I attended In-Motion in late February at the Roundhouse Performing Arts Centre. The event, part of the Talking Stick Festival, involved two separate contemporary dance pieces in sequence, followed by a Q&A panel with all of the performers.
The first piece, NDN Way was performed by Anishnaabe/Metis/Irish dancer and visual artist, Brian Solomon and Mestiza dancer/choreographer Mariana Medellin-Meinke. The piece was fairly abstract and set to a recording of Cindy Bisaillon’s 1974 interview with Cree-Metis elder and knowledge keeper Ron Evans.
I have a fairly limited background with formal dance both as a performer and a viewer, and I entered the event fairly nervous about the difficulty I would have in interpreting a plot line from Solomon’s choreographic choices. To me, it seemed to be largely an examination of the stages of life and development humans go through, linked intimately to the idea of the Sweat and the emotional/spiritual/physiological challenges endured by Sweat participants.
I also saw themes of Native erasure, resilience, freedom, struggle, and release illustrated by the ways that Solomon and Medellin-Meinke interacted with each other, and the ways their individual physical and facial expressions morphed from the beginning of the performance to the end.
In the Q & A Panel following the performance, Solomon explained some of the inspiration for the piece. Part of it, he said, came from seeing young people full of potential struggling very publicly with drug dependence on the outskirts of his neighbourhood. He also described personal struggles with health and the tragic loss of some of those close to him. I imagine the performance, which appeared at times to be very physically challenging, was a tremendous outlet for both he and Medellin-Meinke to find emotional, physical, and spiritual release from these sadnesses and struggles. As well, the recreation in a sense, of the Sweat ceremony lift that weight from the performers and the audiences alike.
As I watched the piece, I wished several times that I could pause and rewind moments so I could retrieve more meaning. I understood that there were many layers to the piece, and felt as though my lack of basic understanding of contemporary dance movement hindered my ability to delve through all of the intended projections of the choreography. In addition, there were several points where I felt the compulsive urge to move or dance along with the performers. I felt embarrassed about it until, during our presentation on the event, Vanessa mentioned a similar experience. After having had that confirmation, I decided that the urge to physically respond was more than likely the performance unlocking something within the both of us (and very likely others in attendance), although I’ve yet to give much thought to what that something is.
The second piece, Greed, was performed by Byron Chief-Moon (Blackfoot), Jerry Longboat (Mohawk-Cayuga), Olivia Davies (Welsh-Anishnaabe), and Luglio Romero (Costa Rican). The piece was introduced by the evening’s program as an examination of greed as told through the lens of a man struggling with the stock market. Chief-Moon has stated at various points that Greed was a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Blackfoot story of Bloodclot Boy (I will provide a link to this story at the end of my post) and the concept of triple witching (a time in the stock market where one can win or lose millions).
I found this piece much easier to interpret, I think, partially because I had heard earlier in the month from Chief-Moon himself a bit about the piece and its origins. As well, the information in the performance program provided a basic outline of the central theme, while the description of NDN Way felt more cryptic to me.
I saw plenty of Christian imagery throughout the piece; there was a point at which Chief-Moon’s head was pushed down repeatedly by the other performers that seemed reminiscent of a baptism into the religion of greed. Additionally, quite early in the performance, Davies was held aloft in a very Christ-like way. I thought it was an interesting and apt parallel to draw between Christianity which has been responsible for the justification of much greed in the world (via the attempted takeover and annihilation of many Indigenous peoples around the world) and greed represented by the American stock market.
I feel as though both performances embody Yvette Nolan’s concept of survivance quite well; Solomon’s piece through the lens of Indigeneity surviving trauma with lightness and hope, and Chief-Moon’s piece via the struggle to maintain traditional knowledge despite Western society’s favouring of capitalism above all.
I also thought both Solomon and Chief-Moon’s very contemporary forms of storytelling were compelling, but would like to problematize the word “contemporary”. Obviously, any Indigenous performance occurring in the present is “contemporary”, but I think there is a prevalent Canadian conceptualization of Indigenous performance in particular as being wrapped up in tradition in a non-living/fluid sense of the word. These performances are different from many others I have witnessed in that they are told in very abstract ways, not ones that would necessarily be pereceived as “traditional” by outsiders/non- First Nations viewers.
Question: Byron-Chief Moon’s performing arts company COYOTEARTS, seeks to support contemporary retellings of traditional Indigenous stories. How might this effect Native and non-Native audiences differently? What are the pros and cons of opening these stories up for display in “acceptably” tradition and “non-traditional” ways? Are there better terms for traditional and contemporary that aren’t in competition?
See here for a (very problematic) review of Greed: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/culture/dance/demalahamid-and-circadia-indigena-dance-first-nations-experience-old-and-new
http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/BloodClotBoy-Blackfoot.html (see here for reference to the Blackfoot Bloodclot Boy story)
*End note: it was difficult to find reviews for both Greed and NDN Way, although significantly harder for the latter. Both of these pieces have been performed several times over a period of at least a year, so I found this quite interesting. Worth noting is that Greed itself is an experimental piece, and as such it has fluctuated in performers and means of presentation in the years since it opened.