Ballet Kelowna concludes season with ground-breaking program, The Cowboy Act
Ballet Kelowna concluded its 2022-23 season with a triumphant third program, Transformations, including The Cowboy Act and Disembark, May 5 and 6 at the Kelowna Community Theatre.
The Transformations program featured the world premiere of Cameron Fraser-Monroe’s evening-length reimagining of Wild West archetypes in The Cowboy Act, as well as the in-person premiere of Kirsten Wicklund’s hauntingly beautiful Disembark.
The mandate at Ballet Kelowna is to encourage and support Canadian choreographers, yet they took it one step further and appointed their first Artist in Residence – Cameron Fraser-Monroe, a member of the Tla’amin First Nation.
In addition to Cameron’s First Nation’s heritage, the song and instrumental in The Cowboy Act is performed by Tom Wilson, of Mohawk descent, joined by iskwē who is Metis, and First Nations trumpet player Chuck Copenace – meaning all of the music in the performance, with the exception of “William Tell Overture, was presented by First Nations and Indigenous musicians.Additionally, all creative leads hired onto the project were Indigenous including: costume designer Asa Benally, based out of New York City; projection lead Andie Moro; and lead dancer McKeely Borger.
“This is the first time we have had all Indigenous creative leads at the helm of a Canadian ballet production, it is really history in the making here at Ballet Kelowna,” said Cameron.
The Cowboy Act
Cameron‘s work has been featured throughout the season and culminates with a very ambitious, full-length piece with lots of moving parts.
The Cowboy Act premiered on May 5, also a day that recognizes Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) across Turtle Island. This is Cameron’s longest work to date, featuring the full company of 12 dancers and the most cowboy hates he has put on stage.
Inspired by the history and photographic works of Edward Sherriff Curtis (1868 – 1952), the program reverses Indigenous caricatures that have been portrayed on pages, stages, and in films, which are often penned from a colonial perspective. Indigenous images are often of a dark skinned individual, with high cheekbones, wearing a head dress, staring very intently at the camera.
“Curtis and his sponsors had a good idea of what they were looking for when they sent him west to photograph the last of the Indians,” explained Cameron, as he prepared the audience for the performance.
“If he [Curtis] didn’t find the image he was looking for, he wasn’t too worried about paying for Indigenous people to be shaved, costumed, and staged. We need to recognize the impact this has had on our culture, and the imagery that is historically presented in museums, National Geographic, and all around.”
The Cowboy Act flips this script and takes a closer look at what it would mean to have an Indigenous photographer photographing cowboys from the same time period, to see what is captured.
Borrowing laws imposed by The Indian Act, the governing document between First Nations Peoples and the federal government, Cameron focused on three highlights to set theme of The Cowboy Act:
- Banning of intoxicants
- Expropriation of land
- Banning of the Band Council
The lead character is Indigenous photographer Molly Tagaq, danced by McKeely Borger, a member of the Saskatchewan Métis Nation. She wears a red dress, honouring Indigenous stories, MMIWG, and Red Dress Day.
The performance followed Molly’s quest to photograph her idea of a cowboy – a shadowy, elusive figure of her imagination. As it turns out, controlling the cowboys in a photograph is harder than she thought it would be. The audience follows Molly’s journey across the west on a wagon, shares her encounters with a sheriff as he bands smoking, and then takes a deeper look at cowboys’ lives, which shows they are more free than she might’ve expected. In the end, her final cowboy photo is not really what she expected to be reflected back on her slide.
The performance shows real issues of representation on the stage, but through an alternate universe of “Cowboys and Indians” and the Wild West.
Cameron Fraser-Monroe’s new commission was made possible through the generosity of Leadership Giving Donor Patricia Ainslie.
Additional reading: 21 Things You May Not Know about The Indian Act, by Bob Joseph.
Choreographed by Kirsten Wicklund, dancers were asked to go be far beyond their classical technique.
Kirsten asked them to think about what they are feeling as they execute this movement, and to explore sensations and sensations and emotions in their bodies. She often gave them very descriptive images to think about while they were dancing.
Reflecting on a world disrupted, the dramatic intensity of Disembark was further amplified by cinematic lighting, which created an otherworldly atmosphere to highlight this very layered work.
Eastern Canada Tour
The company is now on a three-week tour through Newfoundland and Labrador featuring Cameron Fraser-Monroe’s powerful and compelling taqəš [tawKESH], Guillaume Côté’s mesmerizing Bolero, and Alysa Pires’ vivacious audience favourite MAMBO.
More information at: https://bit.ly/419B4Zv
The Platinum Gala – June 17
Upon the company’s return to Kelowna, they will have two weeks of rehearsal, leading up to a very special evening: The Platinum Gala.
This fundraiser celebrates the 20th anniversary of Ballet Kelowna, held at the Rotary Centre for the Arts on Saturday, June 17. The evening will include a special performance, curated by Simone Orlando, silent auction, social dance and photos with the company dancers.
Grab your ticket at the box office, on sale now: https://www.balletkelowna.ca/the-platinum-gala-2023
Ballet in the Park – Aug. 26
On Saturday, Aug. 26, the company will be in Kelowna City Park for a free, pop-up, outdoor performance.
Sign up for the e-newsletter to learn more about the event and join them in the park.
Ballet Kelowna subscriptions available at: https://theatre.kelowna.ca/box-office/subscription-ballet-kelowna