May 3, 2023
‘The most powerful telling of this story’: New Blood Dance Show & Calgary Civic Symphony Unite
On June 15, the Blackfoot tradition and the music of Peter Gabriel combine in a special live orchestra performance of the true story of a residential school survivor
CALGARY—Six years ago, Skylar Running Rabbit was a 15-year-old Strathmore High School student nervously stepping on stage with the cast of New Blood Dance Show. It would be Running Rabbit’s first time performing ‘The Warrior’s Dance’ outside the Siksika Nation. The lights dimmed, then flashed and rose, warm on his cheeks and his chest, and there he was, there they were.
“It felt great to be able to reconnect to myself like that, to show our dance and who I am,” says Running Rabbit, who has stayed with the show, now in its ninth year and nearing 170 performances. “Hearts and minds are so open now to why this story is important, and how we as people—actors and the audience—move forward in reconciliation. We do this show to help others understand, and to reach common ground.”
The New Blood Dance Show opened in 2014 after teacher Deanne Bertsch visited Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and learned about the lost history of the Blackfoot people. Elders such as Eulalia Running Rabbit visited Bertsch’s class to share the untold stories: fur trading, small pox, residential schools, addictions, healing, and the vision quest, a coming-of-age ritual when a young Blackfoot man goes out onto the land for four days and nights, awaiting his spirit animal. Vincent Yellow Old Woman, then chief, also shared his stories of surviving residential school and the poem written about his life, “The Indian in the Child.” With a brave Blackfoot boy on a journey and spirit animal dancers rising around him, the New Blood play was born.
Ever since the first staging, it has been Bertsch’s dream to have the music—12 songs composed and recorded by the renowned Peter Gabriel—performed by a live, full orchestra.
“The music is so evocative and so beautiful,” says Bertsch, who, after a performance at Rosebud Theatre last spring, shared her live music wish with Calgary Civic Symphony’s then executive director David Wartman. “He said, ‘I’m in the business of making dreams come true.’”
On June 15, at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, one audience will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the powerful New Blood dancers surrounded by the symphony’s live orchestra.
“We have already witnessed audiences being so moved by the story,” says Bertsch, who has evolved the script as residential school stories have come to light in recent years. “To experience the sounds first hand, I think, will amplify that even more.”
“Universally, this is a story that everybody should see,” says Wartman, who returned from Rosebud at a time when the symphony had been searching for a way to lend music to conversations about truth and reconciliation. With support from The Calgary Foundation and Arts Commons, plans for this special performance were made possible. The traditionally classical symphony is stretching itself to perform the rock-based sounds of Gabriel (formerly of the band Genesis), and musicians feel honoured to help deepen and broaden the musical experience. “This will undoubtedly be the most powerful telling of this story.”
Skip WolfLeg is an adult drummer from the Siksika Nation who has been performing in New Blood since the beginning, watching as children from his community grow up with the play and dream of earning a lead role. WolfLeg’s parents are also residential school survivors. What he finds ultimately uplifting about the show, year after year, is the pride of the young performers, the collaboration of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from Strathmore High School.
“I’m always amazed at how well these kids are working together and learning about this—and it keeps on going.”
The Calgary Civic Symphony Presents New Blood Dance takes place June 15 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Tickets, $40 to $60, are available now via Arts Commons at www.artscommons.ca/whats-on/ccs-new-blood. The show’s net proceeds will be donated to two local organizations supporting residential school survivors: Centre of Elders and Seniors and the Aboriginal Friendship Society of Calgary.
ABOUT THE CALGARY CIVIC SYMPHONY
Founded in 1975, the Calgary Civic Symphony has been performing live orchestra music in Calgary for over forty years. Begun as a venue for non-professional or retired musicians, the Civic Symphony has grown in both numbers and artistic excellence. Each year the Civic presents a series of five concerts. These concerts range from classical works to pop, film, and Christmas favourites, and feature collaborations with some of Calgary’s best soloists and musical organizations. As a result, each show is a unique and exceptional experience. The Civic believes experiencing the beauty of live music is for everyone and works to keep tickets affordable.
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