Kelowna Ballet Troupe Hires Indigenous Choreographer to Mark 20th Anniversary

A leading professional dance company from the BC interior is celebrating its 20th anniversary with performances by an Indigenous choreographer throughout its 2022-2023 season.

Ballet Kelowna, which was founded in 2002, announced this week that Cameron Fraser-Monroe, a member of the Tla’amin First Nation, will be its first artist-in-residence.

As part of her residency, Fraser-Monroe will contribute three original pieces to the programs of Ballet Kelowna.

Originally from the Okanagan, Fraser-Monroe studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. Since graduating, he has performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Atlantic Ballet Theater of Canada and contemporary Indigenous dance companies such as Red Sky Performance in Toronto and Dancers of Damelahamid in Vancouver.

As a choreographer, he has also worked on commissions from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Ballet Kelowna and the Winnipeg Summer Dance Collective — to name a few — where he served as Artistic Director for the past four years.

Over the past decade, dance troupes across Canada have incorporated more Indigenous elements into the art form to demonstrate their commitment to reconciliation.

Inspired by a traditional Coast Salish story

This Friday and Saturday, Ballet Kelowna will present taqəš (pronounced “taw-KESH”) choreographed by Fraser-Monroe, as one of three performances in the dance program Suction.

Taqəš means “to return something” in Ayajuthem, a language used by the Tla’amin and other First Nations.

Cameron Fraser-Monroe is pictured supervising a taqəš rehearsal. (Dana Kelly/CBC)

Fraser-Monroe said the dance is based on Raven makes the watera traditional Coast Salish story written by British Columbia novelist Anne Cameron about a crow trying to fetch water from a greedy frog, who drank it all up.

“It’s really beautiful – in all of these stories there are messages that can be applied in modern times, even to our contemporary lives, about greed, hoarding of resources and that even a single no one controlling all the resources is not good for the community,” he told CBC’s Dana Kelly.

Dancers are shown performing taqəš, a story about a crow trying to fetch water from a greedy frog. (Emily Cooper)

Premiere of Fraser-Monroe taqəš last season, but due to COVID-19 restrictions it was played virtually. This time, her dance will be performed in person at the Kelowna Community Theater downtown.

He said the audience will have many take-home messages from the performance.

“We talk about land rights, and I think we need to extend that conversation to water rights – there are First Nations people across Canada who don’t have access to water, and that’s simply unacceptable in Canada.”

As part of her artist-in-residence commission, Fraser-Monroe will also create a dance titled ʔɛmaxʷiygə next February, and another dance performance in May.

Indigenous voices in ballet

Fraser-Monroe thanked Simone Orlando, Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Kelowna, for offering her the position of Artist-in-Residence.

“It’s really important that you find a mentor that you can connect with,” he said. “It can be difficult in a Eurocentric art form like ballet to find someone you can connect with.”

Orlando said it was important for Ballet Kelowna to elevate Indigenous voices like that of Fraser-Monroe in an artistic field that is still Eurocentric.

“In our equity efforts [and] with our efforts in diversity, equity [and] inclusion, I just felt that if we want to bring an artist-in-residence into that environment, they have to be an Indigenous person,” she said.

taqəš is part of a dance program called Aspirations, which also includes the performance Bolero, choreographed by Guillaume Côté of the National Ballet of Canada. (Seger Nelson)

Suctionwhich begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Kelowna Community Theatre, will also feature Bolero choreographed by Guillaume Côté of the National Ballet of Canada and the world premiere of In the light of the waking sun choreographed by Robert Stephen, also of the National Ballet.

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