The Silver Arrow
Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta Canada
April 4 to 29, 2018

Ancestors and Elders
Shumka Ukrainian Dancers, Kehewin Native Dance Theatre and Running Thunder
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
April 27 and 28, 2018


Mixing and matching of the highest order has been happening on Edmonton’s two major stages.

The Citadel Theatre’s Silver Arrow is a rollicking re-telling/re-invention of the legend of Robin Hood, a world premiere as written by Edmonton playwright Mieko Ouchi. 

In this Robin Hood, the world is cheerfully turned upside down – women play men’s parts, half the action is in the air on ropes and sashes, ethnicity is all a blur. The play is written around actor Kristi Hansen’s real-life disability of being born one-legged, with much fun and good-natured humour written into the character, including a beautiful prothesis created for her by a shy admirer.

All the above is all just a start for The Silver Arrow.  The costumes are magnificently Game of Thrones-ish, the set is 19th Century English brass industrial – “steam punk” seems to be the current word.

Its language is sprinkled with modern jokes on tweets and webs.  It is near Shakespearean in all the comings and goings of the various parties, there’s non-stop action with terrific fight scenes … and yet, somehow, under Citadel Artistic Director Daryl Cloran’s supervision, it hangs together so beautifully as to be yet another highlight in a season of Citadel Theatre highlights.

Across the North Saskatchewan River in the Jubilee Auditorium on April 27 and 28, Edmonton’s Ukrainian Shumka Dancers did its own very creative mixing and matching, working together with indigenous dancers and storytellers to weave a very-new intertwining narrative of Ukrainian and indigenous dance forms.

The fabulous highlight was the active collaboration with the Running Thunder indigenous dancers in Shumka’s 50th Anniversary Hopak.

The hopak -  where Ukrainian dancers rev up to the highest energy levels possible to show off their impossibly athletic dancing skills – is such a blend of costume and energy that one couldn't envision how it can be mixed with another dance form.

But suddenly, as a male Ukrainian dancer spun across the stage, before and after him came two Running Thunder dancers in full-bore hugely colourful indigenous regalia, spinning almost as quickly and with just as much energy as the Shumka-ites.

Suddenly, a new hugely entertaining full-bore collaboration was on!   As the crowd roared in approval, the colours and big, bold dance moves of Running Thunder were in there as full partners with Shumka in making the hopak even more dramatic and exciting than ever.

It was truly an historic dance moment in Canada, a melding of two cultures. Nobody in their wildest dreams would ever have thought it would work so well.   

In so much of Canadian popular art, “political correctness” – the intensifying of ethnic and gender diversity – has been done with dogged determination, without humour, without fun.

Robin Hood turns political correctness on its ear – yes, it was written to consider the new Canadian realities of ethnic diversity, gender equality etc. etc. But it does so in a brand-new spirit of good-natured fun and sheer exuberance … with many levels of awareness and understanding.  

No doubt Kristi Hansen’s extraordinary playfulness and athleticism (this is a hugely athletic show) with one leg is a huge eye-opener for student audiences, an affirmation of what can be accomplished by anyone who’s different.  Ouchi’s band of merrye men are now merrye women, there’s only one man and five women.  And yet the plot doesn’t wander too far from the original as to lose integrity, (though there’s a major twist as to who and what Robin Hood is).  The Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John are still the bad guys trying to snuff out the outlaws robbing the rich and giving to the poor in Sherwood Forest.

In the first half of the Shumka show was the title piece, Ancestors & Elders. It was a noble attempt, through dance theatre, to merge underlying commonalities of Ukrainian and Indigenous culture and history as expressed through art. Full marks for attempt and effort, especially the dancing of Ayla Modeste  as a young indigenous woman expressing the challenges thrust upon her by circumstance and birth. But, as much in comparison to the hopak finale as anything else, the dance wasn’t quite there in accomplishment – too much was happening on stage all the time, causing the central narrative to be near lost.

One left these two evenings of artistic accomplishment with unexpected joy in one’s heart.

The Citadel artistic team had so much fun with so many current issues, and at the same time pulled off enormous challenges -  to create theatre of the air, an original script, an original musical score, a BIG play with a BIG cast, the diversity angle – and yet made it all so buoyant and natural.

Big congratulations to Cloran for commissioning the “regional” Ouchi, long of this city, with the biggest work of her life – rather than sending the word-smithing to more prominent playwrights elsewhere.  It worked!

And for Shumka, the Kehewin Native Dance Theatre and Running Thunder to have been so artistically daring, to have taken such a chance on a partnership that few would have thought of, let alone execute with such style, was another first.

What we saw in these two shows is in fact quite seminal.  Never have two new performing-arts pieces so dramatically illustrated an emerging fast-blending culture that, for the first time, is truly, uniquely Canadian. Little did I think this would happen in my lifetime!