Friday, August 17, 2012

The Global Savages

The last couple of days at the Festival have been packed with discussions - not all of them with people actually appearing here, although everyone is associated with the ideas behind Planet IndigenUs in some way.  The British Council in Canada, who sponsored my flight here, are full of ideas to support future collaborations with this country - which is pleasing, as it looks like there will be some!

The most important meeting - by which I mean the longest and the deepest - was with Ron Berti from Debajehmujig (which means Storytellers).  I'd been aware of this extraordinary company for a while, and the ever-helpful Bruce Sinclair from the Canada Council (who memorably dance the M├ętis jig at the Origins opening last year) suggested I should get in touch with them and see if we could meet while I was here.  Long-term followers of this blog will know that I once tried to drive from Toronto to Manitoulin Island, where they are based, and failed to make it, crashing a hire car on the way.  So I was deeply impressed that Ron not only responded warmly to my email, but also got in his car and drove for seven hours to meet me.  We talked for three hours - about a great many things - and then he got back in the car and drove straight back again.  Which was a pretty long day for him.  

Most theatre-makers dealing with the indigenous experience, whether in Canada, Australia, the US, New Zealand or elsewhere, are to some degree people living and operating in an urban space.  Their work is often about the complex identities which result from combining a sense of living in a tradition with the demands of the contemporary environment.  Often that tension results in brilliant drama - the work of Marie Clements, who I saw on Sunday, being a very good case in point.  Debajehmujig are different.  They live and work on a reservation - indeed, the island is actually unceded territory - and they operate within indigenous social and cultural structures and protocols.  Joe, their Artistic Director, is a storyteller because he was chosen to be one at the age of 11.  He is finding new ways to discharge his cultural obligations in dialogue with the contemporary world.  The emphasis in this company's work is not on the hybrid identity of the modern aboriginal experience, however, but on 18,000 years of continuous history and culture.  It's a long time.  As Ron says, looked at this way, the colonial experience is rather new.  If Native American history was compressed into a month, Columbus arrived yesterday afternoon.

Our three hours are rich and fruitful, and we leave with a sense that this is an important first encounter, that will lead on to more prolonged and profound collaboration.  There's a great deal of work to do first, of course - but we're already talking about work which we can include in Origins 2015, and show in Canada as well.  

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