Centre for the Arts’ 2005 dance season lifted off to an impressive start with the Niagara stop of Yoh Ha Hee Yoh Tour 2005 (It’s a Good Road Tour), featuring the creative talents of choreographer/dancer Santee Smith and the Kaha:wi (She Carries) Dance Theatre in an hour-long production of the same name after an invigorating opening work, Here on Earth. Both rely on Smith’s understanding and interpretation of Iroquoian traditions, stories and experience. Seeing them reveals a fascinating study through gesture, athleticism and art of one culture’s view of the mysteries of life.
With an intentionally minimalist set (a quartet of heaven-depicting stools and an equal number of leaf blankets in Here on Earth; five transparent full-length trees for Kaha:wi's sixteen scenes), it fell to the dancers and the score to unfold the narrative and hold the attention of the crowd.
To a very large extent, they were successful.
Here on Earth led the way. The spirits’ ascent to Earth, their metamorphosis into all manner of creatures and beings was as compelling as it was engaging. Bodies writhing, mouths opening like fishes in the sea, everyone swaying and licking their chops in anticipation of an incredible journey. The music, with its frequent pedals, hand-beaten drum, cymbals and mallets charged the air as the women then men awoke one another, flew across Ron Snippe’s lighting plot (beautifully understated in both works, if only the Moon could move in real time) and finally abandoned their same-sex duets to emerge as couples.
That, in turn, unleashed a number of solos, hurling Anthony Ch-WL-TAs Collins into a spectacular fit of equally portioned athleticism and artistry. Soon Smith and Rulan Tangen had their moments to shine accompanied by Kronos-like strings (cross-reference below) before the able troupe revealed the emotions of fear, longing and pain, as if uncertain whether or not their venture from the sky should continue. All of that gave rise to Alejandro Meraz’s fine madness (his magnetism and enthusiasm a constant delight) that finally morphed into Munch-like silent screams before the oboe and drums sent the men back to their original place, leaving only fading silhouettes behind.
Much more ambitious, Kaha:wi also included guest artists Raoul Trujillo as the moody Ancestor Spirit and April Doxtator in a variety of roles, ably assisted by Alejandra Valiente and Marvin Vergara (stage presence and pizzazz to burn) from the company, but the extra bodies too often magnified the slight ensemble problems of the opening work to a degree that couldn’t escape notice. The “Four Sisters” scene being a case in point where the lack of physical unity belied its symbolism.
Still, the range of expression was wide, tracing its way from the joy of birth in the “Moon Dance” to the inevitable loss of the elderly, “Celebration of Life and Death.” Musically, the hypnotic pedal was, again, a frequent visitor, but the vocal offerings from solo (“Long wah home …”) to the a cappella chorus, which moved with the women, added welcome colour and effectively complemented the movement.
Drums were often replaced with bare feet in a manner that added weight (saving the day when technology went slightly askew) to the notion that the audience was experiencing, not merely observing the production. But it was the lovers, Ramos and Meraz, who emerged from the pack, be it their flirting, moonlight pas de deux when—finally—he lifts her to the heights having come so intriguingly close. Soon, they’re rolling together, more and more sensual before a marvellous G-rated conception by alternating knee bends: Brilliant!
Through the naming ceremony and into the final scenes, the pace starts to drag when—just in time—an unexpected modulation throws all hands high and provides welcome relief. Soon the stage heats up again—arms and elbows everywhere, cradling arms abound and much “run, turn and pose,” which seems to cue the crickets and their natural colleagues, winding down the action even while the cast, curled in the fetal position—perhaps awaiting their own re-birth—join their minds as one.
As the production tours and rehearsal schedules permit, with greater attention to detail and perhaps a bit of editing, Kaha:wi has the distinct possibility of becoming an important contribution to the World’s dance repertoire and humanity’s further insight into life. JWR