29 February 2020
Red Sky Performance’s AF is true to brand a force of nature. The rhythm is urgent, the energy is youthful, and the choreography showcases the athleticism of the dancers. The driving beat of the vocals and percussion carries an urgent intensity throughout the work, with the dancers using percussive movements heavily influenced by locking and breakance to highlight evocative and kinetic storytelling. This all plays out as otherworldly and larger than life as their shadows are cast on the red brick wall of the Berkeley theatre stage behind them.
The title AF is a reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, an allegorical story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy. While in Orwell’s version this is a failed experiment of revolt and oppression, Red Sky aims to see the revolution go right, using powerful physical imagery, Anishinaabe mythologies, archetypes and futurism to imagine a more hopeful future.
When preparing to write about a show I almost always worry that I won’t understand, that I will miss the plot. I worry that I will be exposed for what I do not know, or for misinterpreting what I thought I did. While reading the promotional materials for AF I knew it was very likely that I would not catch the iconography and the deeper meanings behind the imagery. I have little knowledge of Aniishinabe culture and I know this review would be richer if I did. This was evident to me during Artistic Director Sondra Laronde’s land acknowledgement when she explained that the one dish one spoon covenant describes the Great Lake system as the bowl, and that we all share from it, words I have heard many times without knowing the deeper teaching.
Art is most relevant when it exists in conversation with the social contexts it is created and presented in. AF debuts amidst a conversation spurred by Yolanda Bonnell’s request for only BIPOC critics to review her newest work BUG, calling attention to the ways in which white critics writing about cultural and aesthetic works through the dominant culture lens of Euro-Western institutional history act as gatekeepers with disproportionate power. While, simultaneously playing out on the national stage, are the incongruent actions of the RCMP in Wet’suwet’en, and the #ShutdownCanada blockades in response, with continued reconciliation ineptitude and police action against Indeginous people and land defenders.
AF concludes with a spoken plea to protect our land and water for future generations. These words recall Laronde’s explanation that in accordance with the one dish one spoon covenant, there are no knives at the table, it is our collective responsibility to provide care.
Artistic Director Sandra Laronde provided the concept for AF, Thomas Fonua choreographed, in collaboration with the dancers; Eddie Elliott, Miyeko Ferguson, Marrin Jessome, Michael Rourke and Sela Vai. Accompaniment by Eliot Britton, Rick Sacks, Joyce To and Jenifer Brousseau. Lighting Design by Chris Malkowski, Costumes by Kinoo Arcentales and Dramaturgy by Neil Coppen. AF is on stage at the Berkeley Theatre from February 18 to March 1, 2020.