Review: Red Sky Performance & The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s: ‘Adizokan’ (October 7, 2017)


Photo Credit: Jag Gundu.

In Anishinaabemowin, Adizokan means “a spiritual being that carries wisdom and knowledge”. It is not necessarily ‘the human’ who possesses wisdom. For Indigenous Peoples, human life is limited and we can experience only a tiny slice of the spiritual experience. There is so much more knowledge and wisdom that does not necessarily live in human form, but resides in animals, rocks, trees, water, and the stars. We respect all life forms and all life forms have a spirit. It is a worldview that is critical for a profound renewal of transformation in this era of great upheaval.

Tonight’s Adizokan is a celebration of connected threads of information that weave across the universe, linking the biological, technological and cosmological forces though human experience. From the quiet sense of infinity that comes from a star filled sky, to the sense of wonder that results from looking at one’s own DNA sequence on a cellphone. All of these experiences bind across time. Our universe is pulsing with densely packed and expansive seas of information, flowing with messages, stories, meaning, and ways of knowing whether it be human, hoofed or winged.

Adizokan is divided into seven sections as there are seven layers of the universe for Indigenous peoples. In this music composition, these seven layers trace Indigenous experience of information beginning with our evocative “Origins” and the intensely primal “Fundamental Forces”, and culminating in the epic energy of “Future Skies”. These movements are interspersed with electroacoustic / throatboxing interludes featuring Nelson Tagoona’s unique integration of throat singing and beatboxing. Each section relies on computer assisted compositional techniques to seek out, shape and emphasize threads of connection between orchestral, vocal, Indigenous and throatboxing sound worlds.

Seven Movements

  1. Origins
  2. Fundamental Forces

–              Electro-Throatbox Interlude – A

III.           Earth Stories

–              Electro-Throatbox Interlude – B

  1. Hoof and Bone (Hoof Stories)

–              Electro-Throatbox Interlude – C

–              IVb Bone and Hoof

–              Electro-Throatbox Interlude – D

  1. Star Stories
  2. Wind Stories

VII.         Epic Future Skies


Photo Credit: Jag Gundu.


The Adizokan performance at The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was an evening brimming with a meld of excitement and deep emotion. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra got it right with their invited guests, Red Sky Performance, to their Roy Thomson Hall stage for a one night only performance.

Internationally renowned, Red Sky Performance is a leading company of contemporary Indigenous performance in Canada and worldwide. A multi-award winning company was founded in 2000 by Artistic Director Sandra Laronde of the Teme-Augama-Anishinaabe (People of the Deep Water).

Red Sky Performance’s mandate is to create inspiring experiences of contemporary Indigenous arts and culture. We create, produce and disseminate new creations and events that illuminate themes, aesthetics and values of importance to Indigenous peoples.

Touring since 2003, Red Sky Performance has delivered over 2,253 performances across Canada and international performances in 12 countries on four continents, including two Cultural Olympiads (Beijing and Vancouver), and opened for Canada at World Expo in Shanghai. They are the recipient of five Dora Mavor Moore awards and nominations, two Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, the Smithsonian Expressive Award, among other recognitions.

The visuals on the screens amplified the symphonic score and dance being disseminated by the performers on stage. Speaking to Toronto (a Mohawk word ‘tkaronto’ which means “where there are trees standing in the water”) and Lake Ontario (from the Iroquoian language meaning “lake of shining waters”) we the audience were given a wonderful foundation early in the evening to slip into.  The pace was slow, introspective and revealing as it connected the audience to our home town.

We were gently reminded that we as inhabitants live on land that is not ours but by peoples who long lived, managed and enhanced the earth with their spirituality, ethnicity and connection to one another. Through the performance art of the Red Sky troupe we were injected with a mild meditation of their truths and that of their ancestors in the over an hour and a half performance.

The evening was beautifully curated with music that elevated the modern dance that transpired on the stage. Dance that was emblematic of streams, waterfalls, wild life, hills and valleys.  The audience were taken on a visual tour of sorts while our heart strings tightened and clenched with exhilaration and grief.

Nelson Tagoona’s throat boxing left the audience ‘slayed’. Dark, foreboding and emblematic of the Fall season.  His work was a wonderful treat and window into an art form that needs to be heard by all Canadians.  The audience felt a chill in the air as the symphony only amplified the mood with their edgy and modernly customized musical score.

I encourage you to check out the Toronto Symphony Orchestra monthly collaborations before the season ends in December 2018.

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