Starr Muranko has been visiting Peru, where her partner is from, over the last 20 years.
During earlier trips, she remembers hearing elders share stories about the “spine of Mother Earth,” referring to the Andean mountain range that spans from the base of South America up through North America.
“I thought, ‘That would be a good research project or dance piece,’” Muranko says. “It kept coming back to me.”
With that idea percolating, 10 years ago, Muranko, who is co-artistic director of Raven Spirit Dance, began working with two artists in Peru to choreograph a contemporary dance piece.
The Vancouver-based dance company focuses on creating and producing contemporary dance rooted in Indigenous worldviews.
“I really wanted the process to be with artists in Canada and Peru—this idea of sharing between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, particularly women sharing our stories,” she says.
While it might seem “so quaint now” after two years of nonstop Zoom, the artists worked together over Skype, each collaborator occasionally flying to the other’s country.
“We are still connected with the artists in Peru, but because of logistics, we adapted it here to perform in Canada with two dancers,” Muranko says.
And that’s the long journey Spine of the Mother took ahead of its Whistler showcase at the Maury Young Arts Centre on Friday, Oct. 28.
“This is the first time it will be performed in the mountains, which is significant,” Muranko adds.
The show first premiered in Vancouver back in 2015. It features two dancers—which, at the Whistler show, will be Tasha-Faye Evans and Marisa Gold—conveying both the creation of landscape and “the desire for human connection” through contemporary dance.
“[The audience] will definitely see the landscape moving through the dancers’ bodies,” Muranko says. “They may experience the building of the mountain ranges and how that goes through a dancer’s body as she goes up to standing. They may experience the energy of plates shifting; how bodies move when they have that energy moving through them.”
The set, meanwhile, features bright, powerful projections created by Sammy Chien. But it also incorporates stones.
“We have actual stones that have been with us through the last 10 years—from Peru, Canada, and places where we’ve performed the work,” Muranko says. “Each dancer who performs the piece brings a stone.”
While the dancers performed recently at the Dance Studies Association conference at Simon Fraser University, Whistler will mark the second show since its remounting.
“We’re feeling there’s still something there that we want to share with this work,” Muranko says. “I think this will be the launch of being able to tour it around B.C. and Canada.”
But first, the production will share the stage in Whistler with guest performers from Australia’s Wagana Aboriginal Dancers. The evening will offer a double bill.
“We’re so excited,” Muranko says. “We’ve worked with them in different ways over quite a few years. We’ve done some work online with them … Jo [Clancy], who is the director of the company, was planning to come up to Canada. It was going to be a time to reconnect, but it just worked out with a performance.”
Catch Raven Spirit Dance with special guests Wagana Aboriginal Dancers on Friday, Oct. 28. Tickets are $25.