COURTESY LAURENCE BRISSON DUBREUIL
Kahnawake’s own choreographer and dancer Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo will be making her way to centre stage at Place Des Arts on September 10, opening this year’s Festival Quartiers Dances.
“I was so flattered that they gave me the opening spot,” she said. “It’s been a dream of mine to have one of my shows presented there.”
The creative explained that she participated in this festival for three years and cannot wait to present this particular show, Sky Dancers, on September 10 and 11.
The 75-minute performance tells the historical event of the 1907 Quebec Bridge collapse linking the north and south shores of the St. Lawrence River. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 86 workers, 33 of which were from Kahnawake.
Diabo’s great-grandfather was one of the victims of this disaster, and she uses her family history to tell her ancestor’s story through dance.
Coincidentally, Diabo was not the only one who had this idea.
“My brother (Michael Diabo) creates a lot of the music for many of my dance shows,” explained the artist, adding there are others who help as well. “We were both independently thinking of the same thing!”
This serendipitous discussion sparked their first shot at presenting Sky Dancers at Prismatic Festival in Halifax.
“From there,” she said, “we had all kinds of people interested in it, and saying: ‘This is such a fascinating story, it has to be bigger, and it has to grow.’”
After visiting the bridge memorial site and speaking with those instrumental in putting it together, her innate curiosity continued to evolve.
“It’s one thing to hear a story about a disaster that happened a long time ago, but when you get to know the people that were involved, people who are still alive now, it becomes such a rich story.”
Diabo, along with being the choreographer, also plays the storyteller who opens the show.
She felt it was essential that the dance did not end after the bridge crash to present a holistic depiction of the event.
“I wanted people to understand what an impact it had on our community, the world of energy and everything.”
Diabo explained that there was a double tragedy at play, as children of the men who passed were sent to residential schools, making the wives lose not only their husbands, but their children as well.
“When I first created that scene, it was tragic enough, but since all the discoveries across Canada, it has much more weight,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of discussion around how to present it in a way that we can we honour that and recognize that it is going to have a different impact now.”
Diabo has co-produced Sky Dancers with Festival Quartiers Dances, intending to create a nuanced and authentic representation of what her people have lived through.
“It’s not just about giving a show. It’s about sharing and community. It’s about your ancestors that brought these dances all these years ago and keeping them alive for future generations.”
Diabo is grateful for the outpouring of support and interest she has received from the community. “I have had a lot of people from the community take an interest in this project, sharing and helping me find stories and finding film clips. I have had people from the community dancing in it and contributing songs.”
To Diabo, Sky Dancers is more significant than just a show.
“It’s bigger than me. It’s honouring these families, ironworkers, and our community by making space for us on these big stages,” she said. “I hope to make people proud.”