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Salish Sea Sentinel | December 4, 2023

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Healing through dance: production brings Coast Salish story to life

Healing through dance: production brings Coast Salish story to life

Photos and story by Cara McKenna

An upcoming dance production will tell a Coast Salish story about the sun and moon through movement and music.

A contemporary dance titled The Sun and the Moon is based on Snuneymuxw author Celestine Aleck’s children’s book of the same title.

The performance is being produced by Crimson Coast Dance Society and will premiere at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on July 5 as part of the InFrinGinG Dance Festival.

In the story, the sun and moon had always been together, but must make the difficult choice to part in order to expand the earth.

They decide to separate for the sake of their children, but the moon takes it the hardest and falls apart.

Eventually, the Creator allows the sun and moon to see each other during the eclipse and at sunrise and sunset.

The beauty of those times is said to reflect the sun and moon’s great love for each other.

Holly Bright and Celestine Aleck

Holly Bright, left, and Celestine Aleck

Aleck, who was taught Coast Salish stories from her elders starting from when she was just four years old, said she wanted to experience storytelling in a different way.

“Coming into this project, I really wanted to think of: what am I going to learn from this and how am I going to grow from this?” she said.

The idea for the production sparked after Aleck met Crimson Coast Dance Society’s Holly Bright at Aboriginal Day celebrations a couple of years ago, and they spoke about interpreting one of Aleck’s books into a dance. But Aleck was busy at the time so the project was delayed.

When they finally got together to work on the project, it came at a pivotal time as Aleck has been working through a nervous breakdown that hit her late last year.

She said attending dance rehearsals has been vital for her healing journey.

“I think just seeing the dancers, it’s teaching me how to love myself with how graceful and loving they are with themselves and with each other,” she said. “The sunrise and sunset also teaches us as a people that we should start our day off with love and end it with love. It’s beautiful.”

Aleck said the part of the story where the moon falls apart is especially meaningful for her, because she relates to it. She’s working on writing a song to go along with that part of the dance.

“So I’m going to have the words and the crying to the Creator, asking for help to bring me strength and pick up the broken pieces,” she said.

During a rehearsal at the Port Theatre in May, Aleck and her sister Robin watched on while Bright directed two dancers performing a run through of the piece.

The dancers utilized props such as a huge gauzy sheet of fabric and animal bones. Every so often, Aleck would step in to advise.

Bright, who is creating the piece along with the performers, said Aleck’s feedback has been key, because she wants to honour the story and cultural protocols while adding her own creative vision with the dance.

“Celestine has been really generous with letting me have artistic freedom to bring myself to this story,” she said. “I learn so much from her…and through this exchange of our creative processes, and our different disciplines.”

Though Aleck doesn’t have any background in contemporary dance, she does know about Snuneymuxw dance and movement, has been helping to integrate that into the piece.

“I love that way of working that we can kind of mix and fuse, and work together to bring meaning forth to the audience that is going to be there to witness,” Bright said.

The Sun and the Moon is being funded by the B.C. Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

After the dance premieres on July 5, Holly and the dancers hope to bring the performance to several other festivals in the next year.

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