Indigenous people in Canada have experienced a variety of colonization actions over the years, provoking oppression, segregation and cultural genocide. However, the fight for cultural and heritage identity has embraced traditional practice and wisdom from the empowerment of collective works. A clear illustration of that is the dance, which can reconstruct an Indigenous spirituality through performance, where different forms of art interconnect to tell a story that identifies their culture in their cosmogonies, practices, and soul missions.

More Than Dance, We Are a Movement by Red Sky Performance. Photo by Rob DiVito. Image courtesy of Harbourfront Centre

The multi-award-winning company Red Sky Performance is an Indigenous dance, theatre, music and media company based in Canada. It was founded in 2000 by Sandra Laronde (Misko Kizhigoo Migizii Kwe) which means "red sky eagle woman" in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway) language. Her artistic leadership seeks to offer a glimpse into the Indigenous cultural identity and the resurgence that First Nations have had in Canada. Besides, Red Sky Performance highlights some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and Quality Education, through the creation of inspiring, intense and transformative experiences that sensitize the audience.

Collective work is essential to create these kinds of performances, reason why, Laronde involves collaborations with dancers, musicians, composers, choreographers, visual artists, actors, writers, designers, researchers, and culture keepers, to strengthen diversity and interdisciplinarity as an integral part of Red Sky Performance’s productions.

Flow by Red Sky Performance. Image Courtesy of Red Sky Performance

Red Sky Performance has worked with Indigenous peoples from across Canada and around the world, integrating an active and dynamic community, which enhances a much more enriching experience.

Trace, produced by the Indigenous company is an astonishing kinetic contemporary dance work influenced by Anishinaabe sky and star stories, which seeks to offer a glimpse into "our origins as well as our future evolution." Anishinaabe people believe in the “spirit path” also known as the Milky Way, where human beings are connected with the beginning of time together with a purpose of life that connects us with the whole. We are a part of the universe, and it is a part of us.

Trace by Red Sky Performance. Photo by Rob DiVito. Image courtesy of Stir. Arts and culture Vancouver.

The Indigenous peoples always have had a connection with the sky. They have mapped the night sky and studied the stars, allowing them to establish their worldview and cultural psyche. “We are traceable to the beginnings of the universe, our ancestral origins stretching across the Milky Way to the atoms burning inside of us in the here and now. We explore the ‘traces’ of what has come before us, mapping the past, tracing our lineage, and demystifying the secrets of our DNA,” said Laronde regarding Trace.

On the other hand, Red Sky Performance also has two other productions that are related to our vital connection to water: Flow and The Miigis: Underwater Panther. The first one is a counter-narrative created in response to the 1941's children's book Paddle to the Sea, giving it a new sense of an ancient reality and not just a white lens. The second one is inspired by a journey of the Anishinaabe people from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes (saltwater to fresh) and the seven prophecies marked by Miigis. Likewise, The Miigis explore life's unstoppable energy while accompanied by exquisite and unique ancestral music.

Migiis: Underwater Panther by Red Sky Performance. Photo by Man Khun. Image courtesy of DP Review.

As one can observe, water is a sacred element of life that plays a fundamental role in Indigenous peoples worldwide and one such Indigenous leader and a young activist that promotes its protection is Autumn Peltier, the water warrior. She seeks to protect the world’s natural water sources and provide clean water for all. In a speech to the United Nations in the 2019 Global Landscapes Forum, she pointed out that people have a sacred connection with water because it is alive and has a spirit. “Our first water comes from within our mother; we literally live in water for nine months floating in sacred water that gives us life. We can not live in our mother’s womb without water. Therefore, this water is the lifeblood of Mother earth.”

“Everything in creation is energy, which is spirit, which is what we are,” explained Laronde in an interview with The Lied Center of Kansas. For that reason, dance is connected with the mystery of life, the universe, nature, and the first wisdom because it is a universal language that identifies all the Indigenous peoples of the world. Dance becomes the sublime par excellence because it reaches directly to our spirit at the same time that it instructs us.

Red Sky Performance has been rebuilding an Indigenous spirituality from dance and music, teaching us about our cultural territory and millennial wisdom that allows us to rethink who we are, what we are looking for, and where we are going. Therefore, all those performance arts play a fundamental role in reconciliation, memory, peace, and cooperative union.

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