Red Sky Performance brings Indigenous performers to Jacob's Pillow

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BECKET — Imagine Martha Redbone and Soni Moreno singing together on a summer evening.

Redbone is multi-award-winning blues and soul singer — Cherokee, Choctaw, European and African-American, rooted in the sounds of Kentucky string bands, and Moreno has performed around the world as a roots musician and singer of Mayan, Apache and Yaqui heritage.

And on Wednesday, they will perform outdoors, under the pine trees, with the cicadas around them and a valley at their backs.

They will join Larry Spotted Crow Mann, an elder of the Nipmuck, who lives in Springfield, on the Inside/Out Stage at Jacob's Pillow, with champion fancy dancer Kenneth Shirley, singer Tyreen Lodgepole and the Wampanoag Nation singers and dancers, who will perform traditional dances of the Northeast.

In the week of Red Sky Performance's premiere at Jacob's Pillow, a new celebration is growing. Pamela Tatge, artistic director at Jacob's Pillow, has asked Sandra Laronde, artistic director of Red Sky, to curate "The Land on Which We Dance," with free performances from Wednesday to Sunday.

The Pillow has always existed in a creative conversation with the land, Tatge said, and she wants to deepen the connection to the place and the people who have always lived here. She has respected Laronde's work for years, and this year, in working with her, she has discovered that Laronde is a remarkable curator, as well.

Laronde served as director of Indigenous Arts at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity from 2008 to 2017, and she has drawn on connections across the continent as well as in the Berkshires.

"We had no idea it would grow to this magnitude," Tatge said, alight.

The celebration opens with Amherst professor Lisa Brooks, who has written on the history here in the 1600s, and she will give a perspective that Western history still does not always recognize, Laronde said: "That people were removed forcibly, and they have always come back. That people live and breathe in the area."

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The performers for the opening evening will gather on the Great Lawn for a procession to the Inside/Out Stage.

"It will be once in a lifetime," Tatge said.

On Thursday, Christopher Morgan, a regional dancer and of native Hawaiian heritage, will performs "P haku," a dance and hula performance with live music by electric cellist Wytold and Hawaiian chanter/percussionist Elsie Kaleihulukea Ryder.

On Friday, Redbone and Moreno return to join local and contemporary indigenous artists for song, dance and storytelling around a bonfire on the great lawn. And Laronde and Morgan will unite for a Pillow talk on Saturday. And all of these events are free.

The Pillow has also reached out to the Mohican people, the Stockbridge Munsee nation, who have lived in the Southern Berkshires for centuries and have returned regularly to their homeland here over the last 150 years.

This is the weekend of their annual powwow and gathering in Wisconsin, Tatge said, but they hope to share their greeting.

It will be powerful for performers and visitors, Laronde said, to come to the Pillow and celebrate Indigenous cultures, and to celebrate the Indigenous people of this area, as it is their homeland.

"We can build a connection together," she said, "and be part of a larger cultural resurgence, to have visibility, and to have Indigenous performances elevated in a beautiful space that elevates dance."

She has thoroughly enjoyed working with Tatge and with the Pillow, she said. She has found them warm and open. And she feels the strength Red Sky brings to their partnership, for the Pillow and the people who live here.

"We bring something unique and strong, and powerful and transformational," she said, "to help them connect to their area more deeply."


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