Arts

The NAC Indigenous theatre season kicked off with a Grand Entry led by the Algonquin Nation. Photo: Ryan Pepper/Fulcrum

Features month-long Indigenous takeover of NAC, full run of compelling performances

The National Arts Centre has started a historic new chapter with the inauguration of the first season of its Indigenous theatre department, something artistic director Kevin Loring is calling a “one-of-a-kind” institution.

“The Indigenous theatre department at the National Arts Centre is a one-of-a-kind Indigenous theatre at a national institution with access to big stages and all the capacity that a federal institution can offer,” said Loring, who became artistic director two years ago.

Out of the 11 shows, nine are created, written, or led by Indigenous women, which gives the inaugural season the added benefit of highlighting female artists. One of Loring’s objectives was also to make sure every coast was represented. The first season has an almost equal amount of plays from the east, west, and Arctic regions.

“The easiest part of my job is curation because of the amount of amazing work that is being generated out there in the national ecology, but also I can pull from international works as well,” said Loring.

In addition to representing every part of the land, the first season is also multidisciplinary, featuring theatre, circus and dance in equal measure.

The season kicked off with Marie Clements’ The Unnatural and Accidental Women, a powerful and slightly experimental play about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Vancouver’s Downtown. The play centres on the murder of six Indigenous women by a Canadian serial killer and includes verbatim dialogue from police records. It captures the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women before we had a term for it — reminding us that for Indigenous women this country has always been hostile.

Loring’s own play Là Où le Sang se Mêle / Where the Blood Mixes is also hitting the stage in September in a bilingual version, as is the dance-theatre hybrid Finding Wolastoq Voice by Samaqani Cocahq of Tobique First Nation. Rounding out the first month of Indigenous theatre is the world premiere of Mînowin, a dance piece that incorporates traditional West Coast masked dance with contemporary dance.

Artcirq, the only Inuit circus troupe in the world, is coming to the NAC in January. 

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools, a co-production with Great Canadian Theatre Company, is “stunning and terrifying and beautiful,” said Loring. The play makes use of Greenlandic clowning, a style of clowning based on pushing boundaries. Inner Elder is a solo show by master storyteller Michelle Thrush, called a “hidden gem” by Loring.

The season ends with Hot Brown Honey from Australia, a big party cabaret that has been selling out shows around the world.

“They all have a contemporary feel,” Loring said. “All of the works pull, to some degree, from traditional values and Indigenous cosmologies and ontologies, so our way of encountering the world, our perspective, is on stage.”

They already have an outline of their second season and a long-term plan developed.

In addition to a regular theatre season, the NAC also kicked off Mòshkamo this past weekend, a month-long Indigenous takeover of the NAC. Alongside plays, several Indigenous musicians will be performing, including the iconic Buffy Sainte-Marie and rising star Jeremy Dutcher; there will also be visual art exhibitions, a craft market, a powwow boot camp, and lunchtime concerts.

“The whole idea was to fill all four stages with Indigenous artists for the month, and we have a bunch of free events … the idea was to fill the building with Indigenous people and Indigenous artists,” said Loring.  

While the season kicked off on Friday with the first production of The Unnatural and Accidental Women, Mòshkamo really got underway with the Grand Entry on Saturday, featuring a canoe procession led by the Algonquin Nation, a fire ceremony, drumming, speeches by several chiefs and elders, and a community feast. At the inaugural event, Loring and managing director Lori Marchand, with help from Loring’s mentor and chief on the West Coast, also held a blanket ceremony for four Indigenous artists in attendance, naming them “Artistic Elders.”

The four “Artistic Elders” have been creating or directing theatre for decades, and are Muriel Miguel, who directed the NAC’s current production of The Unnatural and Accidental Women, Tomson Highway, Margo Kane, and Marie Clements.

Loring’s job was to curate the season and others to come, but he’s also been tasked with building the department and, as he put it, “helping the NAC become a more friendly and inviting space for Indigenous artists.” With this first season of compelling Indigenous theatre, Loring is making that dream a reality.