By Sam Laskaris
Canada’s premier company of contemporary Indigenous performance in dance, theatre and music will have the world premiere of its latest production on Thursday in Toronto. Red Sky Performance will begin its run of Backbone at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto. Performances will continue in Toronto until Nov. 12.
Backbone will then be performed at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax on Nov. 17. A six-country European tour and an Asian tour of the production is also planned after that.
Backbone is a dance show inspired by the ‘spine’ of the Americas. Laronde said Backbone explores how the Americas’ spine – its vast and rocky terrain – is similar to the human spine.
“It’s highly physical, very raw and a very demanding show for our dancers,” said Sandra Laronde, Red Sky’s executive and artistic director. Nine dancers will be performing in the high-energy show.
“It is full of charge, has electricity and is very much alive,” she said. “And it has circulation and needs oxygen, all the things a human needs.”
Laronde said the concept of Backbone popped into her mind three years ago while she was in Banff, Alta. She had served as the director of Indigenous Arts at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity for nine years, starting in 2008.
Laronde said she was in a Banff room with a picture window, and was staring at Elder Tom Crane Bear from Alberta’s Siksika Nation. Crane Bear was eyeing the Canadian Rockies in the background.
“I only saw the back of him,” Laronde said. “I didn’t see his eyes. But I could see the way he was embodied by it.” This vision inspired Laronde to create her latest production.
“I think it will be very well received,” she said. “We workshopped it in Banff (in 2016) and it went very well. And now this is the final product.”
Backbone is a 50-minute production.
The Toronto dates of Backbone are being presented in partnership with Canadian Stage. Canadian Stage is one of the country’s top contemporary performing arts companies.
The Berkeley Street Theatre is one of the three Toronto venues where it stages productions. It’s only natural that Backbone will have its world premiere at the Berkeley Street Theatre. That’s because Red Sky Performance is the theatre’s company-in-residence for the 2017-18 and ’18-19 seasons.
Matthew Jocelyn, the artistic and general director of Canadian Stage, is thrilled to be partnering with Laronde’s company.
“Red Sky Performance is a leading innovator in contemporary Indigenous performance in Canada and around the world,” he said. “We are honoured to be their Toronto hub for the next two seasons as they craft and develop new work.”
And he believes Backbone will be a success.
“Inaugurating the dance portion of our 30th anniversary season, Backbone will connect us to our inner human landscape in powerful and evocative ways,” he said.
Laronde founded Red Sky Performance in 2000. The group started touring three years later. Red Sky has had more than 2,200 performances since then. Besides Canada, it has performed in 11 other countries and in a total of four continents.
Red Sky’s highlights, including opening for Canada at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. It also performed at two Cultural Olympiads, in Beijing in 2008 and in Vancouver in 2010.