Review: (Toronto) A Story Before Time
(photo by Don Lee)
A Fusion of Art
by Keely Kwok
Okay. Cards on the table. When I saw all the kids in the audience I thought, “this is going to be a long 50 minutes”. Well, you know what assuming does. It makes an— never mind, you know it. In truth, A Story Before Time was enjoyable, informative, and performed in such a way that was entertaining for all ages.
A Story Before Time tells the Onkwehonwe (First Nation) Creation Story. It’s a performance of history, culture, and imagination woven together. Though the story is mainly told through dance, there is a Storyteller named Kateri, played by Semiah Smith. Both bright and enthusiastic, Smith guides the audience through the play, involving them, and delivers lines with just enough winks and nudges for the kids in the audience to get the jokes.
The dancing itself is graceful and intentional. Every meaningful movement replaces a line of dialogue and tells a story. The choreography transcends language and age and instead pulls the audience into the beauty of the narrative. Though there were a few fumbles here and there, all the dancers performed elegantly and in sync. It’s fascinating to watch the different relationships between characters communicated through steps rather than words. Particularly the mother and daughter bond between Sky woman, choreographer Santee Smith, and Hanging Flower, Emily Law. These two, particularly Smith, dance with such sophistication and specificity. It was like watching art in motion. Smith is also the choreographer and artistic director of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, producer of the show.
Every cast member, save the Storyteller, plays multiple roles ranging from Muskrat to Goose, to my personal favourite, Deer. Each animal has a specific physicality to its movements. Even when they all dance together, Deer is much more pointed than Goose. Another props to Santee Smith for her choreography.
In addition to the beauty of the dancing, the set and costumes also add to the performance. With rich blues, browns, and golds, it was like watching a children’s storybook come to life.
Overall the performance effortlessly fuses dance, drama, and music together to educate and entertain. And what more can we ask from art?
A Story Before Time runs to October 24
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