North Van Cree dancer traces family history
Dance is the perfect way for North Vancouver’s Starr Muranko to tell the complicated story of seven generations of women in her family dating back to the mid-1700s.
To start her journey, Muranko flew to northern Ontario to research her Cree heritage on her mother’s side, focusing on her ancestry all the way back to her great-great-great-great-grandmother — the seventh generation, including herself.
“It’s bigger than my personal story, it’s all connected. I can express this through dance differently than in any other way, through metaphors and images,” says Muranko, adding that important decisions are said to last for seven generations in First Nation’s culture.
To create the production before7after, Muranko brought her mother back to the Moose Cree First Nation, an area she grew up in but hadn’t visited since she was 16. With three other dancers in tow, Muranko asked community members for their thoughts and feedback before the performance hit the stage.
“A lot of the history is written from a man’s perspective, so women’s lives can be lost,” says the full-time professional dancer.
But while looking through birth and death certificates, Muranko found small tokens that give incredible detail about the lives of her female relatives.
From one letter, she noticed her great-grandmother enjoyed music, and from a love letter she learned her great-great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather were soul mates.
Telling the stories of her aboriginal heritage is important to the professional dancer and choreographer, who is artistic associate with Raven Spirit Dance in Vancouver and a member of the internationally renowned Dancers of Damelahamid.
Muranko, who is also part German and French, didn’t start out in First Nations dance, but always enjoyed cultural performance, whether from Japan or Africa.
“Being a prima ballerina isn’t the only way. There are other ways to express yourself,” says Muranko, who started ballet when she was just three years old and took a break before studying contemporary dance at SFU in her late-20s.
She has since toured to New Zealand and Peru and has had her choreographed work presented locally at the Talking Stick Festival and the Vancouver International Dance Festival.
“Aboriginal dance is a way to connect with our culture, land and traditions,” she says. “There isn’t a separation of singing, dance and rhythm like there is in other forms of dance — it’s together and you need to know it all.”
What’s next for the North Van dancer? She will soon be working with traditional and contemporary dancers in Lima, Peru as part of a cultural exchange with Canada.
Closer to home, she is performing a duet from before7after at the Scotiabank Dance Centre open house on Sept. 15 at 2 p.m. Admission is free and includes dance classes. For more info: thedancecentre.ca.