Mitimiti was the first show I had been invited to review since I returned from Turtle Island.
After two weeks spent in Saskatchewan, including time at First Nations University on Treaty Four territory, there was much sharing and connecting, learning and witnessing that I brought back home to Aotearoa. But in between multiple worlds, the artist and the academic, the institution and the indigenous worldview, the constant navigation of spaces and place there were many moments of intersection, conversation and medicine making.
Jack Gray’s Mitimiti allows all those traces and residues of the past two weeks to be brought forward in an exceptionally beautiful work. Q’s Rangatira theatre space is transformed into a story circle where friends and families gather together to come and witness the collaboration and efforts that bring together incredible talent from across the land. It is familiar, recognisable, colloquial; a gathering of community that offers a place to centre myself only five days after coming home. Layered between shimmering tapestries of earth and sky, our senses gather to wananga in ways that honour the earth, our ancestors and our peoples.
It begins with a deep and almost urgent rumble from the belly of the earth and the sounds completely change the vibrations in the space. It isthe breadth of the land, heaving, swelling, and we are in a cavernous space watching an unfolding, a birthing.
Jack Gray is an incredibly talented and generous artist, but he is also an oskâpêwis. This is a Cree word that I learnt from a friend and colleague, Curtis Peeteetce during my time with Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. The word signifies a helper to the elders during ceremonies, and is what I often refer to as dramaturgically as the one who cradles the space. Gray with humour and spirit brings a ceremony to the audience that is rich, evocative and is in the process of slowly unearthing its enormous potential.
Deeply layered and rich in the multiple sculpted landscapes brought together, there are distinct signatures of all those involved. Waimihi Hotere’s Kaikaranga is deeply powerful and moving and opens up the various surfaces onto which Lisa Reihana’s AV design creates multiple words. In this work, the elements are so close. Hokianga is here. Kupe is here and so are we.
Whether seated at ground level or watching from above, the cosmos is hardly static. Frances Rings, dancer and choreographer, is a Kokatha woman whose long history of working with Bangarra Dance Theatre brings a rich sculpted narrative to a very aural landscape. The music from of earth and sky (2009) also reverberates in this chamber, and her work, deeply connected to the land and its ripe colours are also reflected here. Taiaroa Royal also brings a strength, the weight of gently uncurling realities that are found at the fringes of where the water meets the land and as guest dancers on opening night, audience are privy to a wonderful sculpting of space by these two amazing taonga.
The lighting by Vanda Karolczak and sound design by Francois Richomme beautifully accompany the various worlds that intersect throughout the space. Rosanna Raymond and Ruth Woodbury’s adornment designs also capture the contrast of different materialities, the soluble and the indissoluble, artificial and natural, and together these aesthetics carry the stories of First Nations people who gathered here on this whenua to celebrate this space.
The womb as our gateway to the world is always present but most vividly so in the circular flush of water and movement; the heavens open and it pours down a blessing, living water and equally a way to connect earth and sky. There is so much aurality in the physique and movement of the bodies changing, extending and carving patterns; it’s mesmerizing to watch. But equally the pragmatics of cooking and cleaning, the high vis vests and the mops give a grittiness to the work that refuses and refutes any notion that these stories are ethereal.
Alive, vibrant and dynamic the work is still moving, developing and finding new moments in which to keep reaching out and connecting to its audiences. The braids of knowledge are still being woven from our various grandmothers and grandfathers and the vocabulary will continue to grow over time. The signatures of the various artists and collaborators including Iratxe Ansa, Wikitoria Hunt and Frances Rings all contribute towards creating a contemporary and unequivocally Indigenous response to the land and the people with whom these stories are shared.
Tonight is closing night so if you can do make an effort to get along and witness this powerful work, there is a shift in geographies, narratives are being changed, and Mitimiti is the start of that journey forward for us here in Aotearoa.