Saturday, February 6, 2016


There was a lot of heart onstage last night at the Sony Centre.

Andre Lewis, artistic director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, spoke in French and English, welcoming and honouring two distinguished prima ballerinas, now retired from the stage: Karen Kain and Evelyn Hart. He also welcomed a contingent of elders from the 1st Nations community.  An elder, Bernard Nelson, from Eabametoong First Nation, held the feather and prayed over us. There were carvings from local aboriginal artists for sale in the lobby.  Social workers were on stand-by in case anyone found the story we were about to see too triggering.

The Bear Creek Drum Group drummed us into and out of the theatre, which was a truly spectacular highlight of the performance.

This wasn't your typical night at the ballet.

GOING HOME STAR is a collaboration between the 1st Nations Community and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB). For its 75th anniversary, the Winnipeg-based classical ballet company chose to create a full-length ballet derived from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which was headed in Winnipeg. For those of you who have been living under a rock on Turtle Island, Justice Murray Sinclair toured the country, gathering an historic record of the experiences of the survivors of the residential school system.

The RWB commissioned a text from award-winning novelist Joseph Boyden, derived from the survivors' experiences, and then had their star choreographer, Mark Godden, turn the story into a ballet. The narrative is the lynchpin of the production.  It is one of the ballet's great strengths and also its principal weakness.

GOING HOME STAR is beautiful to look at, and certainly compelling, affecting, and disturbing. The set, projections, costumes, and score work well together.  The dancers were all in fine form. Tanya Tagaq's iconic voice glistened in Christos Hatzis' dense, and occasionally perplexing composition.

What GOING HOME STAR doesn't do very well is tell a clear story on stage.  Most of the audience studiously spent the interval with their faces in their programs reading the synopsis, trying to understand what they had just seen.  The second act used more voice-over as a component of the score, and was much easier to follow, and therefore connect with.

The cavernous Sony Centre stage rather overwhelmed the emotional intimacy of the piece. I so wished they'd had the Bluma Appel or even the Fleck as their Toronto venue.

GOING HOME STAR is a unique and valid, if uneven effort from Canada's oldest ballet company. The survivors of the residential school system have an important story to share with Canadians, and this iteration of the tragedy, with its message of hope and healing is well worth experiencing. Just be sure to get there early enough to read the synopsis first.

GOING HOME STAR is at the SONY CENTRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS in TORONTO  tonight with tour dates across Western Canada this coming spring.

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