Sunday, August 21, 2016

Waka/Ciimaan/Vaka Workshop at SFU Woodward's

Nicely complementing my afternoon at the Vines Art Festival, last night I had the privilege of attending a workshop showing of Waka/Ciimaan/Vaka thanks to an invitation from playwright Yvette Nolan, who is one of the writers on the piece (the others are Miria George, Hone Kouka, and Jamie McCaskill). A unique collaboration between Raven Spirit Dance and the New Zealand company Tawata Productions, this work-in-progress brings together Indigenous artists from Canada/Turtle Island, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand/Aotearoa to develop a dance-theatre piece that is a contemporary fable about the devastating reciprocal effects of climate change and environmental capitalism on the peoples and animals of the northern and southern hemispheres.

In a neat reversal of the Biblical flood story (and we're reminded of the Christian narrative intrusion by a Psalm-quoting sailor), our story sees all the water in the world suddenly disappear. We then follow the effects of this event on several rag-tag groups that must come together to survive: a sister and brother and their talking dog; an oil executive and his told-you-so-mother; a shipwrecked crew of sailors; a penguin and polar bear who somehow find each other on their respective shrinking ice caps through the magic of cell phone technology (and who also talk); and two women who have been instructed to make a fleet of canoes for when the water returns. Presiding over all of this is a magical--and exceedingly hungry--albatross (yup, she too talks) who, via a trail of wood chips, manages to lead all the separate groups together to where Waka and Ciimaan have been building the canoes.

Both funny and despairing in tone, at once fantastical and utterly naturalistic in its dramaturgy, and punctuated by moments of simple danced beauty courtesy of co-choreographers Michelle Olson and Te Hau Winitana, this latest version of the piece (which apparently came together in a week) promises a full production, if and when it can be staged, that will be as epic in form as in content. And on the former front I was pleased that in the artist panel following the presentation we got to hear from the show's designer about his plans for and influences upon various intended scenographic effects (a selection of his drawings was also on view outside SFU Woodward's Studio D).

Keep your eyes and ears open for the next iteration of this piece because this is urgent and important work.


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