Indigenous company behind Backbone shows how a mountain range is really a spine

There’s a range of mountains that spans the Americas, crossing man-made boundaries and relentlessly traversing countries. But as Red Sky Performance artistic director and founder Sandra Laronde points out, the indigenous view of the mountains’ contours doesn’t track the political history of their divisions the way the names on the map do. “If you look at indigenous mapping, you see a spine — something intact, fluid, continuous, with no borders or boundaries.”

Sandra Laronde of Red Sky Performance explains her relationship to nature

Jera Wolfe, in Red Sky Productions' Backbone, premiereing at the Banff Centre August 27. (Rita Taylor)

There's a range of mountains that spans the Americas, crossing man-made boundaries and relentlessly traversing countries. But as Red Sky Performance artistic director and founder Sandra Laronde points out, the indigenous view of the mountains' contours doesn't track the political history of their divisions the way the names on the map do. "If you look at indigenous mapping, you see a spine — something intact, fluid, continuous, with no borders or boundaries."

It reveals our way of perceiving land as sentient and alive.- Sandra Laronde on the indigenous concept of a mountain range as a spine

That idea, plus the view of Banff's snow-speckled mountains that lie just beyond Laronde's office window (in addition to leading Red Sky, a renowned company known for its dance, theatre and music productions, she's also director of indigenous arts at The Banff Centre), inspired Red Sky's latest show, Backbone. The performance, created along with choreographers Thomas Fonua and Jera Wolfe, draws visceral connections between the human spine and the topographical one Laronde speaks about, and the importance of that coupling to the indigenous community.

"The idea that there is a spine to our continent is an indigenous concept. But what's wonderful about that is, it reveals our way of perceiving land as sentient and alive — this spine having a life, and impulses that are active, dynamic, and much like a human spine."

Backbone's choreography animates a mountain range with a crackling, popping score and movements to match – it's both riveting and uncomfortably physical.

Watch the trailer for Backbone here:


Sandra Laronde divides her time between Alberta and Ontario. Here are a couple of places spanning the country that help her maintain a relationship with the landscape.

"These photos are from Lake Temagami where I was born and raised. This is taken on the mouth of the southwest arm of Lake Temagami, home to the Teme-Augama-Anishnaabe (People of the Deep Water). This is my view when I go home." (Sandra Laronde)
"Lake Temagami resonates with me because it is home. The lake itself, the wind, the sound of loons, the smell of pine, spruce and moss all spell h-o-m-e to me. It is also where my people come from the Teme-Augama-Anishinaabe (People of the Deep Water). This is my view of the mouth of the southwest arm, one of the most beautiful arms of Lake Temagami. I love it here because my eye can wander down the arm, and the night skies are incredibly beautiful. So many stars that reflect onto the lake at night." (Sandra Laronde)
Banff, near The Banff Centre. "I don't think the idea for [Backbone] could have happened anywhere else but being here at the Banff Centre, because as you can imagine, we're in this incredible surround, this place of power that's so deeply infused. It finds its way into every nook and cranny of the creative process. You see it from the dance studio, you walk out and you're surrounded... That's really powerful." (Sandra Laronde)

Backbone: Indigenous Dance. Co-produced by Red Sky Performance and The Banff Centre. Conceived and directed by Sandra Laronde, with collaborative choreography by Thomas Fonua and Jera Wolfe. The Banff Centre, Margaret Greenham Theatre, Banff, Ab. Thu-Sat, Aug. 27-29. 7:30pm. Sold Out.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.