Santee Smith and Māori Collaborators Explore Indigenous Feminine Essence in Re-Quickening

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Santee Smith has had a strong finish to the year, with her latest work bringing her dance to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Conceived by Smith, Re-Quickening is an inter-disciplinary performance work in collaboration with Māori artists Louise Poitki Bryant – video artist (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe and Waitaha); Nancy Jo Wijohn – dancer (Te Rarawa, Tuhoe/Ngati Paoa, Ngati Tahu); Bianca Hyslop – dancer (Te Arawa, Ngati Whakaue) and Rua McCallum – Kaitito contributor (Kāi Tahu).

Santee’s trip has also been made special by having her daughter Semiah Kaha:wi Smith working on set as a production assistant.

“It’s a timely call for re-awakening feminine power and her-story. By piecing together fragments and shards of Indigenous knowing, Re-Quickening is a re-affirmation of life and healing from issues of violence against women and Earth,” says Santee.

“Re-Quickening deals with stripping away the layers of colonial imposition on Indigenous women’s body-mind-spirit and the re-affirmation of life, of voice, of body sovereignty. Re-Quickening aims to open up pathways for healing, re-storing internal fractures and to re-ignite intact feminine power – Mana Wahine, Konkwehón:we.”

Santee had brought together a creative team of powerful Indigenous women from a variety of backgrounds to set a strong foundation for developing thematic content that has guided the project. Contributors include choreographer Frances Rings (Kokatha Tribe, Australia), actor, playwright and scholar Monique Mojica (Guna, Rappahannock), visual artist and activist Christi Belcourt (Metis), writer, scholar, storyteller and activist Leanne Betasamosake (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg) and Elva Jamieson – teacher and speaker (Onkwehón:we).

“The artist women I’m collaborating with are committed to decolonizing our lives, bodies and experience, bringing awareness to the history of violence against Indigenous women since contact and connecting the fragments of knowledge that different nation women carry and to be able to share with community,” says Santee.

“It has been such a gift to have Santee here in Aotearoa bringing her kanikani (dance), waiata (song) and kaupapa (concepts) to this whenua (land). To see her dance in the waterscapes and landscapes of my home is such a joyous koha (gift) for myself and the dancers,” says Louise Potiki Bryant.

Santee’s dance to Louise’s film work explores the feminine essence and power of women, acknowledging the inter-connectedness between cultures. “We have been able to exchange ideas, dialogue, inspire one another. We are discovering many similarities in our female atua (deities) and our desire to reclaim our Indigenous rituals and perspectives about menstruation, for example. Spending time with Santee and observing her artistic process fills my creative well. This collaboration has refreshed me on a creative and spiritual level.”

“Being connected each day to the land and waters of Piha and Karekare area has been an amazing experience. I’m grateful to be able to be immersed in the beauty of the land and the people,” says Santee of her trip. “Aside from the land, exploring the content of feminine power-Mana wahine from the Māori world-view has been empowering and inspirational. Especially reading up on Māori scholars who are working from a mana wahine approach. Discussing and sharing the vision of Re-Quickening is inspiring. In our time of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women around the globe, I feel our work on Re-Quickening is crucial.”

For this project, Kaha:wi Dance Theatre has received support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and Toronto Arts Council, Dance and Performance Institute (Port of Spain, Trinidad), Woodland Cultural Centre, and Native Earth Performing Arts’ Weesageechak Begins to Dance 2014. To conduct collaborative work in New Zealand, Louise Potiki Bryant received support from Creative New Zealand.

Re-Quickening will have a World Premiere at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, Fleck Dance Theatre, on April 28-May 1, 2016 as a part of the NextSteps Dance Series. The video work in Aotearoa will be projections within the stage production. Re-Quickening will have plans for touring international in 2017/2018.

Photos submitted by Santee Smith

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