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Being Aboriginal in the 21st century

How to be Aboriginal in the 21st Century?

That is a complex question that deeply concerns Ondinnok. Such previous indicators as physical appearance, way of life and language that have always distinguished Indians in the past are no longer reliable. Between, on the one hand, the status card delivered by the government and, on the other, the sense of belonging to one specific community, how do you identify yourself as Aboriginal?

After completing the three play cycle of Theatre of Healing in the Manawan community, Ondinnok now wished to re-centre itself in Montreal and to deepen its reflection on questions of identity. The company initiated a new cycle of creation with the trilogy of Iwouskéa et TawiskaronLe Rendez-vous | Kiskimew and Kmùkamch, l’Asierindien. This trilogy then culminated in the creation of Hamlet the Malecite.

What have we become? A contemporary aboriginal dramaturgy

This cycle brings to the stage very different stories from creation myths of the Huron-Iroquois world to Hamlet by William Shakespeare. They respond to a need to self-define, to set aside the pigeonholes pre-determined by society ˆ a modern rite-of-passage quest. Ordinary heroes who are most often unheard and feel lost or abandoned by society, all carry on a quest for identity. Strong, heartbreaking but very current themes: love, family, language, beliefs, elderly, environment, governance of communities, urbanity to name a few.

Each of the plays puts a mirror up to our society, up to the intolerances and prejudices. Each is a path to a universal breaking down of barriers. Questions of identity are, after all, not exclusive to Aboriginals. They touch the humanity in us all. Words and language create space for the imaginary, for the discovery of ‘the other’ but also of the self. The discovery of an identity that is honest, complete and whole.

Place for change at Ondinnok

Beginning in 2004 in parallel with production activities, Ondinnok directed an intensive Aboriginal theatre training program in collaboration with the National Theatre School of Canada which hoped to resolve some of their challenges recruiting Aboriginal actors. This program was an opportunity to make important connections with new artists and to develop an original training process.

Everything has changed. Since the intensive theatre training program we started with the National Theatre School of Canada has been so effective, we are now surrounded by young qualified actors. Change is underway. ˆ –Catherine Joncas

This artistic nucleus developed by Ondinnok was then joined by other Aboriginal artists and together has actively collaborated in company productions since 2002. Hamlet the Malecite, Wulustek, Tales of an Urban Indian and more recently, The Skin of our Silences and YOU ARE ME are all witness to the need for artistic expression by young Aboriginal artists and especially young Aboriginal urban artists. The younger generation is at the very heart of this cycle.

A new cycle of collaboration

This cycle, initiated in 2004, was the opportunity for Ondinnok to explore new repertoire. For the first time the company was turning to adaptation/translation of Anglophone plays.

Other creators such as Jean-Frederic Messier, Yvon Dubé, Peter Batakliev, Francine Alepin and Clément Cazelais joined the team of directors over the course of the last decade. With their particular visions, they enriched the Ondinnok aesthetic while opening up new avenues.

The performances were presented at times in theatres (Théâtre Prospero, Théâtre Denise-Pelletier), at times in the Maisons de la culture, at times in reconverted factories (American Can and the Ateliers Jean-Brillant). The designers such as Julie-Christina Picher, the first Atikamekw designer, created sets and environments that were very contemporary yet charged with symbolism. Scenes that recalled the daily lives of urban Aboriginals or of their communities. At the forefront of new technologies, video projections were more and more used at the centre of the creations with such important collaborators as Philippe Larocque.