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This article was published 23/3/2019 (614 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Finding Wolastoq Voice, playing in the smaller, intimate Colin Jackson Studio adjacent to Prairie Theatre Exchange's main theatre, is primarily a dance piece.

For its hour-long uninterrupted duration, performer Aria Evans is alone on a circular platform, a magic-touched circular structure of wood, sand and water designed by Andy Moro. Without ever speaking, Evans dramatically and very physically interprets the words and song of Natalie Sappier, a Wolastoqiyik artist from Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick.

So yes, it's a dance piece, but it's one with the power to move you to tears with the journey it describes from innocence to hard experience, from depression to rebirth through art.

The show was directed by PTE artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones, who essentially midwived the work with Sappier while he was A.D. at Theatre New Brunswick. Prior to creating the show, Sappier was a painter. Jones presumably saw the writer within. So will the audience.

Through her movements, Evans conveys playful innocence, despair, courage and pride. (Andre Reinders)

Through her movements, Evans conveys playful innocence, despair, courage and pride. (Andre Reinders)

Sappier has a plainspoken quality to the monologue we hear that belies its poetry. She describes a life in chapters, starting with a very young girl watching her uncle fish for salmon in the Wolastoq (a.k.a. St. John River), and recklessly jumping into the river itself to fulfil a desire to be a salmon.

Raised without a father, her life takes a hard turn when her mother allows a new boyfriend into their home, a man bedevilled by alcohol, drugs and violence. His presence drives a wedge between mother and daughter, and instigates a 10-year twilight of restive "sleep" from which she must awake if she is to reclaim her life. That awakening entails an embrace of the Indigenous culture she abandoned, but which flows through her with the urgency of the Wolastoq current in springtime.

At least Evans vividly suggests that in her dance, which draws from modern, traditional Indigenous dance and presumably a grounding in the study of theatre movement, encompassing mime and stylized gesture.

It's a lovely performance, lovingly braiding together the seemingly contrary qualities of her character: playful innocence, despair, courage and, in the end, a defiant pride.

Finding Wolastoq Voice is the latest in PTE's Leap Series that accommodates smaller productions adjunct to the PTE's mainstage season. It's a fine choice, with the power to address themes we need to see more often on the Winnipeg stage.


Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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