Native Earth: "light breaking broken" and "the NDN way"

Native Earth Performing Arts Presentation
NIIMI'WE Indigenous Double Bill

light breaking broken
Choreographers/Performers: Margaret Grenier & Karen Jamieson

the NDN way
Soundscape, Movement and Visuals: Brian Solomon
Interpreter and Creative Contributor: Mariana Medillin-Meinke

Aki Studio, Toronto
March 30-April 1, 2017


Both of these works deal with the effects of the westernization of indigenous culture.

An image running through "light breaking broken" is of two women, an elder (Karen Jamieson), and a younger one (Margaret Grenier) walking in and around a circle. This circle resembles a tree ring in which its life history from birth to death is recorded. Another circle suggests a forest and nature.

At one point heavy percussive bangs in the soundscape suggest gunshots and genocide. The elder's body jerks back as if hit by bullets.

Both women are trying to reach out through time to connect. I see the elder as an ancestor and the younger woman representing the current generation. When hands almost make contact they are impeded by an electrical discharge. At one point the misty smoke becomes a fence barrier.

This all takes place in a twilight zone of murky darkness. Thunder cracks at times. The lightning flashes embed in the elder’s body, and she reacts as if electrocuted.

This piece comes across like a ritual. A spiritual healing. At one point the performers’ bodies are back to back but not quite connecting.

A day or two later I read an article about NIMII'WE online in the First Nations Drum (March 29 2017 issue) in which Margaret Grenier states that she was inspired by the Canadian government amending the Indian Act in 1884 and banning potlatches. This ban was only lifted in 1951, thus severing for 70 years the passing of traditional culture to each generation.

I wish program notes had told us this, as well as the significance of the circles and the ritual we see. Perhaps a pre-show chat would have been worthwhile.


"the NDN way" title refers to the ‘noble Indian,’ the racist stereotyping and romanticization of indigenous culture and nature. An ironic nostalgia for what we attempted to destroy.

It is choreographed and performed by Brian Solomon and Mariano Medillin-Meinke. Solomon takes an actual 1974 recording of a CBC Ideas program in which Ron Evans, a young Metis-Cree, eloquently evokes the Cree culture and its traditions.

Evans is a word painter, vividly capturing the passage of life to death to rebirth within the sweat lodge. And the pipe ceremony, where the souls of those present and those past become a part of each body attending.

Solomon remixes this recording and punctuates the text with western culture music. Hearing what sounds like a radio station and the loud sound of Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams, Snoop Dog and others is a startling surprise. The reaction of the dancers with hyper movement and faces erupting with joy is a treat. Traditional and contemporary cultures meeting.

Solomon's background as a visual artist comes through with striking lighting and rich golden colours. A carton's interior becomes a miniature sweat lodge. Other objects transform into a globe where electrical pathways connect indigenous cultures worldwide. Magical sculpted white paper birds lie on the stage.

This work is richly textured, weaving words and dance to show the Cree way of life today. A new generation dealing with western culture in their daily lives, while maintaining their traditions.