february 2017 | Volume 152
Photo by David Hou
If you follow Santee Smith on Instagram (and I do) than maybe you have also been following her tour via selfies, location shots and group post-performance pictures.
Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith is an Onkwehon:we woman from Kahnyen’kehàka (Mohawk) Nation, Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River. She is the founding Artistic Director and choreographer of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre.
NeoIndigenA is in its second last month of its North American tour. With over ten stops from Iqaluit to New York, Smith has been sharing her talent and beauty with both community and urban audiences. Before the show, you have the option of writing a question to your ancestors on a strip of coloured material. “What would you ask of one of your ancestors”? In thinking of what to ask, you become implicated in a reflective relationship that follows you into the performance space.
On opening night, a traditional welcome was given by Squamish elder and knowledge keeper Bob Baker. He stood downstage center with the pre-staged set visible behind him. Tim Hill’s set design had antlers scattered across the stage. A larger circle of four antlers lay centre stage in the four cardinal directions, and large jawbones rested upstage left. An archway made of sticks stood stage right. Each of these spaces is visited throughout the performance. Santee Smith’s performance begins without the house lights going down as she silently enters stage left. This fluidity of entering and interweaving different times, worlds and spaces recurs throughout the piece.
NeoIndigenA is a spiritual journey that brings the audience into intangible and forgotten places. Smith’s interaction with the antlers is dynamic. They act as key signifiers and transitions in her journey, transforming into offerings, digging in and away from self, burying, giving, taking, resisting, fighting and building. She collects the antlers and carries them with her. She is strong and resistant.
The title NeoIndigenA urges the audience to ask the question, ‘what is new?’ How does Smith’s works reimagine expectations of Indigenous dance, theatre and storytelling? Highlights of the performance are the compositions by Cris Derksen and Tanya Tagaq. Cree cellist/composer Derksen provides a piercing electric accompaniment to Smith’s performance. A Juno nominee, Derksen has curated a sound that mixes her classical training with her Indigenous cultural identity. This distinctive sound helps to illuminate Smith’s transitions between spirit world and living world, past and present, and uncertain futures. The most powerful moments come when Smith is moving to Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s compositions. Tagaq’s vocals pulsate through you. Her use of Inuk throat singing is activated in a contemporary and raw way that clearly motivates Smith’s performance and brings you along for the ride.
Smith spends the majority of the performance carrying her ancestors with her, defending and protecting herself, and experiencing the sacred and the spiritual. Throughout, she is being dragged, pushed and pulled in all directions and seems to be searching for a way out. Her cyclical choreography is centered around not knowing which direction to go. This brings us back to asking, “what would you ask one of your ancestors”? NeoIndigenA allows audiences to sit with Smith on her journey, but also asks everyone to consider where they are going. How do our pasts influence our potential futures?
get in touch with vancouverplays:
Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews