Ballet explores truth and reconciliation through dance

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet has created a dance, Going Home Star — Truth and Reconciliation, that explores the experience of people who went to Indian residential schools.

Performances of Going Home Star set for Regina and Saskatoon

A scene from Going Home Star, a production about reconciliation and Canada's indigenous peoples from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. (Royal Winnipeg Ballet)

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet has created a dance, Going Home Star — Truth and Reconciliation, that explores the experience of people who went to Indian residential schools.

The dance is based upon a story by author Joseph Boyden and was commissioned with support from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"This has been a project in the making for quite some time," lead dancer Katie Bonnell said, noting it has been in development since last year's ballet season.

Bonnell plays the role of a young aboriginal woman named Annie.

"She's sort of stuck in this loop of getting on the subway, going to work. She's going to clubs, she's going to drugs and it's just this cycle that she keep repeating," Bonnell said. "She sort of feels like there's something missing in her life."

Bonnell said that Annie encounters a man who was in an Indian residential school and, through him, comes to understand more about her culture.

"She realizes that it's this spirituality and connection with her people that she's been missing in her life," Bonnell said.

The two characters, Annie and Gordon, end up helping each other.

"Annie sort of helps Gordon to accept the truth about what happened in his past and helps him to heal," she explained.

"It's a hard part to play because it's not something that I am really able to relate to," she added.

Bonnell said she learned a lot about the Indian residential schools system through her preparation for the role.

"It's been a huge learning experience for me," she said. "And it's been beautiful watching the entire company really throw themselves into learning about this piece of our history."

Bonnell also addressed questions about the dancers on stage.

"It's tricky because there aren't any aboriginal dancers in our ballet company," Bonnell said. "And we did want to make it a ballet."

She noted that many creative people, including set designers and others, are First Nations.

"We've had aboriginal elders involved in almost every step of this creation process," she added.

"It's really a Canadian story. This affects more than just the aboriginal community," Bonnell said. "It's something all Canadians should be learning about."

Performances of Going Home Star - Truth and Reconciliation are set for Regina, on Mar. 22 and Saskatoon Mar. 23.

More about the dance (From the Royal Winnipeg Ballet):

"Commissioned by Artistic Director André Lewis with the support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Going Home Star — Truth and Reconciliation  explores the world of Annie, a young, urban First Nations woman adrift in a contemporary life of youthful excess.

But when she meets Gordon, a longhaired trickster disguised as a homeless man, she's propelled into a world she's always sensed but never seen.

Not only do they travel the streets of this place but also the roads of their ancestors, learning to accept the other's burdens as the two walk through the past and towards the future.

Together, both Annie and Gordon learn that without truth there is no reconciliation.

"Based on a story by acclaimed author Joseph Boyden, Going Home Star — Truth and Reconciliation is a representation of the emotions and experiences both told and untold by residential school survivors and their families."