It seems to me there would be no better way to know this story than through the art form we call theatre, because Wisakedjak is not just entertainment, it is the embodiment of sacred teachings. Co-writer and director Alanis King tells me that since we have had our first snowfall, we can speak of the character known in Algonquin as Wiskadedjak, but to get to the essence of this half human, half spirit being, whose escapades  have been passed on through an oral and nomadic tradition, is like being played by the trickster himself. He is a shapeshifter, the original rebel without a cause, a stranger in a strange land, the manifestation of our hubris as well as its antidote.

Justin Many Fingers and Jonathan Fisher in Wisakedjak

Justin Many Fingers and Jonathan Fisher in Wisakedjak

The production is a play in every sense of the word and brought to life with a colourful, multi-talented, inter tribal cast. Jonathan Fisher plays the original man, Nanabozho, disconnected from his homeland and the natural world, travelling back in time to rediscover and reframe it. Justin Many Fingers creates a fey and distracted Champlain. Hoop dancer and Fancy Dance champion Nimkii Osawamick makes imaginary rivers sparkle as a dancing, talking fish, and Cherish Blood, Hilary Wear and Many Fingers portray spirits of Canada geese in aviator helmets. It is the universal journey of finding one’s roots and confronting the past but seasoned with First Nations comedy, lore and ceremony. Projections by Lester Alfonso, minimalist set by Tim Hill, and costumes by Gabriella Caruso of Red Pepper Spectacle Arts bring the production to life. Stage Manager Elisabeth Kantor keeps it grounded. Music is by Cris Derksen (composer, cellist) and Joy Mullen (drums).

Director and co-writer Alanis King is the former artistic director of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company,  as well as of Toronto’s Native Earth Performing Arts and the Debajehmujig Theatre Group, founded on Manitoulin Island by Shirley Cheecho. For Wisakedjak, she has collaborated with Paula Sherman, Assistant Professor in the Indigenous Studies program at Trent, and choreographer Alejandro Ronceria, whose background includes studies with Alvin Ailey as well as Columbian indigenous dance. The script evolved from Sherman’s PhD dissertation, and was developed in conjunction with Anishinaabe Elders and Knowledge Holders. Mazinaw Rocks Productions is a partnership of King and Sherman who were brought together by Marrie Mumford, Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Arts and Literature and Director of Nozhem, the First Peoples Performance Space on Trent’s campus. It was first workshopped in 2012 at Ode’min Giizis and this performance presented by Public Energy marks the launch of its national tour. There is also a well-developed study guide for interaction with schools.

Peterborough is built on and surrounded by not one but several First Nations communities – Alderville, Burleigh Falls, Curve Lake, Hiawatha, and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island.  We are fortunate indeed to have in our midst artists and academics who are actively resurrecting First Nations culture from its fractured past and sharing its relevance in the contemporary world.

Aboriginal culture expresses the intersection of sacred and profane, real and symbolic, ancient and contemporary time and space with more gritty humour and poignancy than any other culture I know. Sherman’s respectful research and King’s sincerity and passion for storytelling shine through Wisakedjak like an inner light.

Seeing this production I feel like someone watching a fire being lit from tinder and in fact at this time, the First Nations community may be the only thing standing between us and the destruction of the natural world. It is through stories like these that we create our world and not the other way around.

Market Hall, 2013
October 31 at 8pm. Pay-what-you-can, tickets at the door only.
November 1, 1pm and 8pm
Pre-show Chat with Alanis King and Alejandro Ronceria, in the Market Hall lobby at 7pm, November 1st.
Post-show Reception, meet the artists in the lobby following the show.
For school bookings contact Market Hall at (705) 749-1146.

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