Kaha:wi choreography by Santee Smith, at Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West), June 3-5. For details, see Dance Listings. Rating: NNNNN
Toronto audiences rarely get to see aboriginal dance. But if Santee Smith has her way, that will all change after this weekend.
Beginning tonight (Thursday, June 3), Kaha:wi, Smith's ambitious showcase of choreography for 10 dancers, takes over the Premiere Dance Theatre, a venue usually reserved for the world's best troupes. It's like her coming out party.
"There's a lot of native and aboriginal dance that the mainstream doesn't get to see," she explains. "I've done solos. I've been in contemporary aboriginal dance since 1996. I've had a dream and vision to do this project, and part of that vision was to present in this venue."
Kaha:wi (pronounced "ga ha we"), a Mohawk word meaning "she carries," is inspired by the cycle of birth and death.
"I'm a Mohawk from the Six Nations Reserve, and all of our philosophy revolves around the continuous circle and cycle of the natural world," Smith explains.
The piece was originally inspired by the simultaneous death of Smith's grandmother and the birth of her daughter. Though abstract, it has a loose narrative that's communicated through gesture, traditional dance movements and an actor/performer embodying the figure of an ancestor spirit.
"Dance is encouraged in the aboriginal world," Smith explains. "From the time you're a toddler, song and dance are very inclusive. It's about the connection to the ground."
Trained at the National Ballet School in the 1980s, Smith says she embraces ballet - up to a point.
"It's in my body. It helped me understand my body and how to move. But eventually I wanted to create movement that was about who I was, a contemporary woman who grew up on a reserve, who had a traditional background."