- Dancing the Iceberg
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Sandra Laronde, artistic director and choreographer of Toronto-based company Red Sky Performance, known for its innovative, interdisciplinary creations in world indigenous performance.1 Laronde combines intense research, collaboration with dancers, and a creative process that uses contemporary dance and traditional indigenous dance forms. Laronde's choreography makes space for dancer strengths, abilities, and skills in indigenous forms. As Laronde relays, "During the process, someone might start a traditional sequence and I might say, 'oh! I love the shoulders in that'—and that may become a point of inspiration." Laronde is from Temagami in Northern Ontario, which she describes as "1,600 islands, thousands of kilometres of shoreline, woodland, beautiful red and white pines, the oldest in the world—incredible nature ... and a very small population." Here are some excerpts from our conversation that relate to dance, dramaturgy, and sometimes child spectators, who are the subject of my current research. In Laronde's words, children "love songs, love anything physical, music, magic, athleticism. And, as you know, dance."
How do you describe the form of dance in Red Sky productions?
Dance in Red Sky productions lives in the spectrum of contemporary dance with traditional elements. I'm especially interested in the life of gesture, in having types of sign language speak, codified language ... whether these are codes are from daily life or an organized system of signs.2 ... I'm also interested in images from the dream world. ... For example, in the production of Tono, there is a performer who is shaman-like. ... I understand that shamans often dream upside down while the rest of the world dreams right side up. So I wanted to create an upside down physical world while the audience was watching the right side up. I was turning everything on its head, literally. The shaman walked on her hands while her feet were up in the air ... moving in a way that we couldn't physically do as normal human beings. I also look to paintings, photographic images, and sculpture to inform a lot of performance. I'm interested in the powerful moments of the gaze on stage.
A gaze onto the audience and a gaze between performers?
Yes, both: the world of the observer, the observed, and everything in between. ... So much of Red Sky and my vision comes back to [where I come from] in some way, shape, or form. There is something about being so young, a babe on the land really, and through osmosis the spirit of the land comes into your body. I believe that we carry that spirit of the land within us. I'm interested in where culture, history, and memory sit in the body. If you're not connected to land, the interesting question is, how do you reveal and translate that through the body? And then even more interestingly, if I can transmit it through my body because I have lived it, experienced it, then how can a dancer who has not had this experience and, perhaps, grew up in the city, how can he or she transmit it through their body, or can they?
With Red Sky and a show like Tono, I love to create an artistic iceberg. You see, feel, and experience everything on top of the water—the tip of the iceberg. Everything above the water is production-orientated like aesthetics, production values, movement, culture, innovation, dissemination, marketing, networking—a product if you will. And, below the surface of the water lives the more expansive part of the iceberg, where time is deep. Here lives the world of creative process—a larger world connected to the unconscious, to the spirit world, and a deeper culture, where countless hours of research, experimentation, improvisation, academia, innovation, dreams, collaboration, conversations, dialogue, site-specific investigation, and so forth reside. Now, I don't necessarily believe that process and product are separate entities—they reflect one another and are all part of the same creative iceberg. And this iceberg comes from a larger source, [End Page 90] the glacier, that is then carried out to sea or, in this...