Play from Métis writer brings history, culture and the performing arts together

GHS-TRCA scene from Going Home Star—Truth and Reconciliation. (Photo:
Samanta Katz)

A young First Nations man, a survivor of the residential school system, hauls up a doll-house sized model of a residential school. Despite being strong, the model is too heavy for him to lift on his own and he slowly falls to his knees before crumpling beneath his burden, unable to carry the weight of the model on his shoulders.

The young man is not alone. A young woman comes to his aid, lifting the model to allow him to roll out from under it. Later in the story, the man and woman burn the model of the residential school, freeing him of the burden he was forced to carry.

This is one of the imagery-filled scenes from Going Home Star—Truth and Reconciliation, performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

From January 28 to 30, the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa presented Going Home Star—Truth and Reconciliation, a ballet based on a story written by Métis author Joseph Boyden.

“Art is the way to allow Canadians to begin to understand something of such huge pain,” Boyden shared in an interview. “[It] allows Canadians to absorb not just the pain and the anger but the beauty as well.”

Cathy Levy, the NAC’s Executive Producer of Dance, agrees. “Tackling such a horrific period in Canada’s history through the performing arts provides us with a profound form of conversation about these issues. [It] will provide many more opportunities for audiences to engage and reflect on the importance of reconciliation.”

The story tells the tale of Gordon and Annie, two First Nations people whose lives are brought together after they meet on a subway. As they get closer, Annie sees that even though Gordon is a survivor of the residential school system, it had left deep scars. Gordon shares his experiences with Annie, by mystical means, through the lives of two children: Niska and Charlie, taken from their Aboriginal parents and forced to live through abuse and humiliation at the hands of a Clergyman at the residential school.

Rife with delicate subjects such as rape and culture suppression, spectators who found the scenes disturbing were assured that leaving the theatre was acceptable and people were present to speak with them if it was needed. Aboriginal Elders were in the lobby during the intermission as well.

Going Home Star—Truth and Reconciliation brings together a blend of the Aboriginal cultures present in Canada. Beginning with a story written by a Métis author, there were also special guests throughout the evening. The Black Bear Singers of the Atikamekw Nation were the opening performance. After the intermission, Tanya Tagaq, the award-winning Inuk throat-singer, stunned the audience with the performance of one song. Following Tagaq’s performance, the ballet continued with its story of Annie and Gordon.

The story ends with hope for their future and a tale shared with the spectators, who are shown harsh truths about the horrors that took place behind closed doors and the healing that can take place when the truth is shared to ensure such horrors will never happen again.

Dr. Marie Wilson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, shared that, “Ballet is about moving an audience. Going Home Star is also about moving our understanding. So that people can leave the hall not only having been entertained, but also having been witness to something important.”

Published on: February 8, 2016

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