Kahnawake Artist retells Quebec Bridge Disaster

Written by on August 12, 2019

Luca Caruso-Moro

At the top of the 20th century, the St. Lawrence River was supposed to support the longest bridge in the world.

American engineer Theodore Cooper was hired to design it. He had built a name for himself with a long resume of prestigious projects such as the Second Avenue Bridge in New York City and The Sixth Street Bridge in Los Angeles.

The Sixth Street Bridge was his longest-lasting project, and the only one still standing when it was eventually demolished in 2016. Many had been demolished before, one had collapsed.

When he began designing the Quebec Bridge, Cooper introduced a cost cutting measure of increasing its length by 10 metres, so that the piers could be closer to shore.

The extension drastically increased the strain on the structure. And in late August, the bridge collapsed under its own weight. All but 10 of the 86 workers on the bridge were killed.

Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo’s great grandfather was one of the 33 workers who were killed from Kahnawake.

“I guess when I was younger, I would just hear it as a story,” she says. Diabo is a dancer and Choreographer. “I started looking into the research and stories about the people and the families,” she says. “It became more human.”

It also became the subject of her most recent work. Sky Dancers is a multidisciplinary telling of the disaster, featuring traditional song and hoop dance, mixed with modern choreography set to Michael Diabo’s contemporary scores and immersed in Andy Moro’s mixed-media set design.

“This is a chapter in the building of Quebec that very few know outside of the community,” says Moro. “It’s a story that so accurately summarizes the aggressive and deadly spread of colonization.”

Diabo says the idea for the project came from her in conversation with her brother and collaborator, Michael Diabo.

“[He] calls me up one day and he goes, ‘y’know what our next piece should be?’ I was thinking ‘I’d like to do it about the bridge.’ and he was thinking ‘I’d like to do it about the bridge’, ” She says. “And then we started on this whole journey. Its been years by now.”

The project is still in development, rehearsals begin in Montreal in the fall.

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