Review: NeoIndigenA – Mixed Works (Kaha:wi Dance Theatre / Harbourfront Centre NextSteps)

NextSteps presents Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s NeoIndigenA Santee Smith’s personal story in dance

NeoIndigenA is performer and choreographer Santee Smith’s first full length solo dance show presented at the Enwave theatre with Smith’s company Kaha:wi Dance Theatre. A live musical performance kicked off the show on opening night creating a lively atmosphere.

NeoIndigenA is Smith’s personal journey to find humanity, ancient ways of knowing, and spiritual evolution. She explores these concepts through their relation to the sacred portals between Skyworld, Earthworld, and Underworld. The three worlds are represented visually in distinct areas on the stage. Skyworld is illustrated partially through the lighting design; Earthworld is represented with bones across the stage; and Underworld is shown using a beautiful arch way in one corner of the stage.

The opening musical performance was by DJ Michael Red, contemporary throat singer Tanya Tagaq, and violinist Jesse Zubot. It was great to hear these three musicians working together live as they were all part of the collaborative team for the show’s soundtrack. Hearing them live made me appreciate the music so much more because I saw the passion each of them brought to their work. Working with them on the music were Adrian Harjo, Cris Derken, and Nelson Tagoona.

Smith is a beautiful performer; delicate, emotional, and strong, sometimes all at once. Throughout the evening there were some stunning moments. I found her Skyworld dance particularly captivating, especially with lighting designer Arun Srinivasan’s designs highlighting the height of the theatre. When she shifted to Earthworld she played with the bones that were on stage. Smith’s energy was lovely to watch as she embodied the spirits of each of the animal bones she encountered. And finally when Smith fell through the ever looming arch into Underworld her movement reflected a calmness she had found in her journey.

With the opening musical performance, NeoIndigenA ran about 2 hours without an intermission. This is quite a feat for any performance work let alone a solo dance show. On her journey through the worlds Smith explored each one in thorough detail, literally leaving no bone unturned.

Wanting to take in as much as I could I was fully attentive at the start of the show, taking in her breath and her luxurious movements. But at a certain point I felt overloaded with information and stopped truly seeing Smith’s performance. Although the show was long I was distracted by the obvious tech hiccups. With lighting cues running late Smith was left on stage to fill in the gaps.

NeoIndigenA is a personal journey, beautifully showing off Smith’s heritage with a few bumps. This work has massive potential to continue to grow. I will be interested in seeing what Kaha:wi and Santee Smith do next.


  • NeoIndigenA is played through May 3 at the Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West)

Photo Credit: David Hou of Performer Santee Smith

One thought on “Review: NeoIndigenA – Mixed Works (Kaha:wi Dance Theatre / Harbourfront Centre NextSteps)”

  1. I was the Stage Manager for this show. For the record: there were no tech hiccups! I have no idea what the author is talking about. Making that statement merely reveals that Ms. Letki has little knowledge of dance, lighting design or live production. She clearly did not comprehend the piece or the lighting design. Ridiculous phrases such as ‘played with the bones that were onstage’ illustrate that Ms. Letki does not have the knowledge or vocabulary to be writing reviews. I am disappointed in you, Mooney on Theatre. Critique all you want, but at least get things straight.

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