New Brunswick

Atlantic Ballet of Canada puts N.B. Indigenous voices in spotlight

The Atlantic Ballet of Canada is embarking on a new work with two New Brunswick Indigenous artists. It will feature music composed by Tobique First Nation’s Jeremy Dutcher, with Possesom Paul acting as choreographer.

Collaboration between dancer Possesom Paul and musician Jeremy Dutcher planned for 2022

Grass dancer Possesom Paul leading the dance at the St Mary's First Nation Powwow. Paul is acting as one of the choreographers for a new project with he Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada. (Submitted by Logan Perley)

The first time Possesom Paul was handed a pair of moccasins by his grandmother, he was told he must dance while wearing them.

"No music or nothing like that," the Wolastoqi dancer from St. Mary's First Nation told Information Morning Moncton

"I was jamming out in the kitchen — a very Atlantic story for sure."

Ever since that day, dancing has been a key part of Paul's life. The dancer and choreographer has travelled the world from Paris, to Mexico, to every Canadian province and nearly every state south of the border with his art.

But now Paul is starting a project closer to home.

The Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada is embarking on a new work with two New Brunswick Indigenous artists. It will feature music composed by Tobique First Nation's Jeremy Dutcher, with Paul acting as choreographer.

The two artists aren't complete strangers.

Ties between two artists

Dutcher and Paul's grandmother, Wolastoqi elder Maggie Paul, used to perform music together on Paul's back porch when he was younger. 

Dutcher has credited Maggie, who for more than 40 years recorded songs that were once banned by the Canadian government, with forming the foundation of the music he now composes. 

Jeremy Dutcher and Maggie Paul perform together in Dutcher's episode of In the Making. (White Pine Pictures)

Maggie Paul's voice is featured on a song from the Dutcher's Juno Award winning album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa.

"Everything that I hear is more personal than what somebody from somewhere else might hear," Possesom said of Dutcher's songs.

Susan Chalmers-Gauvin, co-founder and CEO of the Moncton-based ballet, said her company has dancers from 11 different countries and is also working with artists from the Elsipogtog First Nation.

She said this new work, which won't open until at least 2022, complements her goal of representing diverse voices. Funding for the collaboration has been approved by the Canada Council for the Arts.

"It feels very organic and genuine and natural," Chalmers-Gauvin said. "You know, we're learning from each other. I think this is what reconciliation is all about."

Possesom will be working closely on the project with Igor Dobrovolskiy, founding artistic director and choreographer for the ballet company.

Indigenous lead dancer a must

Dobrovolskiy, who was born in Ukraine but immigrated to Canada in 2000, said the project will challenge him creatively.

Atlantic Ballet Theatre artistic director Igor Dobrovolskiy, is looking forward to collaborating on the new project. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"We're both completely from different cultures, and not even from this continent," he said. "So my knowledge [and] my experience and his knowledge and his experience — we have to share this and create something unique and beautiful."

Dobrovolskiy calls Possesom's voice "very important" and said it is the voice "of the Indigenous renaissance."

Possesom insisted an Indigenous dancer be found to be the lead and the company has already hired one, a graduate of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. 

Chalmers-Gauvin said the dancer is the only professional Indigenous ballet dancer working for a company in Canada.

"It's really important to find these spaces and to create space going forward," Possesom said. 

Possesom Paul of the St Mary's First Nation is a dancer and choreographer. Susan Chalmers-Gauvin is the co-founder and CEO of the Atlantic Ballet of Canada. Igor Dobrovolskiy is founding artistic director and choreographer of the company. 8:52

With files from Information Morning Moncton