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Heart of the North Premieres in Regina

Oct 23, 2019

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Regina Symphony Orchestra presented the World premiere of Riel: Heart of the North on Saturday March 9, 2019 at the Conexus Arts Center, Regina. The production was composed by Neil Weisensel and Dr. Suzanne Steele. It was developed as an imaginative musical interpretation of Louis Riel’s life in the early 1870’s. The storyline, narrated by Riva Farrell-Racette, is based on an extensive research conducted by Weisensel and Steele over the past several years.


Riel: Heart of the North includes Louis Riel’s battle with settler Canada, relationships with beautiful Métis women, kinship with neighboring Indigenous groups and, of course, his love for the Métis Nation. This production uniquely intertwined a number of languages throughout, including two dialects of Michif, French, Saulteaux, and English. It also included, at center stage, sixteen year old traditional fiddler Jordan Daniels from the Mistawasis First Nation who stole the hearts of everyone in the audience.


A group of Michif women from the SUNTEP family – Brenna Pacholko, Marilyn E. Belhumeur, Heather Witherspoon, Dallas Montpetit, and Tyra Pelletier – had the opportunity to join the Riel: Heart of the North choir. The choir, recruited from the community for this special project, was led by Dr. Dominic Gregorio who believed that the power of song could build bridges between people. With the help of Métis academic Dr. Jesse Archibald-Barber, Dr. Gregorio worked to build relationships with our community members, Old Ones, and students. It was important to Dr. Gregorio that Métis people from this homeland had a voice in this work. He also worked with Michif language carrier Erma Taylor, to ensure that all Michif words were pronounced correctly. In addition to the SUNTEP women, the choir was made up of members of First Nations and the Fransaskois communities.


A few days before the opening night, the performers of Riel: Heart of the North were informed of the unexpected passing of our friend and choir director Dr. Dominic Gregorio. The performance was dedicated in his honor and recognition of his extensive and important work in the choral, academic and cultural communities in Regina and throughout North America. Dr. Gregorio will be dearly missed by all who knew him.

The Michif choir consists of Brenna Pacholko, Faculty, Marilyn E. Belhumeur, Librarian, Heather Witherspoon Year 1 – SUNTEP, Dallas Montpetit SUNTEP Alumuni (2014), Tyra Pelletier 4th yr SUNTEP.


Photo by Dr. Heather Phipps










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