Canadian Stage presents this acrobatic and emotional dance work by Red Sky Performance. Conceived and directed by Sandra Laronde and choreographed by Thomas Fonua, AF is an Indigenous work inspired by the seven fires prophecy of Anishinaabe mythology. The prophecy feels relevant to our current circumstances as it finds humanity at a pivotal crossroads. Due to a lack of care and respect, the earth has been fouled. The prophecy offers two paths: materialistic self-destruction or investment in spiritual rebirth.
The dancers—Eddie Elliott, Miyeko Ferguson, Marrin Jessome, Michael Rourke, and Connor Mitton—come together and break apart in thrilling, visceral spasms. The design elements surrounding these athletic performances make them feel simultaneously grounded and ethereal. Kinoo Arcentales’ costumes combine elemental imagery with futuristic embellishments. Under Chris Malkowski’s evocative, ever-shifting light, their forms seem both primordial and urgent.
The live music, written by Eliot Britton and Rick Sacks, and performed by Sacks and Joyce To, is a stirring blend of contemplative and thunderous beats. Traditional instrumentation is melded with Jenifer Brousseau‘s plaintive vocals and naturalistic elements such as the crackle of fire and the call of wild birds.
All of the elements are in perfect alignment and the result feels both vast and intensely intimate. One provocative sequence suggests assembly-line slaughter performed with surgical precision—a ghastly succession of split open limbs, pulled tendons and reflexive shudders.
Another highlight is a deeply moving a series of embraces. This moment evolves into a haunting vision of one lone figure’s desperate attempt to gather and contain loved ones as they drift inexorably away from him. It is difficult to articulate the precise meaning of these moments, but their emotional significance feels specific and familiar.
The piece ends with an explicit call to action addressing our environment and responsibility to future generations. AF really hits its mark, though, in a more abstract mode of communication, allowing us to intuitively process the expressive body language as it depicts violent destruction and gentle, healing connection.
I am not particularly knowledgeable about dance, though I can recognize the skill and artistic intention. I’ve been thrilled and impressed by great dance performances, but this is one of only two dance works that have brought me to full tears.