BONNYVILE - On July 28, roughly 130 people headed to École Notre Dame High School to experience a mid-summer play held in the school's gymnasium.
Taking to the stage were five local youth who participated in a month-long program run by Kehewin Native Dance Theatre (KNDT) that involved training in powwow, contemporary and hoop dance in order to perform in the play ‘Dancing under the 13 moons.’
The audience was first introduced to the character Lita who was travelling with her grandson when he asks her to share the story of Star Woman with him. The scene is set, and the play begins.
Lita, who helps narrate the unfolding stories is played by Rosa John, KNDT’s artistic director, while Lita’s grandson is played by Preston John – the real-life grandson of the artistic director.
Through nine scenes, audience members hear and see traditional stories come to life depicting the creation of human beings, how Star Woman arrived at Turtle Island, and the ways in which traditional dances represent these oral histories.
“Many shared that they were very moved by the story and the youth dancing. Some even said that they were moved to tears during the Star Woman’s story,” John tells Lakeland This Week.
More than a play
The impact that the play and performances have on participants and community members speaks to the commitment put into the production and program created by KNDT.
“We have youth that have returned from classes we shared 20 years ago and still come to tell us how it changed their lives,” recalls John. “We always welcome former trainees who return and share with the youth about their experience in the program.”
Several of KNDT’s former participants have expressed how the four weeks preparing to tour and perform in the region were life-changing for them.
“They are both proud and happy they took part,” she says.
Onsite counselling is available for youth if needed during the program, making the experience one that extends beyond artistic expression.
“We always have someone on site to ensure the youth feel safe. The work we do is intensive, and the youth use every single part of their being,” John says.
“For some, that can be very difficult and sometimes triggers feelings that need to be shared on the spot. Our counselor is there to provide for that space.”
Community supporting history
The Bonnyville performance was carried out with the support of Lakeland Society for Truth and Reconciliation, as well as Notre Dame High School who provided the venue.
John says groups like Lakeland Society for Truth and Reconciliation are crucial and serve as a way to share history and build community within the area.
“We need to bring attention to what has and is happening in and surrounding Nehiyaw, Dene and Métis communities that surround Bonnyville, St. Paul and Cold Lake.”
She adds, “This group is a major source of information about the historical and present-day realities of these communities.”
‘Dancing under the 13 moons,’ will be performed on Aug. 13, in Glendon during the intermission of the Glendon Derby and Mudbogs.
A third performance will also be held at the Cold Lake Public Library on Aug. 17.
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