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ARTS (FALL 2017): Dance that provides sustenance

October 12th, 2017 · No Comments

Sandra Laronde debuts new piece with Toronto Symphony Orchestra

By Geremy Bordonaro

Dance, as an art form, has the power to change lives. No one knows this better than Sandra Laronde, who wants to put Indigenous dance on the world stage.

She is leading her company as they work in tandem with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) on a new piece called Adizokan that premieres on October 7. In some ways, it’s like a homecoming for Red Sky.

“Our very first piece was actually a 72 hander for the TSO called Caribou Song by Tomson Highway, adapted from a children’s book he had written. We staged it and orchestrated it,” explained Laronde.

“It was just a 15-minute piece but it helped us adapt other pieces and tour across the world. That was back in 2002 and now in 2017 we’re back with the TSO.”

Laronde, a resident of the Annex, founded Red Sky Performance in the early 2000s to demonstrate what Native American art could be like. She wanted to challenge accepted norms in Native art.

“I would go to shows and I would see and think about things that could be happening on stage and the moments that were missed,” Laronde said. “I’d see what was happening on stage and I’d say why don’t they go there or why don’t they do this. I noticed a gap.”

Laronde grew up in Temagami in northern Ontario. The small town of 500 nurtured her love of physical arts through sports.

Her family was also constantly involved with music. Everyone in her household sang or played an instrument. These two facets of Laronde’s life would naturally lead her into dance — something she values not just for the art itself, but what it could do for her people.

“I’m interested in the lift of art; something that you can’t find in the everyday world, something that lifts you above daily life, above politics, above everything. That’s the best way I can describe it,” Laronde said. “It’s something that is above. Something that provides sustenance [and] provides inspiration. It lives with you and gives you energy.”

This passion as well as her sense of leadership has led to an admiration among those who work with her.

“She is fantastic. Sandra has such a keen eye for certain things,” said Jera Wolfe, an associate artist with Red Sky who was a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance Canada. “I’ve done a lot of work with her and she just has that sense of what will work.”

This sense of what works and what doesn’t has helped in her collaboration with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

“Sandra’s work was perfect,” said Francine Labelle, director of public relations at TSO. “She helped in selecting the composer and guiding everything. She’s the curator of that whole program.”

The TSO invited Laronde and Red Sky Performance to be involved in their Canada Mosaic project as a part of Canada 150. Canada Mosaic aims to bring together Canada’s vast history of music and performance and highlight some of the best our country has to offer.

“We’ve been aware of Sandra’s work for a long time and we know Red Sky Performance does something very unique. The right occasion came along when we were working on Canada Mosaic,” Labelle said. “We want to put forward Canadian creators and Canadian culture. They fall exactly into this category where they are just perfect for the context.”

Balancing responsibilities between her own company and curating for the TSO may seem daunting but Laronde is up for the task.

“She’s handling it excellently,” said Wolfe. “For a lot of people balancing something like Red Sky against her curator work would be too much but she’s really got the focus and the drive to make it work so well.”

Adizokan has its world premiere on October 7. Backbone, a raw and ferocious look at the geography of North America through dance, runs November 2 to 12 at the Berkley Street Theatre.



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