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Sacred Song and Dance Will Transform This Toronto Park Into An Opera House for One Night

Aug 11, 2016

On Thursday, August 18 – the night of the full moon – artist and director Irene Cortes will present The Gata: Water Ceremony, a new Buddhist Opera work that celebrates Water and Life through a fusion of contemporary dance, song and sacred ritual. (Photo by Connie Tsang)

By Christopher McKinnon

As the sun sets over the Toronto skyline next Thursday evening, the waterfront park known as Sherbourne Common will come alive with dance, song and sacred ritual. This free, outdoor art project is by The Gata – a performance-based atelier that creates New Opera works inspired by ancient energy traditions found in Buddhism and Indigenous wisdom cultures from across the globe. Directed by artist and filmmaker Irene Cortes, The Gata: Water Ceremony also involves a large group of collaborators, including Mary-Dora Bloch Hanson, Zach Olesinski, Elder O'Puck, Deborah Brodey, Spirit Wind, Alan Reed, Waxaq'ib Q'ojoom, Gaden Choling Mantra Choir, Ivan Klimov, Grenadier Quartet, Paramita Kar, Lama Cristumadeus. 

The performance begins on the water’s edge promenade, where three dancers perform a lament as the three stages of the enlightened feminine aspect: Maiden, Mother and Medicine Woman. (Photo by Connie Tsang)

Water Ceremony is a mythopoetic journey that reveals a woman's wisdom quest. We begin at the water’s edge, where the Mayan Moon Goddess IXCHEL presents her pain and suffering as offerings to the Lake in the form of dance and song. She asks the Water for wisdom.

In response, the Water sends a retinue of manifestations and characters to guide her on her journey. The result is the transformation of Sherbourne Common, a stark and futuristic waterfront park, into an open air opera house that celebrates the life-giving properties of Water through song, dance and ritual.

Filipino, First Nations, Buddhist, Mayan, Jewish and African wisdom traditions come together to bless the water. One after another, each preside upon a stage, erecting their appropriate alters to offer blessings. (Photo by Connie Tsang)

As the performance moves through the park, it will create a series of meditative spaces that are intended to give the audience a feeling of being more connected to the Lake and an appreciation of its life-giving properties. The Gata: Water Ceremony expresses this connection as a woman's journey to liberation. Just as water seeks freedom and an opening wherever it flows, so too does the feminine spirit push towards and demand liberation in very scale and space. Song, movement and prayer unite the human heart with the elements. 

Elder O’Puck – a Master Singing Bowl teacher and Elder of the Eagle and Condor clans – is a respected Oshkaabewis (Fire Keeper) who has been holding ceremony all over Ontario for decades. (Photo by Connie Tsang)

The Gata: Water Ceremony’s seven acts move through Sherbourne Common, making use on the park’s natural and human-made features through innovative and non-invasive staging techniques. The open lawn becomes a stage for altars and offerings. 

The concrete water channel that carries purified water back to Lake Ontario becomes the site for a series of choir-chant “confessions” that take responsibility for the harm we have inflicted upon the Lake. (Photo by Connie Tsang)

The park’s zinc-clad pavilion, which also houses a UV-light stormwater treatment facility, becomes the backdrop for a series of performances that impart wisdom through song and dance. (Photos by Connie Tsang)

At dusk, the splashpad becomes a stage for ecstatic dance. This ballet inverts the story of Swan Lake where true love is union with oneself. (Photo by Connie Tsang)


Event details

The Gata: Water Ceremony
Date: Thursday, August 18 from 6:30pm to 10pm
Location:  Sherbourne Common – 61 Dockside Drive (map)

This is a free outdoor event. RSVP on Facebook or get a free e-ticket on Eventbrite.

There is no formal seating for this event. At various points during the event, audience members may be invited to participate in the performance. If you’d like to sit, we recommend bringing a blanket or a lawn chair. Feel free to bring your own snacks and drinks to help you enjoy this three-plus-hour event.


The Gata: Water Ceremony is presented through Waterfront Toronto's Animating Our Waterfront program. The program facilitates individuals, organizations, collectives and groups who wish to present free arts and cultural programming in selected parks and public spaces in our city’s waterfront neighbourhoods.


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter – and join the conversation using the #TOtheWaterfront and #TheGataWaterCeremony hashtags.


post contributor

  • Christopher McKinnon

    Christopher McKinnon was previously a communications and public engagement Manager at Waterfront Toronto. He’s passionate about art, cycling in the city, public transit and building really amazing parks.