The Banff Centre

Creating a story before time…

by Lachlan Mackintosh

“A ravishing mix of styles and spirits”

Paula Citron, The Globe and Mail

Santee Smith is coming home to Banff this winter to tell an age-old story.

Smith is a member of the Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan from Six Nations, Ontario. She attended the National Ballet School of Canada, holds a Masters Degree in Dance from York University, and was a part of the ground-breaking Aboriginal Dance Project at The Banff Centre. For the past decade, Smith has created new dance works, most recently as artistic director and choreographer of her own company, Kaha:wi Dance Theatre. This October, the Canada Council for the Arts chose Smith as the recipient of a 2006 Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award.

Smith was back in Banff this December for a week-long Theatre Arts residency to refine a new multidisciplinary dance work. A Story Before Time... is directly inspired by the Iroquois Creation Story and will be presented as part of the 2007 Banff Summer Arts Festival. Smith is interested in exploring how dance can touch both the soul of the dancer and the audience by focusing on transformation, communication, and meaningful movement. She spoke to Inspired about this new work, and her experiences at the Centre.

How did A Story Before Time… first come to be?

For a Haudenosaunee person, this is an important story that is told by families and to young children. It’s our creation story, which speaks metaphorically about the Sky World and the Earth world. And it’s a story that is very familiar in native communities.

At what point in the creative process did you know you wanted to tell this as a story for young audiences?

Right from the beginning — because of the magical characters in the myth, because of the animals in the story, and because it tells our story of how we get here on earth.

What is it like creating an onstage character out of the stuff of myth?

That’s the creative, fun, and challenging part. Some of these characters have been with me for a long time. I portrayed Sky Woman 10 years ago in the National Film Board documentary, The Gift. I ’ve explored Sky Woman, and yet these myths are so complex and layered that I find there is a lot still to explore.

I read online that your favourite musician is Prince. Who are your biggest influences from the world of dance?

[Laughter] One of my favourite musicians!

I trained at the National Ballet, so in Toronto I like to see their shows. But mostly what I'm interested in are performances that have a lot of meaning. When the dancers are completely engaged, that’s when the magic is present.

What does The Banff Centre mean to you now, as an artist and alumna?

What Banff has become for me is a home… it’s a part of me now. I feel really healthy when I'm in Banff. I feel really vibrant and creative when I'm in Banff. When I was a new mother, being able to bring my daughter to The Banff Centre and knowing that the Ab[original] Arts program embraced friends and family was important to me.

A Story Before Time… receives its world premiere in June 2007 as part of the Banff Summer Arts Festival.

Published: January 2007.

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