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Over 600 newcomers to Manitoba will get a look into the provinces history through dance this weekend.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) recently partnered with the Manitoba Association of Newcomers Serving Organizations to identify refugees and immigrants who wanted to attend the symphony. Through the program, the WSO offered up free admission to newcomers for this Sunday’s showing of Once Upon a Dance.

WSO Executive Director Trudy Schroeder says they simply set a number of tickets aside and hoped for the best.

“The 600 tickets were gone in a flash and we have 700 people on a waiting list who would have liked to come,” said Schroeder. “Who knew the interest would be so big? It’s a wonderful thing.”

Once Upon a Dance is a “twirl through the history of Manitoba”, according to Schroeder and will feature some of the provinces top dance companies. This includes the McConnell Irish Dancers, the Odette Heyne-Projects, the Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble, the Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, Ca Claque! and W. Darling.

Julian Pellicano will be conducting.  

The WSO received funding for this through the Canada Council for the Arts after they had a number of people in the community come to them and say they should make the symphony more accessible for people who are new to the country.

Schroeder says after they received the funding they sat down to decide which show they wanted to offer the tickets for and eventually chose Once Upon a Dance.

They thought a story told primarily through the visual act of dance would be the best option for people whose first language is not English.

“It’s very visually oriented so there will be dances and costumes but it’s not so much based on language,” said Schroeder. “It’s something anybody could enjoy and I think it will be a beautiful way to introduce newcomers to people who are here to welcome them.”

The WSO wanted to do their part to welcome refugees and immigrants to the province.

“It’s important for us to live up to our ‘Friendly Manitoba’ slogan,” said Schroeder. “We think part of Canada’s role in the world is being a beacon of respect and we want to welcome diversity and serve the whole community.”

Schroeder’s hope is the WSO can someday immerse immigrants and refugees into the arts scene in Winnipeg and then have them become involved in growing it.

“Who knows, maybe someday we’ll have ourselves a wonderful Syrian dance ensemble that was created and developed as part of a new strand of diversity in our province,” she said.

Schroeder says the programs for the show will be produced in a number of different languages.

She’s hopeful the audience will engage with the content of the show and learn about the history of the province they now call home.  

Once Upon a Dance runs this Friday (Feb. 17), Saturday (Feb. 18) and Sunday (Feb. 19) at the Centennial Concert Hall. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online at wso.ca. Sunday’s show – which the newcomers will attend – is sold out.