The Royal Winnipeg Ballet has announced its programming for 2014-2015, which will be its 75th anniversary season.
They are marking the celebration with an important new commission called A Story of Truth and Reconciliation. It's an enormous undertaking, telling an intimate story about the troubling Aboriginal experience through the beautiful art form of classical ballet.
A crack team is coming together on the project: writer Joseph Boyden, choreographer Mark Godden, composer Christos Hatzis and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Tina Keeper, a member of the board of directors of the RWB, and her sister Joy have been guiding them all through the process.
"My idea is to bring the two societies closer together because by doing this we are a stronger country and by keeping the message of reconciliation alive, hopefully this work will speak about the solutions to some of the problems of alienation that did occur," said André Lewis, artistic director of the RWB.
The project has the full support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and chair Justice Murray Sinclair was on hand at the media announcement on April 3 to offer his encouragement. He said the arts community has a special role to play in the issue of reconciliation.
"You know instinctively, and perhaps through training as well, that beauty is important, and beauty has got a particular way of bringing people to the dialogue willingly," he said.
"So we're hopeful that your work in doing this with us -- and perhaps to a certain extent for us as well -- is going to contribute to that good and healthy conversation and growth as a country. Because if you can help people see how beautiful we are as Anishinabe people, then you will also be enhanced by that beauty, as Canadians."
Lewis noted the challenges of telling a story of this nature.
"It's very sensitive, because we don't necessarily know very well the Indigenous culture, so it has to be carefully approached. I'm very thrilled we have someone like Tina on the creative team to make sure we address some of those issues," he said.
Lewis also believes ballet, because of its emotional nature, has the ability to address serious stories.
"What I love about ballet is it's not a spoken language. It can do away with some of the complexities and make a very simple, very powerful message," he said.
"We're hoping in our little way we can help maintain and enhance the stories of the TRC. I think ballet has proven that it can be powerful for social change."
The rest of the RWB's 75th anniversary season looks back to some favourites and forward to new, innovative creations. It includes the holiday tradition, Nutcracker, the classic Swan Lake in March, 2015, and a fanciful work called Faerie Queen, based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, in April.
Canada's Ballet Jorgen is invited to present Cinderella in February and the RWB School Professional Division will present La Bayadère: Kingdom of the Shades in April.
Q Dance will be back in June with new creations by Peter Quanz, this time in a larger venue, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, to accommodate the ever-increasing audience.