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RWB season highlight tackles weighty issues

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From left, Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers Chenxin Liu, Anna O'Callaghan, Alanna McAdie and Liam Caines.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

From left, Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers Chenxin Liu, Anna O'Callaghan, Alanna McAdie and Liam Caines. Photo Store

Seventy-five years in, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is still breaking new ground.

The 2014-15 anniversary season opens with what will be a landmark show in October. Drafted with the support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, A Story of Truth and Reconciliation -- which will run Oct. 1-5 -- is an ambitious, challenging new work that seeks to tell the stories of residential school survivors and their families.

Choreographed by Mark Godden and written by acclaimed Canadian novelist/honorary commission witness Joseph Boyden, the new full-length ballet also features the work of Canadian multimedia artist KC Adams and costume designer Paul Daigle, as well as the music of Juno Award-winning composer Christos Hatzis, acclaimed Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq and the multi-award-winning Northern Cree Singers.

Tina Keeper -- a Cree activist, producer, former actress and MP, and an honorary commission witness -- has served as a guide for the RWB through this emotional project, along with her sister Joy.

The RWB is certainly the right company with which to partner for this vital new show. It was the first company to stage an indigenous ballet with The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, which was adapted by the company in 1971 and restaged in 2011, with Tara Birtwhistle in the title role.

"I wanted something that had the same resonance that Rita Joe had," RWB artistic director André Lewis said at a season launch press conference Thursday. "Ballet is very powerful because it can simplify things."

Boyden echoed those sentiments in a preview video screened at the press conference. "Ballet cuts to the heart of what's beautiful," he said, adding that he had the survivors in mind during the entire writing process.

"How do you do something like this justice? That's the challenge. I think we will present something that's stunning -- and shocking, too, as it should be. But also human."

Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair said that the medium of ballet has the unique power to inspire ongoing conversation between indigenous peoples and Canadians.

"The arts community has a particular role to play in the issue of reconciliation because you know, instinctively, that beauty is important and has a way of bringing people to the dialogue willingly," he said in a speech. "We're hopeful that your work in doing this with us -- and perhaps to a certain extent for us as well -- is going to contribute to that good, healthy conversation. If you can help people see how beautiful we are, you will be enhanced by that beauty as well."

From brave new works to enduring classics: Nutcracker returns to the stage at the Centennial Concert Hall in December, while Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov's Swan Lake -- perhaps the best-known classical ballet of all time -- returns to Winnipeg in March 2015.

The Faerie Queen, A Ballet Based on a Midsummer Night's Dream, the acclaimed full-length by Ballet British Columbia's artistic director John Alleyne, makes its Winnipeg première in April 2015. Inspired by the famous Shakespeare work, The Faerie Queen is a study in contrasts: fantasy and reality, dark and light, mortal and immortal. "It's a tale of treachery, if you will," Lewis says.

A RWB School Professional Division presentation is included in the regular season: La Bayadère: Kingdom of the Shades + Ballet Vignettes, with choreography by Anna Marie Holmes inspired by Petipa. After premièring at St. Petersburg's Bolshoi Theatre in 1877, La Bayadère was regularly performed within the former Soviet Union during the 20th century but was almost unknown in the West until 1961.

The 2014-15 season wraps up in June 2015 with the always dynamic Q Dance, led by artistic director Peter Quanz. The innovative, mixed-repertoire program will feature two world premières, to be announced.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2014 D6

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