‘Dreaming Roots’ show premiere wows Whitehorse audiences


Joy O’Brien says she wasn’t sure what to expect when she managed to get a ticket to dream roots.

The multimedia show had just premiered in Whitehorse last weekend and O’Brien had heard a lot of people talking about it. She managed to get a ticket to the next performance – and days later she’s still beside herself about what she saw.

“I loved every minute…it felt so good,” she said.

dream roots integrates dance, music, storytelling, theater and visual arts to tell Yukon’s Aboriginal history and culture. It is produced by acclaimed Toronto artist Alejandro Ronceria and Yukon’s Diyet van Lieshout and features works by over 50 Indigenous artists and creators. The Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association led the production.

It was presented a few times last weekend at the Yukon Arts Center to coincide with the Arctic Arts Summit and the Adäka Cultural Festival. The plan is to soon take him on the road to other Yukon communities, and eventually, across Canada and beyond. No date has yet been announced.

“It’s the story of Yukoners, of Yukon aboriginals, of all parts of the territory. These are their stories, their words, their dances, their songs,” Mr. van Leishout said.

Diyet van Lieshout of Burwash Landing, one of the show’s directors. She says it’s the Aboriginal Yukoners who tell their own story — “their words, their dances, their songs.” (Alistair Maitland)

“It’s their cultures, in their own way, without anyone else telling them how to do it.”

The show is listening What the earth remembers, a Yukon First Nations performance at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and addresses issues related to environmental change, family, cultural upheaval, trauma and resilience.

O’Brien was particularly touched by hip-hop duo Vision Quest, who performed a powerful piece about residential schools. She said she wasn’t quite prepared for this.

“It hit me to the core of me. It stirred up a lot of emotion,” she said.

O’Brien, who lives in Whitehorse, is a member of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation. She and her three siblings all went to boarding school. O’Brien, the youngest, was the last to go and she still vividly remembers being taken there by her parents. She remembers her first night at school, a six-year-old alone in an unfamiliar room, scared, crying and wondering when her parents would come to take her home.

Listening to Vision Quest talk about that experience through their lyrics sparked a powerful reaction, she said.

“I was like, oh, I have to get out of here. I’m sitting among all these people and I’m broke,” O’Brien recalled.

“And then I kind of looked around, and the people I was with were both crying too… other people were feeling the same emotions. And then I didn’t feel alone.”

People of all ages participate in “Dreaming Roots”. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)

O’Brien also liked that the show wasn’t always so loaded with difficult emotions. There was a lot of humor, she says – and that’s important. Vision Quest’s performance was soon followed by another segment with some laughs.

“As Native people, we always laugh. And, you know, at every reception or every event that we attend, there’s always laughter,” she said.

“So they threw that in there, even though it was really a serious topic… we can laugh too.”

“I kind of prepared myself”

Donna Kisoun was also upset by Dream roots. She says she was lucky to get a last-minute ticket and, like O’Brien, didn’t know much about the show beforehand.

“I was warned that it was going to be very powerful. So I kind of prepared for that,” she said.

Kisoun grew up in Inuvik and now lives in Whitehorse. His mother was from Vuntut Gwitchin. She likes that the show represents all the regions of the territory and the varied cultural traditions.

Interpreter in “Dreaming Roots”. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)

“I love the writing. I love how the past, the present and the future, you know, how it happened, and the messages from all these generations,” she said.

Kisoun hopes the show will find a massive following once it goes on tour. It’s a powerful story that needs to be heard and a performance that needs to be seen, she said, and not just by Indigenous people.

“Of course, we’re going to say it’s amazing, because those are our people, aren’t they?” Kisoun said.

“It’s the story of Indigenous peoples, which has become mainstream, and it’s having an impact. And we just need more of that…I really believe it’s something Canadians need to see. “

Performers in ‘Dreaming Roots.’ Audience member Donna Kisoun said she loves the writing and messages from all generations. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)

The show has already had a big impact on everyone involved, van Leishout said. The production allowed people to develop new skills, make new connections between generations and discover the power of finding your voice through art.

“The beautiful thing about creating and art is that when you’re open to it and you have a community that will support you, it informs the rest of your life,” she said.

“And that’s a ripple effect, about how much it affects everyone around you, in the most beautiful and positive way.”


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