By Arts Editor Cheryl Folland
Overlooking the harbour from the third floor of The Port Theatre, patrons seated themselves among the rows of chairs and waited for the pre-show chat to begin. Art by local high school students hung on the walls. Images in pencil, coloured pencil, and mixed mediums, at a professional level quality, created an appropriate setting to discuss the art and methodology behind the February 3 performances.
What has informed your art to get you to this point?
Cris: I grew up in Northern Alberta, in the Buffalo Head Hills. I’m half Cree and half Mennonite. I’ve been playing cello for ten years, first in the Edmonton public strings program, and then getting a degree in classical music. My study centered around the intersections of contemporary art and the traditional.
Santee: I find myself, as an artist, marrying new and ancient art together to reawaken and resurface the story of my people. I studied for six years at the National Ballet of Canada, in Toronto. After that, I obtained my Masters in Indigenous Styles from around the world. I’ve had limited exposure to contemporary dance as a category, and started working with Cris about five years ago when I commissioned her to write six pieces for my Transmigrations piece. This is our fourth collaboration.
What moves you about this show?
Santee: I love cello, it’s one of my favourite styles of music. I appreciate music in all its forms, except for maybe new country, if I am allowed to say that. (Laughs) I invited people to collaborate where I think I wanted the production to go. I commissioned Cris to write for this production due to the ease of our work together and our shared vision.
Cris: This time I had a full year, instead of one week. (Laughs)
How does your heritage influence your art?
Cris: Both parts influence me. You can’t take part of your blood away from you. Old Colony Mennonites don’t have traditional classical music. The priest would start a line and the people would sing along. It was hard on my very particular ears. Those circular lines still appear as movements in my writing, but in a more edgy and musical way.
Do you take part in powwows?
Santee: Powwows are not part of my culture as a member of Six Nations.
Cris: Yes. Go. I love bannock and indian tacos. Lately, I’ve been marrying symphonic music with the powwow drum in the middle—cutting out the stereotypical white conductor.
Watching the performance, this marriage was profound. Cris plugged her cello into electric guitar pedals and live-looped mixed tracks while a traditional hoop dancer interpreted the music for the audience.
At intermission, Santee smudged the area with sage in preparation for the medicine dance she would perform. Her dance took the audience on a journey through three realms: Skyworld, Earthworld, and Underworld. For many, this was their first exposure to traditional dance and music. Effective and visceral, Santee left many in the audience with tears.
The show was sponsored in part by the Crimson Coastal Dance Society, Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, Mid Island Métis Nation Association, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, and Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre.