Image Source: Liz Lott
The dance theatre performance “When Will You Rage?” is powerful and provoking. It draws you in with statements of tragedy and violence against Indigenous women. It moves in and out of pain, trauma and anguish- obstacles that strength and determination can overcome.
“When Will You Rage?” is an inter-generational glimpse into the lives of the matriarchs of an Anishinabe family. Each matriarch carries and passes the torch to the next generation taking on the scars and challenges of the generation before. “When Will You Rage?” is a journey past the pain, the rage and the grief to recover curiosity, passion and love… It is about honouring those who have come before, recognizing and celebrating their strength and resilience.” (Excerpt, When Will You Rage?)
This work has been in development for more than 10 years and is written and choreographed by Penny Couchie, who is one of the most important Aboriginal choreographers working in Ontario today. She has worked with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre as well as the Aboriginal Dance Project at the Banff Centre for the Arts, instructing over the past 20 years. It is also important to note that she founded Aanmitaagzi in 2007 with her partner Sid Bobb and have established their company as one of the few Aboriginal-run Arts Centres in Canada. Couchie has worked for decades exploring themes of domestic violence and Aboriginal resilience. There are very few Aboriginal female choreographers with Couchie’s experience and talent creating projects of such social relevance in Canada today.
Here Couchie deals with the most personal of issues, her own family history. “When Will You Rage?” explores the struggles her family faced through the perspectives of four generations of women. Talk about sex, alcoholism and an array of emotional states are interlaced with vivid contemporary dance work. She portrays life in small-town Ontario through Aboriginal women dealing with abuse and poverty.
The play begins with the narrator as a star in the sky looking down on the world. Performed by Couchie’s own daughter Animikiikwe Couchie-Waukey “When Will You Rage?” starts in a simple way with minimal dialogue as female figures enter wearing basic white cotton dresses. The establishment of each generation starts beginning with Tulachee followed by Tendacee then Genawendaandidikgiizis and finally Nungkwe. Each story intertwines as dancers play off each other either representing characters in stories or emotional states that other dancers are experiencing. The dancing is both amazing and haunting.
The dance movements mirror aspects of the natural world, animal-like states, contortions and emotions. They mime events through dance and show struggles of discrimination and violence towards Aboriginal women. On their journeys they shift through existence into the imaginary realm where only representations of sound and movement can be found. This all takes place to a lovely suspense filled sound scape, which combines aspects of orchestra and frozen lakes breaking.
Many works dealing with similar themes have been produced but with the recent report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes reflections and conversations that deal with discrimination and violence towards Aboriginal people. This also brings much more public attention. Questions on how to address these issues are more frequently being asked by all Canadians. Perhaps this means that the time is right for “When Will You Rage?” to take the stage and get Canada’s attention?
Yet this dance theatre work is not, in the end, about violence. It is an exploration of what being a survivor means and how Aboriginal women overcome tragic circumstances as a part of their lives. It is a display of how strength can be transferred from mother to daughter. This is Couchie’s underlying message. Throughout the play, it is revealed that each woman born has chosen their mother, as they too were stars in the sky. This positions the drinking, assault and poverty as nothing more than a backdrop to life and not something that would discourage the bond between mother and daughter, unconditional love. The strength and love that these women share is stronger than anything the world throws at them.
“When Will You Rage?” is both unsettling and enthralling. The story takes unexpected turns throughout. It is a must-see for all Canadians with its hard-hitting content and its sheer beauty. It is penetrating, appalling and heart warming.
When Will You Rage will be performed at the 235 Queens Quay, Harbourfront Centre on Sunday August 9 at 1pm.