On Friday, March 22 I had the privilege of attending Anishnaabe Maanjiidwin XI; The Thousand and One Bodies of the Serpent. This beautiful and emotional performance was performed by Norma Araiza, the Indigenous Contemporary Music class, and the Indigenous Dance Theatre class and was a collection of stories from Mexican Indigenous culture and a story created by the class themselves, Serpents of the Sunrise.
Through what Norma Araiza, the instructor for both classes, calls “the process revealed” the audience was invited to learn how the various pieces had come to be. Over the course of twelve weeks, with one three-hour class a week, these two classes accomplished a daunting task: to create a layered performance that fused traditional elements with contemporary ones in way that the audience would still manage to comprehend. They pulled it off with flying colours.
Through fluid, serpentine movements the actors conveyed feelings of revulsion, anger, and violence as well as emotions of beauty and renewal inspired by the Feathered Serpent of Mexican Indigenous culture, Quetzalcoatl. The emotions of the performance were meant to mirror the climate in Indigenous communities presently, and worldwide, in the wake of the Idle No More movement.
This fusion of contemporary and traditional elements was not only portrayed through acting and dance pieces but also through the music. The Indigenous Contemporary Music class created a musical accompaniment that paired traditional Indigenous music with modern piano and percussion. The result was beautiful and unique.
The fact that these students, many of whom were involved in Indigenous performance for the first time, were able to pull together such a cohesive and beautiful performance in such a short period was nothing less than amazing. Trent is the only university in Canada to offer programs in Indigenous Performance Art, and as the performance drew to end, the audience was alerted that these programs are in danger.
Daystar Rosalie Jones, an incredibly talented Indigenous dancer, asked the audience and student performers to sign a statement in support of Indigenous Performance Studies (IPS). With most of the university departments facing budget cuts, there is a very real possibly that future students may lose the opportunity to attend these enriching and unique classes.
The loss of these programs would be tragic. As a former student of the first year Introduction to Indigenous Theatre program I know that the gain from these classes are not only the knowledge you learn about Indigenous performance art but also what you learn about yourself and the bonds you make as a class.
Students from the performance stated that they learned about community, trust, the ability to improvise, and how to be comfortable not only in a class setting but also how to be comfortable with yourself. I personally see these programs as important, whether you are majoring/minoring in Indigenous Studies or not.
If you wish to sign a statement in support of IPS go to the Indigenous Studies Department and express your interest in protecting Indigenous Performance Studies and be sure to catch the performances offered at Nozhem Theatre by the Indigenous Studies department throughout the year.