“You know, people come see us at a powwow or Mawio’mi, and they hear us talking about all these serious things. But not often do people get to interact with us at the level we prefer to be in that’s just having fun,” says Catherine Martin, Dalhousie’s director of Indigenous community engagement.
“Our humour and the way we see the world — I hope that it helps people understand a little bit more about the whole part of us.”
Martin, an alumna of Dalhousie’s theatre program, joins an impressive group of Mi’kmaw and settler artists in a collaboration with the Dalhousie Symphony Orchestra for a performance tonight (Dec. 1) of “Ki’kwa’ju: Reimagining Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.”
Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev composed the original “Peter and the Wolf” in 1936 to introduce orchestral instruments to children through the humourous story of a boy trapping a wolf and taking it to the zoo. But in “Ki’kwa’ju,” co-directors Christina Murray and Shelley MacDonald use the beloved original music to introduce a vibrant version of the traditional Mi’kmaw story, “Wolverine and the Birds.”
Adapted by Trevor Gould of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation and mixed-Mi’kmaw theatre artist Lara Lewis, the story offers a timely lesson on the need for balance in humans’ relationship with the land and with all of Creation — a teaching known as netukulimk.
Sharing language, talent and tradition
This collaboration celebrates not only Mi’kmaw teaching, but Mi’kmaw talent.
Aaron Prosper, a singer and drummer from Eskasoni First Nation who was the first Indigenous president of the Dalhousie Student Union from 2017-2018, will perform in a new arrangement of a traditional Mi’kmaw song by Halifax composer Nathan Beeler. Prosper and the Dal Symphony Orchestra will be joined by a group of high school student musicians from Halifax Regional Arts.
Prosper’s sister, Sarah Prosper, a dancer, choreographer and fourth-year BSc Therapeutic Recreation student at Dalhousie, will also star in the performance.
“Being in the space and having our language in the play is a big deal,” she says, “and we have a chance to share what we mean by our teachings.”
Like her brother, she believes that teachings of netukulimk will be meaningful to non-Indigenous audiences, too, because “it gives the perspective of, ‘Okay, take what you need, when you need it.’ Learning from a new perspective can change a lot.”
Martin is proud of the representation of Mi’kmaw artists in the project: “We need to show our children that they are just as special and as important and as talented as the mainstream, and help them see themselves in these places.”
Learning through collaboration
In the spirit of reconciliation, the emphasis of this project has been on process rather than on product. Jacqueline Warwick, former director of the Fountain School of Performing Arts (FSPA), started pulling artists together for the project several years ago. One of her priorities was for students to experience genuine collaboration, even if it means upsetting the typical rehearsal process.
“If we haven’t challenged the students and even made them feel uncomfortable at times, then I don’t think we as an institution have done our job,” she says.
India Jackson, a violinist in the orchestra, says, “I have learned throughout this process that we must listen with compassion to those around us, to make sure that their stories are told in full.”
For trumpeter Kurtis George-Wegner, this project proves “that two completely different musical cultures can come together to create something new.”
Leonardo Perez, the orchestra’s conductor, feels that this project has exposed the students to “a new way of collaborating and making music in a way that is less strict and more flexible and creative. I think the end product will be really special and rewarding.”
The performance takes place tonight, Wednesday December 1, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in the Dalhousie Arts Centre. Tickets are $15/$10. More information is available on the FSPA website.
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