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Jock Soto’s “full circle” dance career brings his brilliant mentorship to Banff

Ballet dancer Jock Soto leads a rehearsal during the 2012 Indigenous Dance Residency. Photo: Donald Lee.

A New York Times article about the 2005 retirement of ballet dancer, Jock Soto  sums up just a few of the reasons why he has had such a warm welcome by emerging dancers at  The Banff Centre:  ”At 40, he can look back to a special place as one of ballet’s most creative personalities. While choreographers are essential to the art, dancers like Mr. Soto – and they are few – also define and redefine choreography with bold individuality and implicit collaboration.”

Jock Soto enjoyed an amazing career that includes the distinction of being the most choreographed dancer in the history of the New York City Ballet. A celebrity in his own right, he was named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World”, and Andy Warhol made a graphite drawing of him in 1986. But as he neared the end of his 24-year career with the New York City Ballet, he began to realize he had lost a connection to his Navajo heritage.

In 2007, Soto was chronicled in the award-winning documentary Water Flowing Together, where he began to reflect on his roots and past in Arizona. This project also first brought him to The Banff Centre. At a screening of the film at the ImagiNative film festival in Toronto, Soto met Sandra Laronde, director of the Centre’s Indigenous Arts program. Since 2009, Soto has come to Banff each summer as faculty for the Indigenous Dance Residency. This summer, the group performed Spirit with dancers from all over the world.

In the audio interview below, hear more about Soto’s amazing journey.

Music: Rubies to the music of Igor Stravinsky
City sounds from acutescream, bulbastre, eric5335, cognate perceptu
The final song, A Tribe Called Red – Electric Powwow, was used in the Indigenous Dance performance of Spirit
Produced by Camara Miller. Mastered by Magdalena Kasperek.

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Indigenous: What’s in a name?

Brian Calliou, director of Indigenous Leadership and Management, shares stories and traditions with children in The Banff Centre tipi on National Aboriginal Day.

There was a time not that long ago when the world’s Indigenous peoples – in fact ALL of the world’s peoples – were not sending texts and emails, hopping on jets to meet up, and video-conferencing from boardrooms and hand-held devices. Today, however, Indigenous people from every corner of the globe are sharing their wise practices, their artistry and customs, their commonalities, and their differences through technological wizardry that never fails to equally confound and amaze me on a daily basis.

It seems as good a day as any, then, to witness a positive, forward-thinking, planet-embracing announcement here at The Banff Centre. The departments-formerly-known-as “Aboriginal”, are officially renamed Indigenous Arts and Indigenous Leadership and Management, effective Oct. 1, and I, for one, applaud this wise renaming.

As I have worked closely with these two departments for several years, I thought I would consult with my colleague Brian Calliou, who is not only director of the newly re-named Indigenous Leadership and Management, but also a lawyer and a wonderful and warm sort of fellow.

My question: What’s the difference between calling a country’s original inhabitants “Aboriginal” and “Indigenous”?

“’Indigenous’ definitely has a broad connotation of ‘original inhabitants with a connection to a territory’,”  Calliou tells me as we share a coffee on the MacLab Bistro patio in the late September sunshine. “This is a connotation used throughout the world, and is interesting because more and more we are hearing of Indigenous people in places we were not even aware of before.” Here in Canada, the use of “Indigenous” is gaining broader usage, even though “Aboriginal” has carried with it the legal and constitutional definition of rights possessed by our Métis, First Nations, and Inuit people.

Calliou, who led the recently concluded wise practices research project here at the Centre, points to the many connections his department has beyond Canada, in both applied research and programming. A symposium last month sharing the wise practices research involved researchers, academics, speakers, and delegates from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Over in Indigenous Arts, there’s an even broader reach of participation and connection to other Indigenous people throughout the world. A good example would be the Indigenous Dance Residency, which has brought together extremely talented dancers and faculty from Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Mongolia, Nepal, and Mexico. Programs for Indigenous artists in music, visual arts, writing, and film also share international interest and participation.

While a name is important, the experience of joining with other Indigenous people in Banff for the purposes of research, artistic creation, or leadership development is what makes these two busy departments tick. “Banff has always been a connection point, a meeting place, and holds spiritual and cultural significance for the many Indigenous groups that have traveled here throughout the centuries,” Calliou says.

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Putting the pukana in the haka

What does is mean to “show your pukana in the haka?” It’s a deeply meaningful cultural reference in Maori dance (haka) , where an artist will “show his being” through intense, and, sometimes, slightly frightening facial expresssions (pukana). Taane Mete, New Zealand choreographer and faculty in the 2012 Indigenous Dance program at The Banff Centre, along with Aboriginal Arts director Sandra Laronde, share what happens when Indigenous dancers from all over the globe get together here on the side of sacred Buffalo Mountain.

Video by David Cophithorne

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Banff Summer Arts Festival Report: Week Ten (The Final Week)

I’m walking by the spot where the Shaw Amphitheatre stage stood all summer - it’s such a strange sight. The stage has been struck for the season and all that remain are the memories of fun outdoor events held here, like the Emmylou Harris concert and the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival Summer Screening of Hidden Beauty.

It would have been nice to see The Kruger Brothers, the final event of the Banff Summer Arts Festival, performed in the amphitheatre as originally planned but as evenings have gotten so chilly lately, something tells me sitting on the grass wouldn’t have felt quite as comfortable as sitting in our seats in the Eric Harvie Theatre.


The first event I attended this final week of the festival was the Indigenous Dance Performance titled Spirit. It truly had me entranced in its beauty and majestic beats. The evening of dance  featured two incredibly moving performances along with a traditional hoop dance.

The next night, I had no idea what to expect from the Swiss acoustic/bluegrass group The Kruger Brothers. They started off sounding like many bands I heard growing up on the East Coast, showcasing a fast-paced Celtic sounding beat, with the main vocalist brother tapping into a deep, almost Maritime sounding voice. As they moved into the next few songs I started noticing the music becoming more folk-like. The tempo changed again after intermission as The Kruger Brothers, playing  guitar, bass, and banjo, performed with an orchestra in the world premiere of their symphonic piece, The Spirit of the Rockies. The Kruger Brothers were here this past January working on their Banff Centre-comissioned piece. In the end, the Rockies weren’t the only thing celebrated. The encore performance showed off each musician’s unique sounds, all taking their turns in solos to the much covered, classic country folk song Sixteen Tons originally made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

This summed up my entire Banff Summer Arts Festival experience perfectly: taking in talent often with a country edge; enjoying an experience amplified by beautiful surroundings; and joining with people from all different backgrounds, singing along, tapping our feet, and having a good time!

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Weekly podcast #8: Jock Soto, Teri Rueb, Jim Olver, more…

Sometimes iconic figures seem like they are ready-made. The histories and processes that formed their character are hidden.

This week we learn about geological history and speak to an artist who used rock as a metaphor. If we can understand the mountains, we can attempt to comprehend the history of the earth and of life.  We tour the grounds, examine the rocks, and journey to Yoho to unearth memories from millions of years ago.

We also hear from ballet icon Jock Soto. He is at The Banff Centre again as part of the Indigenous Dance Residency. Camara got the chance to sit down with Soto and hear about moments in his life that shaped his career.

The Banff Centre Weekly Podcast brings you stories of the diverse projects that artists from around the world are working on, here in Banff.

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes here.

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Five Questions for: Raul Talamantes and Thomas Fonua

Who comes half way around the world to create new work at The Banff Centre? Meet Thomas Fonua, one of the dancers from Black Grace - here from New Zealand, through June and July, to create the new Aboriginal dance piece, Migration with dancers from Red Sky Performance (Sandra Laronde, Red Sky’s artistic director, is also director of our Aboriginal Arts program). We sat down with Thomas, and Red Sky dancer Raul Talamantes for our five-questionnaire. Both were here last summer as well for the annual Indigenous Dance Residency

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