When discussing ideas for the upcoming Children's Dance Theatre performance, the artistic staff at the University of Utah's Tanner Creative Dance, which houses CDT, looked toward the North.
"We strive to have new ideas that will be appropriate and wonderful but also possess differences with qualities, colors and musical sounds," CDT artistic director Mary Ann Lee said during an interview. "So the idea with the Arctic and the aurora borealis seemed like a great idea."
The staff — which included CDT resident composer Tristan Moore, his sister Sadie Moore and Christina Young — found books with bits and pieces of the indigenous legends of Canada; however, the stories felt incomplete.
So, the Moores and Young took as many of the legends, which had the same theme, and put them together in an original story called "True North," Lee said.
"We felt there were so many rich and traditional stories from the First Nation's people that we should go from that," she said. "We wanted our story to have an authentic feel."
Lee and the staff knew they wanted a story set in the Arctic and subarctic that included the animals and indigenous people of the area.
"One of the amazing myths in this world is that the aurora borealis is the roof of the sky," Lee said. "And that it is the transition between the Earth and the sky. And we wanted to tell a story about it."
This story is about a little girl who falls from the sky and doesn't know where she is, Lee said. "She is taken in by this lovely Taku village, but she has this sense that she's not in the right place and actually comes from someplace else."
During her coming-of-age ceremony, the girl — whose name, Tula.aan, means "kindness" — meets a shaman, danced by Chara Huckins.
"The shaman tells her to look into the fire and relate what she sees," Lee said. "The girl says she sees colors and stars, and the shaman says follow your path."
The path leads Tula.aan to guides such as the Caribou chief Tuttuq, danced by Jasmine Crosby and Sedna, and the sea goddess, danced by Sadie Carhart. In between those landmark meetings, Tula.aan meets otters and spirits throughout the journey.
"It's a beautiful story they've written," Lee said. "It's different than the past two performances we have done.
" 'Scientia,' done in 2008, was so concrete, and 'Roots and Wings,' which we did last year, was much more about what we do as dancers," she said. "But 'True North' felt like it would be great to take us into that place between reality and mystery you have in most folk traditions."
To give the production a truer sense of authenticity, CDT recruited two Native American narrators. "We wanted that quality in the voices," Lee said. "You don't see them, but you hear them."
While one message about "True North" is finding oneself, she said, there is another message about community.
"It's about the idea of community and what is required to build a strong community," Lee said. "In this day and age, we see communities falling apart. (Part of that is because of) not knowing our neighbors and the people around you.
"We want to let children and families know why that is important and why it's important how we communicate and embrace one another."
Opening the evening of dance will be three additional dance numbers — Jacque Lynn Bell's 1991 work "Shout," Huckins' senior piece "Kinetic Farewell" and Misha Bergman's "Moments in the Middle," which was co-created by the CDT Dancers' Council. Huckins' and Bergman's works are world premieres, and Bell's work was performed last year in Jamaica at the Dance and the Child International conference.
CDT chose those works because they are "beautiful and wonderful pieces to keep in the company repertoire.
"We're building citizens of the world," Lee said. "That's not a political statement. It's all about these beautiful children who deserve to live in a world of peace and beauty, because that's what we promised them."
If you go...
What: "True North," Children's Dance Theatre
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South
When: April 23, 7:30 p.m.; April 24, 2 p.m.
How much: $15-$24
Phone: 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787