Gentle scattered rain, turning quickly into booms of thunder and crashing winds, then returning to a soft whispering ocean breeze, create a tapestry of sounds that mirror the ever-changing emotions this play evokes. From the first dance and song number, Ti Moune, played by Jewelle Blackman, along with her cast, grasps the audience’s attention and dances with it closely for the rest of the show.

A fresh take on the 1990 Broadway play of the same name, Once On This Island uses an amazing score and electrifying African/Caribbean infused choreography to anchor its story of one woman trying to conquer the fear of death using the power of love.

Once On This Island is a visit to a paradise where the dialect is big song and dance — a truly blissful escape from long, draining Canadian winter.

Put together by Acting Up Stage Company, the play is part of the 2014 TD “Then and Now” Black History Month Program. Set on a Caribbean island where race lines between darker and lighter-skinned blacks keep the island divided, the story follows a young Moune’s journey as she crosses the forbidden line to the nicer part of the island in search of her prince charming Daniel, played by Chris Sams.

The islanders worship characters like the charismatic Mama Eurile, who represents Mother Nature, or Papa Ge, who represents death. The characters, which personify elements of nature, show that in African and Caribbean culture there is not much of a division between nature and spirituality.

One stand out moment that helps capture the essence of the show is Moune’s solo dance number that holds the audience captive during the elegant metamorphosis of a small village girl freeing herself from fear through the poised, raw, flow of her movements.

Once On This Island is a visit to a paradise where the dialect is big song and dance — a truly blissful escape from long, draining Canadian winter.

Words By. Emma Kombora + Photos By. Forde Marshall