With Matriarchs Uprising, Indigenous women gather to build international dance community

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      Three days of celebrating Indigenous women in dance: it was an event Olivia C. Davies dreamed of staging during her residency at the Dance Centre—and she’s pulled it off.

      With visitors from as far away as Australia, Matriarchs Uprising will combine performances, events, and circle discussions, all while marking National Indigenous Peoples Day.

      “Indigenous women in dance will have space to share their performance works and then have conversations, but they’re open for the wider community,” the Vancouver choreographer says over the phone. “What I was really interested in was saying, ‘Okay, I have women in my life who are so phenomenal in their own ways and we’ve also developed a kinship over a few years of doing this work independently.’ And when do we have a chance to come together and witness each other’s works?”

      Davies has brought together local, national, and international artists, all of them working in the contemporary-dance realm while pushing their cultural forms.

      The solo performances include a nature-centred double bill that features Michelle Olson (of local Raven Spirit Dance) in the trapline-inspired Frost Exploding Trees Moon and Ontario standout Santee Smith (of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre) in the multimedia Blood, Water, Earth. Elsewhere, Davies has also mixed local artist Cheyenne Rain Le-Grande and Australia’s Mariaa Randall.

      For Randall, who speaks to the Straight from her remote corner of central Victoria, Australia, that means working with paint on skin and mapping the countryside where she lives. In the piece called Painting the Dance, the paint leaves an imprint on her body at the same time as it leaves an imprint on the wall.

      “It’s me and I’m painting my country,” says Randall, who explains her elders would “paint up” before dancing. “There is meaning to every single stroke that’s put on the body.”

      Explaining her philosophy, she adds: “I perform in a contemporary-dance context, but every time I step on the stage, I say, ‘This dance is a thousand years old.’ There’s a language in my body, a passing down of those techniques. And because I’ve got a contemporary-dance practice, this is the first work where I’ve actually danced topless, so that’s kind of new for me,” she says, pointing out it’s how her ancestors would have danced. “For me, it’s not just taking off my top and saying, ‘Look at my boobs.’ ”

      Like the Indigenous women coming to Matriarchs Uprising from Canada and the U.S., she’s finding a new language, one that she says is built from the land she comes from. “Regardless of where I go, I’m always carrying the country with me,” says Randall.

      She’s grateful for a new event like Matriarchs Uprising, where she can share her ideas with other Indigenous women. “I’m kind of blown away by being part of it. There’s nothing like it here, either,” she stresses. “For me, even just the title is so empowering, and with what’s happening in the U.S. and Canada with First Nations, or here, where there are a lot of suicides of young women, it’s important just being present among those strong Indigenous women.”

      Matriarchs Uprising takes place at the Scotiabank Dance Centre and 8EAST (8 East Pender Street) next Thursday to Saturday (June 20 to 22).