Perhaps you have always thought of this landmass as being called North America, and have never heard it called Turtle Island, as is common among First Nations and Metis communities. If that’s so, perhaps you are not familiar with the always-exceptional work of Native Earth Performing Arts. And if that’s so – or even if it isn’t – then gosh oh golly are there wonders in store for you this weekend during the last weekend of Weesageechak Begins to Dance 28.
Sadly for you, you’ve already missed the work of Dora-award-winning Toronto standout Waawaate Fobister, who performed a new work entitled Red Lady, Red Chief, rED rED rED Lady last Friday. Other of the offerings have also passed, but Native Earth (like other Toronto theatre companies with deep development opportunities) often brings well-received pieces back and develops them further and further still. One of these is renowned Cree playwright and filmmaker Kenneth T. Williams’ piece In Care, which is returning in an expanded version to the festival. The piece digs into the wrenching emotional journey of a mother’s battle against the foster-care system to regain custody of her children, and the echoes of residential school and other legacies of racism that she must also grapple with on her own behalf and that of her children.
There’s also a much-anticipated double-bill of women on the schedule for Thursday night. Metis artist and perennial Dora Award shortlister Jani Lauzon brings her Prophecy Fog, a magical realist collage inspired by her time in the Mojave Desert. Following that, Cree filmmaker Michelle Thrush works in a new idiom (honestly, one of my favorite ways to see an artist) with storytelling in Find Your Own Inner Elder.
On Friday, the festival is given over to dance, bringing a collection of artists from as far as Peru and as close as the Annex. Vancouver’s Raven Spirit Dance begins with Earth Song, a featuring new dance works from choreographers Starr Muranko (Moose Cree First Nation) and Michelle Olson (Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation). Muranko’s Spine of the Mother, a collaboration between Indigenous artists in Canada and Peru, will make it’s Toronto premiere (as will Olson’s Northern Journey, a duet following a trail back into memory). As if that were not exciting enough, this is immediately followed by new work from local dance hero Justin Many Fingers in a piece entitled OKATOKS, exploring the Baker Massacre in Alberta (Many Fingers home province).
As usual, Native Earth has done an extraordinary job of bringing powerful, innovative new work to Toronto for this festival. If it’s at all like other years, audience members will experience the spine-tingling energy of well-executed fusions between techniques, time-periods, and cultures as Weesageechak Begins to Dance 28 winds down.