Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s latest performance, Blood Tides, is an innovative work that takes the creation inherent in women’s bodies and uses it to celebrate what Artistic Director Santee Smith calls “the house of humanity: the womb.”
Four Indigenous performers take on four different roles in the piece: The Protector, who is a warrior and huntress, and holds the ground; The Activator, who is the mother and calls for alignment between the space and the cosmos; The Elder, who is the grandmother and neutralizes threats to the womb space; and The Youth, a young woman who moves safely within the space because of the other women’s contributions. Throughout the piece we see The Protector, The Activator and The Elder create space for The Youth, who sometimes watches the older women with wonder and amazement from the front of the stage. Later, as she, too, becomes a woman, she joins in on their movements, and she helps to protect the other women the way they have protected her.
“Blood Tides is about recreating [women’s] ceremonies for today, individually and communally, activating our matrilineal, matrifocal ways of being” Smith says. “Blood Tides is a call to re-awaken the sacred feminine, to reaffirm the power and position of the women as the thresholders of life and death in her navigation and connection to the womb of creation.”
Smith has made use of interesting, innovative set pieces in the past, and Blood Tides is no different. A giant circular tunnel, upon which different designs, including water ripples and broken pieces of pottery, are projected, is the central set piece. The performers all walk through the tunnel at various times, slowly and methodically, the lighting strategically used to make them into dark silhouettes that emerge into the light, bringing to mind the birth canal and the powerful, magical way we all emerged into this world.
Seeing four women who are teaching and helping and protecting one another inside of a womb-like space instead of fighting or tearing one another down, gives the entire piece a feminine warmth, and actively works against misogynistic narratives about Indigenous women and the ways they must interact with one another. It offers another way forward, based on the sorts of female relationships Onkwehon:we women had pre-contact.
Yet, even as the piece itself focuses on a time when Indigenous women were held in high esteem in our communities, it does bring to mind certain questions about where we are now. In fact, the piece was conceived in response to the repression of Indigenous women today. For example, Trudeau’s Liberal government still refuses to remove all sexism from the Indian Act, which has disenfranchised and discriminated against Indigenous women who marry non-Indigenous men and their children since its inception. There’s the continued disappearance of Indigenous women, despite widespread knowledge of the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), and the ongoing MMIW inquiry. There is the way that the #MeToo movement has not quite spread to Indian Country, for fear that speaking out about abusive Indigenous men will reinforce racist ideas about our communities. There is the way that women’s voices have been largely silenced by Indigenous men, who have taken the toxic masculinity of colonial Canada and used it to their strategic advantage in a country that always prefers men to women.
It’s smart that Smith chose to respond to these issues by empowering the feminine, decolonizing menstrual blood and birth, as opposed to showing the pain that women go through in an attempt to garner empathy. The entire #MeToo movement was based on the idea that, if we show men our pain, if we open up our trauma to them, they will realize what they’re doing and try to change. Unfortunately, though there has been a definite change in society as a result of #MeToo, there hasn’t been as much of a cultural shift in how we value women as many have hoped. Utilizing alternative strategies, as Smith and Kaha:wi Dance have done with Blood Tides, will hopefully help society move towards that goal faster.
Smith ultimately wants this performance to be a place that creates these types of conversations.
“Blood Tides opens up space to question, retrieve pre-colonial Indigenous knowledges, and weave Indigenous women’s narratives and experiences,” Artistic Director Santee Smith says. “When ceremonies are asleep how can we reawaken them? What does sacred alignment between spirit/self, land and universe, move and feel like? How do we hold divinity together in the body? How did our ancestors honour the feminine forces and their reproductive bodies?”
Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s Blood Tides is a moving, visceral piece that ultimately acts as a balm for all the Indigenous women it was created for.
DanceWorks will present Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s Blood Tides February 14-16, 2019 at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto. Tickets are available here for evening performances.