My solo was inspired by Tomson Highway’s “Aria” and more specifically the monologue of ‘The Indian Woman’ which is written entirely in Cree. This playwright has been an inspiration on many levels for me throughout my life. This particular monologue has had a lasting impact on me because it captures so much of the beauty and wisdom inherent in Indigenous worldviews in a simple monologue. The translation of this monologue (which is not meant for audiences) is as follows:
So tall, straight
I look at trees like this
Inside of me – here –
I feel someonew, a being
Someone standing there
Someone breathing there
Spirit alive and living
Green so rich
To talk to them
Walk in them
Breathe in them
Live inside there breathing
(“Aria” Tomson Highway, Staging Coyote’s Dream: An Anthology of First Nations Drama in English, Ed. Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles, p. 88).
The first time I read this I could see movement. Growing up in northern Alberta I was always surrounded by trees and forest, so, for me, trees are alive, they move, they speak, they dance… with air and wind, snow and rain, with sunlight, birds, squirrels, with us…
I was expecting that creating a solo about trees while in New Mexico to be much more difficult than it actually was. We spent a lot of time outdoors at the various parks, landmarks, arroyos (a dry river bed that fills with water seasonally) and ancient pueblos (communal and/or dwelling structure used by tribes of the Southwestern United States). This proved to be a very informative experience for me – barefoot on the earth, sand sifting through my fingers, the heat of sunlight steadily rising and subsiding throughout the day, refuge inside a cave, wind whipping through hair and clothing, distant rain clouds or sudden downpours… All were blessings from above, below and around with the endless potential for creativity – seeds ready to be sown.
We danced with the land and the land danced with us. We were there – witnessing, receiving, accepting, and connecting. The experience of land-dancing was inspiring in ways I cannot yet explain or grasp.
My solo seemed to take on qualities of this experience. It begins began with a seed and the four elements of water, wind/ air, fire/ sunlight and earth. The seed then undergoes the transformation of growth becoming a tree that ‘grows straight and tall towards the creator’ (Anishnaabe teaching about Truth, via Marrie Mumford). The tree then becomes wind/ air and the breath that fills our lungs… and then transforming from wind/ air back into a tree.
The four elements became a more important part of the solo than I had originally anticipated, and I believe this was because of the research and development that was done with the land. It gave me real experiences in the real world, which sparked a whole new level of creativity that our man made world can only dream of. There is so much more wisdom out there, outside, than we can ever appreciate.
The solo “Live in their Breathing”, co-created and choreographed by Rulan Tangen (Dancing Earth) and myself, is about transformation and reciprocity between humans and trees, through breath and air. But it also goes beyond that and is also about connecting with our ancestors. The deeper meaning within the solo is that it is also a story about a tree that started to grow long ago and has exchanged air/ breath with our ancestors. Today we exchange air/ breath with that same tree that our ancestors exchanged breath with. So connecting with the tree is a way of connecting with our ancestors through breath and air.
University of Alberta Professor, Cindy Blackstock, explains what her Gitksan people call “the breath of life”:
“We have been given the ancestors’ teachings and the feelings and the spirit. We can do a couple of things with that. We can say that what we know is inadequate and that we’re not Indian enough and that we don’t know enough about it or we don’t want to pass it on. And we hold our breath and our people stop. Or you can nourish that breath. You can breathe in even deeper the knowledge of others and understand it at a deep level and then breathe it forward. That’s the breath of life’”
(Karen Lincoln Michel, Maslow’ hierarchy connected to Blackfoot beliefs <lincolnmichel.wordpress.com>)
When we speak about trees and the fact that we ‘Live in their Breathing’ it is not only a physical necessity and scientific truth, it also has spiritual and cultural repercussions… it is a call into action to use our breath, to speak out, to carry on our culture, and share our knowledge. So it is a lesson for all of us: Don't hold your breath… Just breathe…
Travel Funding provided by Alberta Foundation for the Arts "Traditional Aboriginal Arts Grant"