Wednesday 13 March 2019

Redpatch = dance, poetry, native legend in WWI fatigues
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

One doesn't expect magic to be sad & melancholy. But such is Redpatch. Its final preview performance this afternoon left us almost breathless with marvel and hope and wonder at the unique slice of Canadiana from WWI that is on show.

Told through an indigenous perspective (Indian; first nation; aboriginal; native) by a character named Half-Blood, it portrays Canada's contributions in Europe during The Great War. And does so through dance and poetry and native legend that are brought to life through constant hazer smoke, tom-toms and criss-crossing spotlights on the intimate BMO stage. Together it all dazzles and sparks with ingenious impact.

The play is wrought by Hardline Productions, ACT's first-ever resident theatre company for the season. Its principals, Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver, evolved their performance art / play script across a half-dozen years : Calvert is the lead -- Rock Head, as his Nana lovingly calls him -- while Oliver is the show's director.

Co-creator and lead, Raes Calvert as Half-Blood / Rock Head is surrounded by gas masks that serve dual purpose as native ceremonial masques to celebrate the role indigenous Canadians made to the WWI war effort..  
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

The all-indigenous cast of six play not just native persona but also soldiers having French Canadian, Anglo, and Scots-Irish roots. The playwrights openly acknowledged during talkback the debt they owe to Joseph Boyden's first novel Three Day Road for the show's inspiration.  

Fact is championing the contributions of the indigenous warriors is foremost in their minds : "By the end of The Great War, many First Nations soldiers had achieved near-legendary status as scouts, trench-raiders, and snipers, drawing on their pre-wartime experience in hunting and wilderness survival," Hardline's show notes tell us. Some 4,000 of their brethren joined up and faced the same kinds of discrimination that remain at play today given the myriad unresolved issues still quite alive between Canada's 630 bands vis-a-vis ROK [rest of Kanata]. 

The intrigue of this play about war's horrors occurs on many levels. The best bit is the recurring flashbacks between Half-Blood and his Naniqsu or grandma (Odessa Shuquaya). She tells him time and again about the legend of the blackfish Kaka'win who is harpoon-hunted by a young man who wants to become a warrior. 

When Kaka'win drags hunter under water until he nearly drowns, the raven Qu?usin tells him he must "Let go!" to be free and find his true self.  To become the warrior within he must first be a mensch.  Ms. Shuquaya does repeated swoops and turns as Qu?usin the raven, while the rest of the troupe are often an accompanying murder of crows.

 Half Blood \ Rock Head (Raes Calvert) is comforted by his nana Naniqsu (Odessa Shuquaya) when he returns from Vimy Ridge suffering serious neurasthenia -- shellshock -- from months as a No Man's Land hunter and killer of German youth who were also dragged into the trench horrors of World War I. 
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

That legend underscores the whole show. From there it is the interplay of the ballet / choreography; the omnipresent drumming; the hazer smoke; the costuming; the lights; the movable rocks; the rifle props; the masques; and last but not least the acting of each cast member -- all of these elements are central to a performance that is mesmerizing.

Many Vancouver shows are noteworthy and exciting and memorable and what one is sure to mention to one's friends. This is performance art that transcends that norm by a significant margin. This show should somehow be mandatory viewing for every secondary school every November 11th every year. It is truth, it is reconciliation, it is simply stunning. 

The ensemble cast of Redpatch goes through its paces in one of myriad dance sequences depicting the chlorine and mustard gas attacks of the World War i European "theatre" as that ironic expression has it. 
Photo credit Ian Jackson (Epic Photography)

Particulars : Co-produced by the Arts Club Theatre -and- Edmonton's Citadel Theatre with theatre-in-residence Hardline Productions. On at ACT's BMO stage on 1st Avenue. Runs until March 31, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or www.artsclub.comShow-time 86 minutes, no intermission.

Creative  team :  Director Sean Harris Oliver.  Set Designer Pam Johnson.  Costume Designer Christopher David Gauthier.  Sound Designer Mary Jane Paquette.  Lighting Designer Brad Trenaman.  Masque Designer Jenn Stewart.  Stage Manager Lois Dawson. Assistant Stage Manager Anthony Liam Kearns. Assistant Director Genevieve Fleming.  Associate Sound Designer Owen Hutchinson. 

Starring :  Raes Calvert (Half-Blood / Rock Head). Jenny Daigle (Bam-Bam). Taran Kootenhayoo (Howard Thomas).  Joel Montgrand (Jonathon).  Chelsea Rose (Dickie). Odessa Shuquaya (She Rides Between / Raven / Sgt. MacGuinty).


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