Dances with horses

Don't expect to see any traditional First Nation dancing during this week's productions of Tono, says its director Sandra Laronde. Tono is a contemporary dance piece fusing indigenous elements from North America and Mongolia.

Don’t expect to see any traditional First Nation dancing during this week’s productions of Tono, says its director Sandra Laronde.

“I find that if audiences hear it’s aboriginal or indigenous, they have an idea of what that is and it’s not that,” she said.

Tono is a contemporary dance piece fusing indigenous elements from North America and Mongolia.

But don’t get stuck on the contemporary tag either, said Laronde.

“It’s not too abstract,” she said.

People won’t be left guessing about the storyline, she said.

“It’s dramatic – it’s almost filmic,” she said.

The theme of uniting the nomadic steppe peoples of Asia and those of the North American plains has been a subject in anthropology, but Tono is probably the first time the idea is being explored through dance.

Laronde got the idea for Tono because of both groups’ reputation of being great horse-respecting cultures.

The name comes from the Mongolian word “ton,” which means “gateway to the world above,” said Laronde.

Traditionally, Mongolians used a giant wooden wheel at the top of their tents, known as yurts, to hold the structure together.

The ton carries heavy symbolism in Mongolia.

When a caravan is on the move, the ton is always carried on top, said Laronde.

“They say it’s like the mind of a person,” he said.

“It provides structure and organization and without it everything is in chaos.”

Laronde went to Inner Mongolia, a province in China, to recruit three of the dancers in Tono.

She’s also gathered some of the best Mongolian singers for the show.

“The talent we have now is stellar,” she said.

The singers will perform two forms of traditional Mongolian song – throat singing and long-song singing.

Throat singing has had a high-profile in recent years, but long-song singing is pretty much of a mystery outside Mongolia.

“It’s a style that is not very well-known and they want the new generation to pick it up,” said Laronde.

Laronde founded the Red Sky theatre company in 2000 in part to showcase elements of indigenous dance.

“This is the only company in Canada that focuses on world indigenous culture,” she said.

“It is a place where indigenous people meet and merge.”

Tono is playing at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and 1 and 8 p.m. on Thursday at the Yukon Arts Centre. Tickets for adults are $32, children and seniors pay $22. Call 667-8574 for more details.

Contact James Munson at

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