[First published in the Two Row Times (18 June 2014), http://www.tworowtimes.com/arts-and-culture/the-honouring-kahawi-dance-theatre-performs-at-chiefswood.]
Members of the Six Nations of the Grand River community had the privilege of witnessing a performance of this extraordinary and ambitious piece at Chiefswood on Saturday evening.
Santee Smith, the artistic director of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, explains that “The Honouring” is a “multi-disciplinary performance honouring First Nations warriors of the War of 1812, featuring Onkwehonwe families who sacrificed to protect Haudenosaunee sovereignty, culture and land.”
The principal medium of performance was of course dance—but the eight performers, who included Smith herself, were also called on to pour themselves out as actors and, in several electrifying sections of the performance, as vocalists as well. Their work was supplemented by a powerful and evocative musical score, by lighting effects skilfully adapted to an outdoor performance space, and by video projections on a screen placed to one side of the space that helped to enhance the audience's sense of the performance's historical context.
Santee Smith's choreography incorporates traditional dance forms, which in the opening sections of the performance created a strong sense of the communal life patterns that would shortly be disrupted by the American invasion. Smith also draws upon the full range of emotional effects made available by the gestural repertoire of ballet and modern dance. And her dancers—Emily Law, Jesse Dell, Michael Demski, Nimkii Osawanick, Alex Twin, Garret Smith, and Joshua Deperry—rose brilliantly to the demands placed upon them by Smith's choreography.
“The Honouring” succeeds triumphantly in re-creating for a contemporary audience the anguish with which Haudenosaunee people faced the coming of war in 1812, the determination with which they responded to the demands of war, the pride they felt for their warriors' victories, and the agonies of grief they experienced at the lives lost in the Battles of Beaver Dams and Chippewa.
Although most Canadians may have forgotten the fact, it was very largely thanks to the courage of these ancestors of present-day Haudenosaunee that Canada was not overrun and conquered in 1812.
This artistic work indeed does honour to those ancestors: the grace and athleticism of the Kaha:wi Dance Theatre's dancers give us strong images of those ancestors' dignity, their strength, and their beauty.