Canadian Stage presents this athletic blend of contemporary Indigenous dance and multi-media spectacle from Red Sky Performance. Directed and choreographed by Sandra Laronde, in collaboration with the performers, Miigis: Underwater Panther pulls from Anishinaabe prophecy about migration and survival.
Projected animations by Febby Tan provide evolving landscapes. From primordial cosmic phenomena, familiar terrestrial shapes slowly reveal themselves. The moon looms large over trees and churning waves as human figures emerge from a skeletal structure. Once overturned, this dynamic prop of ribbed woodwork, designed by Julia Tribe, becomes a canoe in turbulent waters.
The dancers—Kristin DeAmorim, Eddie Elliott, Daniela Carmona, Moira Humana-Blaise, Jason Martin, and Mio Sakamoto—evoke forms that fluctuate between distinctly human and animalistic. We follow these figures as they traverse waves and forest, encounter creatures both supportive and threatening, in their search of meaning through motion.
Celestial bodies and water figure prominently in the imagery and the movement. In subtle make-up effects, Alice Norton furthers this motif with clusters and slashes of pale blue and white on the dancers skin. At key moments, the performers come together to form a hypnotic, living totem pole. Archetypal forms abound.
In the more disturbing moments of this performance, the human figures’ trajectory is disrupted by representations of colonial oppression. The Blue Danube by Strauss—another water reference—underscores a satirical pantomime of European culture as neurotic pageantry. That wooden structure serves as a cage crinoline draped in gauzy, laced fabric. At first giddy and self-important, the woman trapped inside this absurdly grand ballroom dress becomes increasingly hysterical in her attempts to maintain a facade of sophistication.
Residential schools are evoked in a flash of disturbing photographs before a girl is subdued and restrained, pulled down into a school chair by robed figures. With mouth muzzled and limbs restrained by probing hands, her desperate lurching recedes and she eventually succumbs. It’s an awful, harrowing spectacle.
As an object, that austere, institutional chair should seem benign, but its traumatic connotations rattle.
Our characters are not left in this dark place. Transcending the devastating impact of organized oppression, our figures—and their rhythmic pulsing—emerge into freedom and light. There is the sense of continued progress and potential as the choreography erupts into expansive gestures of healing and flight.
A highlight of this production is the live score performed by onstage musicians (Rick Sacks, Ora Barlow-Tukaki, Marie Gaudet and Ian De Souza). These resonant compositions by Sacks, Gaudet, Julian Cote, Pura Fe, Marc Merilainen, and Pierre Mongeon feature tribal beats, incidental cinematic elements and reworked classics. I was particularly taken with a modified version of the Hush Little Baby lullaby.
Miigis takes us many places in its hour-long run time. It never feels rushed though, seems almost to distort time, render it fluid and subjective. There are currents of anger and anguish, but overall it’s immersive and exhilarating.