Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Reviewed in Brief: Oyate Okodakiciyapi

Aloha 'oe, aloha 'oe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo
One fond embrace
A ho'i a'e au
Until we meet again

Photo courtesy of Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

How much do you know about colonialism? Particularly the specific brand practiced by the United States in which native people are pushed aside and their culture whitewashed over? That was the question asked by the provocative Oyate Okodakiciyapi dance program at the Ordway last weekend, and boy did it deliver.

The program opened with Pohaku, a beautiful story told by Christopher Morgan about his Hawaiian lineage, the history of U.S. presence in Hawaii, and the journey he has taken to discover his heritage. The program was a mix of live music, dance, projected historical footage, and narrative from Morgan. The compendium was part lecture, part mystic transformation, and it was a lovely introduction to the culture of Hawaii as well as a profound overview of the ways that descendants of Native populations have struggled both to find their place in modern society and to reclaim their lost heritage. Three cheers for Wytold, who performed live cello and sound looping, giving this entire performance an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack that wove together Bach and Hawaiian songs; it was a transcendent pairing and I would love to hear more in the future (it was seriously MN Orchestra caliber). The program included a fabulous piece of program notes for Pohaku and I *wish* they were available online, as they included a magnificent amount of information; here's hoping they include them later!

The second piece, NeoIndigenA, was an intense, heated solo performance from Santee Smith. This piece featured solely recorded music and dancing in a nonstop journey between spiritual worlds and communing with different bodies between those worlds. Smith was consumed in her role, alternately shaking, trembling, growling, leaping, crawling and crying through this highly emotional piece. The effect was simultaneously profound and spiritual, as well as troubling and dark. There were many ways to interpret the vignettes Smith performed, and her use of animistic props (particularly horns), difficult postures and full physical commitment from head to toe drove the audience to commune with her on this journey. I wish there had been a more full history in the program of the Native traditions informing this performance; there was clearly so much rich symbolism and I wasn't able to catch it all. NeoIndigenA is definitely a piece you could watch many times over and come away with new insights and nuances every time. Santee Smith is one to watch, particularly because she made her piece solely for and of herself and her tribe. Resisting the temptation to fall into the white gaze as an artist is a difficult one, and she pulled it off beautifully. I am looking forward to learning more about her and seeing where she goes in the future.

Seeds: Re Generation was a natural commentary on natural regeneration, particularly the feeling that water is life. The piece was dedicated to the allies and water protectors of the Standing Rock protests and gave a profound look into the natural, spiritual and animistic traditions that inform many tribes' spiritual beliefs. This was a team effort with more elaborate photos, narration, video, costumes and background soundtracks, and it showed. After such focused solo work it was a nice break to see a team dance effort, and it was a wonderful way to close the show.

These performances were part of an overall series from the Ordway spotlighting Native American artists and activists; find more information here at the Ordway's site, or on my coverage of their announcement. The Walker Art Center is also doing an amazing film festival featuring Native American work; find more information by clicking on this link.