Choreographer Mark Godden leads rehearsal at RWB. Photo Courtesy RWB.
A company that usually sticks to crowd-pleasing story ballets, Royal Winnipeg Ballet will open its 75th-anniversary season with a work centered on a controversial topic. Going Home Star—Truth and Reconciliation, choreographed by former RWB dancer Mark Godden, is inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, established in response to a federal policy that forced indigenous children to leave their families for Indian Residential Schools. The goal of these boarding programs, which were government funded from the 1880s to the mid-1990s, was to assimilate indigenous children into white culture, and students were cruelly punished if they did not conform. “It’s a Canadian story,” says Godden, who read survivor testimonials to prepare for the ballet, which premieres October 1–5 at Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg. “I think it’s important to get people talking about the injustices that humans have done to one another.”
The work’s purpose, says Godden, is to apologize for Canada’s history of human rights abuse and to honor indigenous heritage. The full-length story ballet will include performances by Steve Wood and the Northern Cree Singers and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, plus a libretto by writer Joseph Boyden. “I think Canadians need to understand,” says Boyden, “that for almost 100 years, our First Nations Peoples were not allowed to practice their own dance, speak their own language or participate in their own religions.”
Godden is proud that RWB, and Canadians in general, are willing to look back into the country’s unpleasant past—even if it is, ironically, through the lens of an art form with European roots. “You can’t make change if you can’t see the error of your ways. These stories are so deep and personal. I was completely swallowed up by them.”