The Blackfoot tradition and the music of Peter Gabriel combine in the true story of a residential school survivor.
The play, New Blood deals with the issue of the impact of residential schools on First Nations children and adults.
This production of New Blood in the Jack Singer Concert Hall on June 15, 2023; brings together the cast of New Blood and the musicians of the Calgary Civic Symphony in a major public presentation of the play. Returns from the presentation will go to charities supporting residential school survivors.
This production is made possible from a generous grant by the Calgary Foundation and Arts Commons.
New Blood happened because Deanne Bertsch went on a tour of the pictographs at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park where she learned that much of the Indigenous history was lost because the Blackfoot people were put on reserves and not allowed back to Writing-on-Stone for 80 years. She was saddened by the experience and was determined to go back to Strathmore High School and create a performance about the Blackfoot history that is generally unknown. They started by inviting the Blackfoot language class to collaborate with them. Eulalia Running Rabbit, the Blackfoot teacher came in to talk to the class about the moments in history that changed the way of life for the Blackfoot people. She talked about the fur trade, smallpox, reservations, residential schools, addiction and healing. She also talked about the vision quest, a coming-of-age ritual when a young Blackfoot man goes out onto the land for four days and four nights and waits for his spirit animal.
Based on that conversation the class created spirit dancers using prairie animals. They tried to integrate all the stories into the developing show. One of the Blackfoot students, Hayden Yellow Old Woman gave Deanne a telephone number, and said “Call my grandpa”, which she did. At that time Vincent Yellow Old Woman was chief of the Siksika Nation. He sat down with Deanne for two hours and talked about his life, going through residential school, dealing with alcoholism and finding healing and hope. He also gave Deanne a poem by Sandra Sutter and Jim Pearce, called “The Indian in the Child”. Sandra initiated the poem after she was asked by Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman to write the history of his life. The show was ultimately based on the poem which reflects the lives of many Indigenous people who went through residential schools. The story is told through dance, music, poetry and art.
The play was created in 2014 and since then has been performed over 150 times, touring all over Alberta and British Columbia featuring ten different casts of performers. Some of the most memorable trips were to Victoria, and to the Blood Reserve.
Everywhere the show is performed people say that “everyone needs to see the show”. Recently, Peter Gabriel, the artist who wrote the music sent a video message talking about how delighted he is that his music is being used for this kind of work.
Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman hopes that the show will continue and make many more people aware of the effects of residential schools and enable them to gain a greater understanding and empathy for Indigenous people and what has happened.
Calgary Civic Symphony and Arts Commons
In the spring of 2022, David Wartman, then Executive Director of the Calgary Civic Symphony attended the New Blood performance at the Rosebud Theatre. He was particularly moved by the performance in part because of his prior introduction to “The Indian in the Child” by friend Sandra Sutter. Following the dialogue session at the end of the performance he went forward and introduced himself to Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman and Deanne Bertsch. During the conversation Deanne indicated that her dream was to have the play performed with a full Symphony Orchestra to which he responded: “Perhaps we have an opportunity here”.
The Calgary Civic Symphony is a volunteer orchestra that has been rehearsing and playing in the City since 1976. Originally established to provide an opportunity for retired Philharmonic musicians and highly qualified amateurs to get together to continue to develop their musical skills and to provide concerts for the community the Orchestra has gone on to become one of the best volunteer orchestras in Canada. While it started its life rehearsing and playing in churches and schools it advanced to the point where for the last 15 plus years its home is in Arts Commons and it plays five concerts each year in the world class Jack Singer Concert Hall.
The Civic is committed to the process of reconciliation, and for Canada’s Sesquicentennial, the Civic began its season with a preconcert performance by a group of First Nations singers, drummers and dancers. That program proved to be a highlight of the season for musicians and audience alike. The Civic also began a process of commissioning a work for the orchestra that would have involved substantial Indigenous input to the music although Covid and challenges for the composer brought that to a halt. Despite that setback the Civic has continued to look for opportunities to bring together classical music with Indigenous culture and experience. New Blood was seen to offer that opportunity.
David immediately reached out to Rolf Bertsch, Artistic Director of the Calgary Civic Symphony and to Alex Sarian, President and CEO of Arts Commons and they began a series of conversations ending in the decision to mount the production in the Jack Singer Concert Hall in June of 2023.
Subsequent to those conversations a grant application was submitted to the Calgary Foundation, and in December 2022 word was received that it had been approved in full. The production of New Blood is scheduled to take place on the Stage of the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Thursday, June 15, 2023 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are on sale through the box office at Arts Commons, and net proceeds from the play will go to Indigenous charities to support their work with residential school survivors
Our orchestra members will perform the music of Peter Gabriel as part of this unique, world premiere of this performance. Never has NEW BLOOD been presented with a live orchestra!
Click here to listen to the music you'll have the pleasure to enjoy live!
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