathtaking artistry and sheer physicality of their performance.
I’ve sought out their performances ever since so when I learned Canadian Stage was presenting the world premiere of the company’s new show Trace, I jumped at the opportunity to see it.
Director Sandra Laronde’s creator’s note in the house programme for Trace reads a bit like something from a script for Neil deGrasse Tyson in an episode of Cosmos. She makes reference to the idea that we are made of stardust; that the atoms that make up our bodies were fused in the nuclei of stars so our ancestral origins stretch across the Milky Way.
That romantic idea is a thematic jumping-off point for an exhilarating 55-minutes of dance as Laronde brings an Anishnaabe perspective to our origin story.
The piece is performed by seven dancers: Eddie Elliot, Miyeko Ferguson, Cameron Fraser-Monroe, Lonii Garnons-Williams, Julie Pham, Lindsay Harpham, and the piece’s choreographer, Jera Wolfe; who exude power, grace, and jaw-dropping agility in equal measure.
They are accompanied by live musicians Rick Sacks, Bryant Didier and Ora Barlow-Tukaki performing a gorgeous and evocative original score by Eliot Britton featuring layered ambient electronic strains accentuated with airy, ethereal vocals to create a timeless, supernatural feel.
Trace opens with a number featuring the full company. The dancers combine to form a single, multi-limbed entity performing sinuous undulations and creative group lifts before breaking apart to perform in pairs or individually.
While the show does feature some beautiful pas de deux and solos, I was more drawn to the intricate choreography of the group numbers like the stunning mid-show piece where the company shows off its precision and agility by performing rapid synchronized hand gestures and rhythmic breathing to a minimalist percussion score.
There’s a particularly striking scene where a letter from the Department of Indian Affairs is projected on the backdrop. It details how Indigenous people should not be allowed to dance; basically because it would impede the process of their assimilation. The company dances in front of it as the individual letters slowly fly away like snowflakes caught in a breeze. It’s a beautifully understated act of defiance.
Another highlight is a scene set to a driving, electronic beat accentuated by the recorded voice of throat singer/beat boxer Nelson Tagoona. The dancers’ movements become mechanical, almost robotic—they’re tightly synchronized but each member of the troupe dances alone, with no interaction with the others—a metaphor for the highly efficient but isolating life in a contemporary city.
Afterward, the dancers reconnect with nature as they appear to reach out to each other, caress and form a cradle under the projected image of a starry night sky. The imagery is absolutely gorgeous.
The background projections by Marcella Grimaux waver between abstract shapes to realistic images of nature, and provide just enough context for each scene while never distracting from the dance.
I always leave Red Sky’s performances feeling like I’ve been taken on an exhilarating journey. Showcasing all of the company’s strengths: the power, grace and originality of the dance paired with evocative original music and perfectly blended the other design elements; Trace is a journey I’d embark on again any time.
- Trace is playing from October 30 to November 11, 2018 at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
- Shows run Tuesday to Thursday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 1:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
- Tickets $49 – $79
- Tickets are available in person at the venue box office or online.
Photos of the company by David Hou.