By ELAN MARCHINKO, Chai Artistic Advisor of Dance
When I think of Chai’s upcoming show, The Mountains Will Dance, visions of “The Sound of Music” spring to life in my head, particularly the title song, “The Hills Are Alive.” In this scene, Dame Julie Andrews, as the spirited postulant, Maria, is nourished by the hills that sing with her pristine soprano voice. But just beyond the hills are the Berchtesgaden Alps. Instead of being inert backdrops, the mountains also sing. The mountains are alive. The mountains dance. It is these Alps that will sustain the Von Trapp family as they flee Nazi occupied Austria to seek exile in Switzerland—at least in the Hollywood version.
As immoveable as they seem though, mountains, like people, are not monoliths. Each one is its own ecological universe. There is no singular definition of all that a mountain is. In gestation for millions of years, they are born of tectonic forces and rise from the ashes of volcanoes. Once they cease growing, mountains are vulnerable to erosion and return to the earth just as slowly as they emerged. In fact, many Indigenous artists working on Turtle Island and abroad have long created works that examine mountain ranges as the kinetic spinal cords (Raven Spirit Dance) or backbones (Red Sky Performance) of Mother Earth.
Indeed, the songs and stories of the land now known as Canada have much to teach us. As a settler-Canadian who grew up in Winnipeg, on Treaty One land, the homeland of the Métis Nation, I am just scratching the surface of these stories, which is why it is so important that the Asham Stompers will be part of Chai’s concert. Founded by lead dancer Arnold Asham, the performers, who are of Métis and First Nations heritage, reclaim the history of the Métis people through dance. Accompanied by Power Fiddler Shawn Mousseau, the Asham Stompers care for the past and future in the present. Through the exuberant Red River Jig invented at the historic Forks site of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in the early 1800s, the dancers reach through time to heal and empower the next generations of Indigenous youth.
As curators of the dance, music, and song of the lands and cultures Jews have touched, Chai is an intercultural folk ensemble. As such, Chai continues through the power of art to transcend not only geographic borders but the borders of Jewish and Israeli performance. Due to shifting borders, trade, and the migration of people, whose memories and cultures migrate with them, Jewish music is as vast as the diaspora. Part of the diaspora are the Jewish people of Hungary, who comprise roughly 80,000 of the country’s population. So, it is equally important that Winnipeg’s Kapisztran Hungarian Folk Ensemble will also perform. Established in 1960, Kapisztran is a staple of Winnipeg’s annual Folklorama celebration. While the company does not identify as a Jewish organization, Jews and non-Jews find common ground through the Hungarian folklore, song, dance, and food that they share.
Finally, the concert will feature several works by beloved guest choreographer and flamenco artist Rebeca Shamah. This includes the debut of Yemen Blues, created entirely over Zoom from her home in Puerto Rico. Shamah’s piece depicts the journey of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. A blend of Yemenite and contemporary dance forms, Shamah explains that the dancers begin rooted in “the earth that they are going to leave, and finish in the new earth that they are standing in at the end.”
“The Mountains Will Dance” evokes themes such as exile and return, the power of intercultural performance, and the sublime music and overwhelming majesty of the earth.

Please join Chai in concert on Thursday, June 22nd at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Tickets are available online at www.chai.ca or phone 204-955-0069.

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