Indigenous dance producer Sandra Laronde wants to shift the narrative of Canada

With a new dance film streaming online, the Red Sky Performance artistic director goes beyond the human-centric world


Red Sky Performance executive and artistic director Sandra Laronde seized upon the idea for one of her landmark shows while staring at the night sky.

As a member of the Teme-Augama Anishinabai (People of the Deep Water) in northern Ontario, she was well aware of how important the cosmos is to her people.

“As Anishinaabe, we call ourselves the star people,” Laronde said. “We believe that we came from the star world and we go back there after our time on earth.”

Yet in Canadian schools, students learn far more about Greek and Roman stories about the night sky than those at the heart of Laronde’s culture. So she decided to remedy this with a multimedia contemporary dance show called Trace, which is inspired by her people’s star stories rather than those imported from ancient European cultures.

“What I would really love to see is that audiences become a lot more aware of the Indigenous narrative in Canada – Indigenous stories, Indigenous culture and artistry,” Laronde said. “Our stories matter. Our stories are in the centre of who Canada is. I mean, you can’t get more deeply Canadian than Indigenous people.”

Digidance will release film with two performances

Laronde, one of Canada’s leading Indigenous creators, has been at the forefront of a First Nations cultural resurgence in Canada during the past two decades.

She was hoping to take Red Sky Performance on a 20th anniversary tour, but that plan was scotched by the pandemic.

In lieu of this, Digidance – a collaborative effort of four organizations, including Harbourfront Centre – will release a 55-minute film, More Than Dance, We Are A Movement. It includes showings of Trace and another Red Sky Performance show, Miigis, as well as an interview with Laronde.

Trace has won two Mavor Moore awards. Miigis, which features another Anishinaabe origin story of travelling from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes, won a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for excellence in conservation.

“Miigis is basically this tiny shell that is the symbol of the perfect breath of life,” Laronde said.

As a result, the show features many connections to water, reflecting the journey that her people took from saltwater to freshwater.

Indigenous truths revealed

Laronde said her company is hoping to shift the narrative of Canada, both consciously and unconsciously, through its performances.

That was on display in Vancouver back in 2010 during the Cultural Olympiad when Red Sky Performance put on a show called Tono at the Playhouse. At that time, the company also performed a children’s show called Raven in Whistler.

“We can advance Indigenous truth and advance Indigenous knowledge and advance Indigenous artistry,” Laronde declared. “Because the narrative of us to date is a colonial narrative – a mainstream narrative – that is ultimately a false narrative. And so we need to tell our own stories and be at the centre of our own stories to tell the truth of our narratives.”

Laronde is also known as Misko Kizhigoo Migizii Kwe, which is translated into “Red Sky Eagle Woman” in the Anishinaabemowin language. She said Indigenous stories, history, metaphysics and artistry can help Canadians become more rooted to the land and the environment. That, she suggested, can help people feel less isolated.

Red Sky Performance is “very much interested in going beyond a human-centric world,” Laronde emphasized.

She also noted that human beings are not at the top of the hierarchy in the Indigenous worldview.

“Obviously, humans are very important—clearly—but there is so much more to the world: other sentient beings, other intelligences,” Laronde explained. “And I would love to see that Indigenous intelligence is not erased by the Canadian canon but that it’s embraced and held and celebrated.”

Digidance will stream Red Sky Performance’s Trace and Miigis as part of More Than Dance, We Are A Movement from April 14-20. $16.14-$26.14. harbourfrontcentre.com

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight

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