At the end of August this year The Banff Centre in partnership with Red Sky Performance showcased the premiere of Backbone (2015) is an Indigenous dance piece crafted to depict the idea of the mountains being the spine of the Americas.
With a troupe of mostly Indigenous dancers, the show unfolded brightly with a Fijian dancer placing the South Pacific on stage. I felt right at home. The lights lowered, the atmosphere changed and movement began immediately. The choreography poured through intense and high energy technical pieces that favoured the male dancers. The muscular physiques led into fast sequences, dramatised within the theatre environment and moving effortlessly from one excerpt to the other.
Backbone was dreamt up by the Director of Indigenous Arts Sandra Laronde and was produced in collaboration with Jera Wolfe (Co-Choreographer) and Thomas Fonua (Faculty/Co-Choreographer).
With a strong presence annually in Banff, Fonua is featured in many of the photographs that advertise the Banff Indigenous Dance Residency and his role as faculty and performer has allowed him to form strong relationships with those who attend the residencies making connections with international dancers and audiences. Starting young as a member of Black Grace a leading contemporary dance group from Auckland, Fonua has been one from a small handful of dancers from the Pacific region to attend the Indigenous Dance Residency at The Banff Centre. Making his Banff debut on stage this night was Eddie Elliott – a dancer who studied at Unitec – contributing to the powerful delivery of Backbone.
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, The Banff Centre draws hundreds of international artists each year and continues to play a part in incubating powerful collaborations such as Backbone. With a sold out premiere this year the Indigenous Arts team at The Banff Centre once again have given opportunity not just to audiences but to dancers who travelled near and far to play a part in shaping a narrative that reflects Indigenous perspectives making this just one of many important programs for Indigenous creative practitioners.
Fonua and previous Indigenous Dance Resident (2014) Jahra Rager, have founded performance company Ia Manuia, focusing on establishing platforms for young Pacific artists both established and emerging. Rager and Fonua have developed classes and connections across creative disciplines forming collaborations between diverse groups. Partnerships like this contribute and continue to grow the Pacific within Contemporary art as international stages become more and more familiar. Residencies such as the Indigenous Dance Programme at The Banff Centre are almost like rich soil that presents an opportunity for seeds to be planted and great things to grow.
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Photo credits: Rita Taylor (2015)