I saw the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star on Saturday night in Victoria. (Read a review here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/rwb-s-going-home-star-truth-and-reconciliation-is-inspired-and-inspiring-1.2785096). It is an extraordinary piece of art and emotion, a choreographed telling of the legacy of residential schools in Canada, danced by by Canada’s pre-eminent ballet company.
As with most moments of art and law, I left the Royal Theatre with my heart and brain on fire, and wishing that we had had the opportunity to teach this performance in the law school classroom. Or, alternatively, to have transformed the theatre into a place of learning for all our students. Thinking about this performance as a jurisprudential text brings many of the conversations we have been having about TRC Calls to Action 27, 28 and 50 to mind. Some thoughts.
First, it reminds me of some of the dangers and concerns of creating mandatory course offerings. I bought the tickets as a gift for someone close to me, someone who ultimately couldn’t come. As a settler, I can often lose sight of the embodiment of colonialism, no matter how much I try to keep that present. My friend carries the imprints of intergenerational trauma on her body. And while lots of people around us commented on how much she would have loved the performance, her inability to be there wasn’t at all about whether she would have appreciated the art or not. Even in the face of extraordinary beauty, the vestiges of colonialism can cause unthinkable pain.
Second, it reminds me that experiential education matters. The performance itself, the ballet, the stage, the costuming, the dancing, was exquisite. But the experience was also the drummers and their humour, the words of the Artistic Director and the audience response to the acknowledgement of the territories, the words of Grand Chief Cook about his own experience as a residential school survivor reading words from his grand-daugher’s IPad, the recognition of the survivors in the room and of the community that had paid for those tickets, the reminder that if we needed to stand up and leave the performance at any moment, content or otherwise, not only was that fine, but that there would be people to talk to. It was feeling the Royal Theatre on its feet at the end. The ballet was beautiful, but the layers of bark and sap and sinew that surrounded it made it living.
Third, there were elements in the performance, like points of law in a legal decision, that were jarring. It was a constant sensory onslaught of mind, body and spirit. The music, the throat singing and the spoken word offered affect to the story being told through movement. The set and the use of the visual was engaging and provocative. It made me care for the actors in the story, protagonists and villains, but it also made me worry about the context and the hurdles and obstacles presented there. And I left thinking about representation, about synchronicity, about who keeps stories and who tells them. I would love to think that when I teach a class I can do all of those things for my students who I know to be a mix of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.
I know this ballet is near the end of its run. I hope that others fortunate as I was to see it, will write about it, and what it offers those of us working to create a #ReconciliationSyllabus and more resources for an adequate response to the TRC in Canadian law schools. I am very grateful and inspired to try to do more within our classrooms, wherever they may be, on this and the other pressing issues of our time.