Turning Point Ensemble
air india [redacted]

Dates and Venue November 6, 7, 8, 10 & 11, 2015 @ 8pm & Sunday Matinee @ 2pm | Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, SFU's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 West Hastings

Composer Jürgen Simpson Music Director Owen Underhill Poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar Director Tom Creed Media Artist John Galvin Musicians Zorana Sadiq Soprano; Daniel Cabena Countertenor; Alexander Dobson Baritone

Reviewer Maria Figueiredo

On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 disappears off air traffic control radar with 329 passengers and crew bound for Delhi. The plane explodes and falls into the Atlantic Ocean near Cork, Ireland. This year marks the 30th anniversary of this terrible terrorist act and though we have seen more such tragedies since, ( 9/11 and Malaysian Airlines and in Ukraine and Egypt) this air disaster had never been experienced in Canada nor in Ireland. The suspects - Sikh separatists operating in British Columbia - had been under surveillance by Canada's intelligence agency, CSIS, for months before the flight is downed. Yet, the investigation is bungled and after 13 years through the courts finds only one person guilty.

This disaster does not seem to affect Canadian consciousness as it does that of the people of Cork in Ireland. Irish seamen aboard naval and merchant ships and fishing trawlers enter shark-infested waters to find what they can. The Irish people give shelter and comfort to the devastated families that come to identify the 131 bodies that are recovered. In a short time, a memorial to remember the dead is built in Ahakista, as a result of a grassroots fundraising campaign.

Vancouver poet, Renée Sarojini Saklikar writes heart-wrenching perceptions by focussing on children who are affected by this tragedy. Everything is redacted, the details vague-- “protracted and complex. Necessary discussions. Inadequate security. Eighty-two children under the age of thirteen. No basis for claim.” Her poetry is full of suggestions, sometimes abstract and non-sequential. Ironically, when the tragedy occurs Saklikar is living on 'Dublin Street' in New Westminster. She loses an aunt and uncle. They were eager to fly back to Delhi where they had left their young son. It is not to be. Instead they are killed so tragically. Only her aunt's body is found. The tragedy is compounded with no closure.

Saklikar's response is her 2013 book, Children of Air India:Un/authorized Exhibits and Interjections. An edited version of her poetry provides Air India (Redacted) with its libretto. Directed by Dublin-based opera and theatre director Tom Creed, with music by Irish composer Jurgen Simpson, the Irish collaborate with the Canadian artists to develop a unique performance. The 16 acclaimed musicians of Turning Point Ensemble (celebrating its 10th anniversary this season) directed by Owen Underhill, perform magnificently. They accompany soprano Zorana Sadiq, countertenor Daniel Cabena, and baritone Alexander Dobson. The three singers sit at a long boardroom table, standing to raise their voices in magnificent song. I enjoyed the beautiful melodious tones especially of Zorana Sadiq.

However, song did not allow for the clarity of words in the poems. A poetic rendition by the spoken word of such a sad event would be more poignant and simplicity would provide more clarity.

Projections by Limerick artist John Galvin were effective, the images were suggestive: flattened bones of ten dead sharks, a child splashing in the water with red boots waiting..., TV monitors, lawyers from London and Toronto objecting to the mention of a bomb, the waters red with blood. But these images too, were abstract.

The depth of what exactly happened was not clear. If you were lucky as I was, and spent time reading the beautiful program that is handed out before the concert you will be able to guess at the words and the concepts in the performance. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult to follow the words in the poems-- this brilliant poetry that bewails Canada's worst act of aviation terror that affected the lives of hundreds of people.

© 2015 Maria Figueiredo