Kaha:wi Dance Theatre Interpret Ojibwe Art

Category: stage 159

TransMigration brings the work of Norval Morriseau to life through stunning visuals, sounds and movements.

TransMigration5-minKaha:wi Dance Theatre (KDT) is one of Canada’s leading contemporary dance companies, recognized for its seamless fusing of indigenous and contemporary dance into a compelling signature choreographic vision. As part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, the company will bring their current production, TransMigration to the Fredericton Playhouse for a performance on April 11, 2015.

TransMigration is a celebration of the vision and life of Ojibwe shaman artist Norval Morriseau. Known as “The Picasso of the North” and a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven, Morriseau and his work helped bring the art of Canada’s indigenous people to the world stage. TransMigration has been called a visceral and vibrant production that “personifies the power of spirit to transform and transcend”.

Artistic director and concept creator Santee Smith explains TransMigration and how she was able to shape it into a production worthy of touring to a national audience.

Grid City Magazine: Can you explain a bit about your approach in bringing Norval Morrisseau’s painting to life on stage?

Santee Smith: Both of my parents are visual artists, so I was exposed to Norval Morrisseau’s paintings at a very young age. We studied many of the ground-breaking First Nations artists such as Norval Morrisseau; Navajo painter R.C Gorman, Ojibway painter Benjamin Chee Chee, Chiricahua Apache sculptor and painter Allan Houser; and influential women artists like Daphne Odjig, and Frida Kahlo. The significant collective thread which radiates into my work from these renowned artists are the use of symbolic metaphor, transformation and artistic attempts to tap into the spiritual and creative presence that exists in the living universe, to try to make tangible the intangible.

The creation process for TransMigration included an intensive research phase: interviews with Norval’s friends and colleagues, studying his collection of painting, reading books, newspaper articles, and looking at his artist profile at the National Gallery in Ottawa. From the research, I created a scenic structure that mixed key milestones in Norval’s life and specific murals. From the paintings in particular I worked with themes of Thunderbird and Serpent, Astral beings, Sacred Forest and his characteristics of his palette and Woodland’s style of energy lines, x-ray bodies, bodies in transformation, placement of hands and eyes etc. Everything that is depicted in TransMigration emanates from Morrisseau’s iconography and Ojibway cosmology.

How was the music for this production shaped and was any it developed specifically with the dance pieces in mind?

Falling in line with the pure contemporary expression and creativity that Norval Morrisseau embodied, I wanted to collaborate with artists in our time at were pushing the boundaries of their forms: Tribe Called Red, Tanya Tagaq, Cris Derksen and producer Stevie Salas to name a few.  The majority of the score consists of original commissions specific to TransMigration, and a few tracks are licensed. As the artistic director and concept creator, I developed the scene structure and then approached the commissioned artists to create the music. Through discussion of the scene content, mood, tempo, we collaborated back and forth.  All tracks were then compiled and I worked with Lou Pomanti and Stevie Salas at Lou’s studio in Toronto to final mix and master the score. This included additional arrangements required for the choreography. The process works in tandem with the choreographic creation.

You have been performing TransMigration for a few years now. What would you say is the most common response you hear from the audience following the show?

We have received so many great responses to TransMigration both from audiences and reviewers. So far on our tour we have had 10 performances and received 10 standing ovations. On our last performance, the cast was gifted eagle feathers from an Okanagan audience member which is one of the highest honours. A response that has been repeated on this tour is seeing our dance as medicine. This is a great response especially since Norval stated that one of his goals was to heal people through colour and story.

Is there a particular aspect of the show that resonates with you most?

TransMigration possesses so many layers, as we travel through milestones within Norval’s life and work. What resonates most for me as a performer is the transformational aspect, the changing nature that I have to embody from scene to scene, the shifting of outer and inner space and landscape, shifting from Thunderbird to animal to Norval’s wife Harriet. So I guess you can say it’s the trans – migrating. The journey we go through in each performance that makes the work alive and makes me feel alive.

“TransMigration is more than powerful. It is spellbinding, sensuous and always compelling. This is a show that reaches the spirit of each of us, and teaches us what we are able to learn.” by Christian Steckler for Review Vancouver


“TransMigration tells the story of this troubled genius who shed light on the identity crisis that was becoming an overwhelming part of the Native Canadian experience. TransMigration rides on the wave of beauty that Morrisseau created in his paintings. TransMigration is a Canadian masterpiece.” by Prachi Kamble FAME blog

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre | The Fredericton Playhouse | April 11, 2015 | Buy Tickets


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