‘I’m not interested in staging ethnicity’, says York theatre prof

Michael Greyeyes has a restless nature, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 21. This could account for his peripatetic career: He has been a dancer, choreographer, actor, director and university professor [Faculty of Fine Arts].

All of this is taken into account in his epic dance-theatre piece from thine eyes, which opens the DanceWorks season at Toronto’s Enwave Theatre on Thursday. And all of those skills are put to use in the piece’s heavy theme – dealing with moving on from this life into the next.

Greyeyes, 44, is a Plains Cree who was raised in Saskatoon. The story of from thine eyes began in the 2008 Cree opera Pimooteewin: The Journey, for which he was both director and choreographer. The opera deals with a trickster and an eagle who visit the land of the dead to bring the spirits back to the land of the living.

He wanted to explore the topic in more detail. "Aboriginals believe that a new consciousness is required for a new journey. We need new eyes if we are to move forward," he says. "What truth do people see at the moment of their deaths? The title is from the Koran, ‘Lift the veil from thine eyes,’ denoting that new understanding."

The major characters are a murderous junkie, an abusive husband, a couple who have lost a child and a doctor who works with AIDS patients. Each story has its own elaborate set. The six performers (Michael Caldwell, Luke Garwood, Ceinwen Gobert, Sean Ling, Shannon Litzenberger and Claudia Moore), all carefully chosen by Greyeyes, are both strong dancers and strong actors. None are Aboriginal.

The question then becomes: If Greyeyes’s dancers are non-Aboriginal, and his choreographic métier is contemporary dance, where does his "Indian-ness" come into play?

His answer, in part, can be found in a scholarly article, "Notions of Indian-ness in Contemporary First Nations Dance", that Greyeyes wrote for a conference in 2009. He came to the conclusion that there is no aboriginal dance per se, only dance by Aboriginal artists.

"I’m not interested in staging ethnicity. Indian-ness as a concept is evolving and expanding. My Indian-ness is based on indigenous principles like the storytelling tradition," Greyeyes says. "My theatrical exploration deals with what matters to first nations as a community. Governance, or the way we treat each other, is also important. I may be the director, but everyone has a voice."

  • This week Michael Greyeyes plans to take audiences to a place many people would rather avoid, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 20.

To launch DanceWorks’ new mainstage season at Harbourfront Centre, the renowned 44-year-old actor/director/choreographer and teacher unveils a dance-theatre work called from thine eyes that explores the mysterious territory between life and death.

“It’s about characters in the difficult transition from one kind of consciousness to another,” says Greyeyes. “Their passages are troubled by grief, guilt and regret. It’s a dark piece, but within the mythology of my culture there is always a place for hope.”

Greyeyes, a Plains Cree from the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, has long been familiar to movie and television audiences, often for his charismatic portrayals of native characters, but his passion for live performance runs deep.

Although his parents were born on a reserve and sent to residential schools, Greyeyes was raised as what he calls “an urban Indian” in Scarborough. His parents taught him about his Native culture to balance the influence of his contemporary suburban environment. “We had our own cultural lives side by side with the TTC. I grew up on "Gilligan’s Island" and powwows.”

In 2004, with a recently earned fine arts master’s degree from Kent State in hand, he resettled in Toronto to take up a post at York University where he’s now a professor in the Department of Theatre [Faculty of Fine Arts].

York grad wins Gemini for ‘Call Me Fitz’

The successful Nova Scotia-produced comedy/drama ‘Call Me Fitz’ added another feather to its cap with the Aug. 31 announcement that the show was the recipient of six Geminis, wrote halifaxnewsnet.ca Sept. 20.

Dartmouth resident Kim McTaggart [BFA Spec. Hons. ’87] received the award for best picture editing in a comedy, variety or performing arts program or series.

“To be perfectly honest it was my first nomination and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, so the nomination was the biggest thrill,” she said. “Winning was the icing on the cake. I didn’t get to Toronto for the ceremony, so I got the news during a Twitter feed moment.”

McTaggart has had her share of successes. She has produced, directed and edited several award-winning documentaries and created her own post-production house in 1996.

Of her many accomplishments, McTaggart said perhaps the one she’s proudest of is that she has managed to forge a successful career while living and working in Nova Scotia.

“When I graduated in 1987 (with a BFA in film from York University), there was no film industry here as such,” she recalled. “I’ve been able to stay here and work, buy a house and have two kids. To me that’s a major accomplishment, making a commitment to stay here and managing to make it work.”

McTaggart recently moved her office from Halifax to Dartmouth, where she’s now a five-minute walk from her children’s school and a 10-minute walk from her home.

“Of all the places in film, post-production is probably the best to get a balance of home and work life,” she said, explaining that her tools can easily travel with her on her laptop and she can work from virtually anywhere.

DND research fund cuts will affect YCISS

The Department of National Defence is changing how it pays for public research on the military, cutting funding by 80 per cent and moving to a new "agile" model that would mimic private consulting, according to scholars involved, wrote Embassy magazine online Sept. 21.

By doing so, many of them charge that the department is squeezing the lifeblood out of almost three-quarters of research centres across Canada that are supported by the program, known as the Security and Defence Forum (SDF).

Eight out of the 12 research centres across Canada say they will be hard-pressed to find alternate funding. Most of the centres hit are in Central Canada.

David Mutimer, director of the [York Centre for International & Security Studies (YCISS)] at York University, said the SDF grant had allowed the University to be more willing to allow his centre to hire staff, which in turn permitted it to pursue other funding. Both said the scope of their activities after the cut is almost certain to be significantly reduced.

York prof helping curate Group of Seven exhibits in UK

When Ian Dejardin first encountered the Group of Seven in the late 1980s, he was stunned by their visual impact and was determined to learn everything he could about these seminal figures in the history of 20th-century Canadian art, wrote Postmedia News Sept. 20, in a story about a new European tour of the group’s works.

But it wasn’t until 2006, a year after he was appointed director of the Dulwich Gallery, that Dejardin had a chance to visit Canada and view first-hand the works of Tom Thomson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris. (Thomson is associated with the group but was never an official member.)

Then two years later, the doors began to open, thanks to Canadian art patron David Thomson, who introduced Dejardin to the two Canadians who would become his co-curators for the European tour: Katerina Atanassova, chief curator of the McMichael Collection, and Anna Hudson, professor of Canadian art & curatorial studies at York University [Faculty of Fine Arts].

Maccabi soccer team includes two York Lions

Maccabi Canada is sending a men’s soccer team to take on the South American powerhouses at the Pan Am Maccabi Games – and they’re expecting to come home with a medal, wrote the Canadian Jewish News in its September 2011 edition.

Prominent players for Canada [include] York University players Ilya Orlov and Alon Badat.