New ballet to be presented

By James Buchok

WINNIPEG — The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is presenting a new work inspired by the suffering inflicted on generations of Canada’s Aboriginal people by the residential school system as told to the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The ballet, entitled Going Home Star — Truth and Reconciliation, commissioned by artistic director André Lewis with the support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, explores the world of Annie, a young First Nations woman lost in a city of youthful excess. She meets a homeless man who is really a trickster, a character of Aboriginal folklore who survives the dangers and challenges of the world using trickery and deceit. Together they travel the streets but also the places of their ancestors, learning to accept the other’s burdens as the two walk through the past and toward the future. Together, they learn that without truth there is no reconciliation.

The ballet is a based on a story by award-winning author Joseph Boyden, who describes it as a tale of Canada. “This is one of our stories that we have for years and decades and centuries refused to really face as a nation, but now we’re realizing we not only have to face this story as a nation but we need to,” says Boyden in an interview on the Royal Winnipeg Ballet website.

Boyden is of Irish, Scottish and Anishinaabe heritage and writes about First Nations heritage and culture. His first novel, Three Day Road, won the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His second novel, Through Black Spruce, won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and his third book, The Orenda was named the winner of the 2014 edition of CBC’s Canada Reads.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada named Boyden an Honorary Witness at the TRC Alberta National Event in March, 2014.

“For almost 100 years Aboriginal people were not allowed to practice their own dance, to speak their own language, or to participate in their own religions,” says Boyden. “We are presenting a ballet to Canada for the survivors of residential schools, for the Truth and Reconciliation commission in order to try and honour and understand a little bit better what we’ve done as a nation and what we’ve gone through as a nation. I think we’re working on something that’s going to be very beautifully traditional and at the same time kind of pushing the boundaries in terms of contemporary dance.”

The ballet will be performed at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall Oct. 1 - 5.

The Canadian government created residential schools in the 1870s to indoctrinate Aboriginals into white society. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were forcibly taken from their homes and placed in the schools which were operated by the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches. Many of the children were forbidden to speak their language and practice their culture and suffered a range of other abuses. The last of the schools was closed in 1996.

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2006 was Canada’s largest class action lawsuit and it included the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, mandated to collect stories from residential school survivors and tell Canadians what happened in the schools by creating a permanent record of the Indian Residential School legacy.

From June 2010 to March 2014 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, under Justice Murray Sinclair, visited more than 300 communities collecting evidence. It is estimated it will take more than two more years to review the 6,500 statements ranging in length from 10 minutes to five hours.

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