'We call ourselves the star people': Trace explores Anishinaabe star story through dance

For many First Nations, there’s a story shared that humans come from the stars. It’s one that influenced a new dance performance, by Red Sky Performance, an Indigenous dance and theatre company based in Toronto. 
The contemporary dance, Trace, tells an Anishinaabe origin story about the stars. (Red Sky Performance)

For many First Nations, there's a story shared that humans come from the stars. It's a story that influenced a new dance performance, Trace, launched by Red Sky Performance, an Indigenous dance and theatre company based in Toronto. 

"When I first started thinking about the project, I was thinking about all things traceable ... you know, trace, as in our DNA, trace as in a thumbprint, footprint, all the things that are traceable," said executive and artistic director Sandra Laronde, who is Teme-Augama-Anishinaabe. 

In examining the concept of trace, Laronde began to think about its origin. 

Sandra Laronde, artistic director of Red Sky Performance. (Paula Wilson)

"That's how it ended up being about sky and star stories, because as Anishinaabe people, we call ourselves the star people. So I thought it would be really great to tell that story of our origin." 

Laronde invited Indigenous astronomers, an astrophysicist and an astrobiologist to the studio, to help shape the dance. 

"It was just to hear, up close and personal, the star and sky stories … and let the dancers hear that and then start to create some improvisations," said Laronde. 

"It made me realize … in school we learn about Greek and Roman mythology … [like] Orion's belt. Why are we learning those stories? Why is Canada learning those stories? … Why aren't we learning the Indigenous perspective of the night sky?"

Trace starts with Geezhigo-Quae, or Sky Woman, an important figure featured in Anishinaabe mythology. 

Scene from Trace, featuring Sky Woman falling from the sky. (Red Sky Performance)

"Sky Woman is a woman that comes through a hole in the sky, or a portal … and with her, she brings the gift of life," said Laronde.

As Sky Woman fell, Laronde said she grabbed, "the branches, and the seeds, and the medicines," and brought them from the sky world into this world. 

In the performance, Sky Woman is held up by the other dancers, as she's twirling. 

"You actually see her spiraling, twirling and falling. And then the light is just focused on her," said Laronde. 

"She sort of comes out of this hole that you see that turns later into a moon, and a sun, and stars." 

According to Laronde, Anishinaabe people turn to the stars to understand their origin, but also to understand where we go after they die. 

"We believe we come from [the stars], life is cyclical, and we will go back there when we pass on into the spirit world," said Laronde. 

"We're made up of some of the same ingredients as the stars … we share, as humans, some of the same alchemy that a star has."

Written by Stephanie Cram. Interview produced by Zoe Tennant.