Soundstreams last night presented an intriguing double bill of works in Indigenous languages on Indigenous themes at, appropriately, the Daniels Spectrum. First up was Pimoteewin; music by Melissa Hui, words by Tomson Highway. This piece uses English narration with the singing in Cree. It tells the story of the Trickster and the Eagle going to find out where people go when they die. To quote him “Why are my people always disappearing like this?” The Trickster’ tries unsuccessfully to bring the spirits back to the land of the living and finally realises that that’s not such a good idea. Musically it had almost a liturgical or meditative quality with a lot of fairly hushed choral singing behind strong solo performances by Bud Roach and Melody Courage.
The staging (direction by Cole Alvis and Michael Greyeyes) was inventive and made good use of the space. The action was surrounded by the chorus and eight piece band on three sides adding to the sense of a ritual rather than an entertainment. Dance elements were fully incorporated with fine performances by Samantha Brown, Vienna Hehir and Joelle Peters. Yolanda Bonnell provided the English narration.
After the interval we saw the longer piece Gállábártnit; music by Brita Byström, words by Carita Eira. It was performed entirly in Sámi with surtitles. The plot here is less straightforward but it’s rooted in the Sámi foundation story of the Sun’s daughter; the Morning Star Áile and her three sons; the Three Skiers. Áile leaves the People to marry the Bear. They have three sons. The sons are strong and have much to teach the People but the People are hungry and it’s hunting season so they kill and eat the Bear. Áile’s sons become the constellation Orion’s Bell (Gállábártnit in Sámi) and are reunited with the Bear (Ursa Major). In the words of the narrator “The heavy days were past, years of hunger just a memory, the morning star was resurrected. New courage. New strength. New hope for the human family”. Something like that anyway.
This was very beautifully staged with Melody as Áile wearing a flowing robe with the constellation lit up on it matched by a similar but furrier outfit for Guovžža (“bear” in Sámi) sung here by Asitha Tennekoon. There was some really lovely singing. Narration (in Sámi) was by Heli Huovinen. Additional movement was provided by Samantha, Vienna and Yolanda wearing masks carved by Mike Dangell.
The music for this piece was in a more modern idiom; tougher, somewhat atonal and much more varied in mood than Pimoteewin. The whole performance felt edgier. Perhaps less of a folk tale and more something existential, more vital to a sense of Sámi identity? Certainly it was much more visceral; musically and dramatically. There was considerable difference of opinion afterwards as to which piece was more effective!
The instrumentalists and sixteen strong chorus coped admirably with two very different musical idioms. David Fallis conducted entirely effectively.
This is a really interesting show and plays in the Ada Sleight Hall at the Daniels Spectrum until Sunday.
Photos by Dahlia Katz.