Phantom Stills & Vibrations
An immersive experience that pays tribute to the victims of the former Pelican Falls residential school in Sioux Lookout in Ontario. How can there be a rebuilding when violence is perpetuated?
Places and bodies – broken, betrayed, defiled. Secret, hidden stories gush to the surface in Phantom Stills & Vibrations, an immersive experience that pays tribute to the victims of the former Pelican Falls residential school in Sioux Lookout in northwestern Ontario. A cultural genocide that continues, that leaves traces and open wounds. Inspired by visits to the land of her ancestors, choreographer Lara Kramer has crafted a performance art exhibit in collaboration with Stefan Petersen, a reminder of the repercussions of the traumas passed on from generation to generation.
A photograph of the former residential school (now a high school) and a soundscape of the north underpin a minimalist performance. Kramer portrays the excruciating reality of abused children and questions the possibility of moving forward. How can there be a rebuilding when violence is perpetuated? The exhibit stirs, disturbs, leads to reflection and meditation. A work of essential, powerful remembrance.
Produced by Lara Kramer Danse
Conceived and choreographed by Lara Kramer
Created and performed by Lara Kramer + Stefan Petersen
Sound Recording and Mixing Lara Kramer
Sound Editing Marc Meriläinen
Outside Eye Ida Baptiste + Patti Shaughnessy + Jacob Wren
Coproduction Darling Foundry + National Arts Centre
With the support of Trent University Ashley Fellowship
Creative Residency Darling Foundry
Presented in association with Festival TransAmériques
Written by Elsa Pépin
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at MAI, Montreal, on May 10, 2018
Lara Kramer (Montreal) Lara Kramer Danse
Lara Kramer is a choreographer and multidisciplinary artist of mixed Oji-Cree and settler heritage. Her critically acclaimed works portray the contrast of the brutal relations between Native peoples and colonial society, and have been presented across Canada and even in Australia.
These include Fragments (2009), inspired by her mother’s stories of being in residential school, and Native Girl Syndrome (2013), about how Native women have internalized trauma. Windigo can be viewed as its masculine counterpart, where trauma is externalized through different ages and bodies, individuals and objects.
Her work deals with the aftermath of cultural genocide. The 2017 installation and performance piece This Time Will be Different, created in collaboration with Émilie Monnet, denounced the status quo of the Canadian government’s discourse regarding First Nations and criticized the “national reconciliation industry”.
Based on a theatrical vocabulary and her Indigenous roots, Lara Kramer’s work employs narration and powerful imagery. Often blunt and raw, playing with the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit, her pieces stand out for their engagement, sensitivity, close and instinctive listening to the body, and her attention to the invisible.
Her first appearance at the FTA consists of a double bill: the performance piece Windigo and the installation Phantom Stills & Vibrations, presented at MAI, works that plunge the spectator into the reality of the former Pelican Falls Indian Residential School in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Three generations of her family were forcibly sent to the school. Kramer continues her denunciation of hidden realities, profound traumas that permeate the history of her people.
Windigo is a destructive creature in indigenous culture, and has a specific interpretation in Sioux Lookout. How does it echo the current situation for Native communities?
Windigo is a spiritual figure that still resonates today. In the original version, it is a supernatural creature, half human and half spirit, a cannibalistic being. Once it has eaten human flesh it becomes Windigo, a spirit that takes control of our desires, that seizes power. In its contemporary version, it can be associated with big corporations that clear cut the forests without our permission, abusing the earth and sowing violence.
Windigo and Phantom Stills & Vibrations are two complementary pieces. How does the installation prolong the dance piece?
I got the idea after visits to my grandmother’s community in the Lac Seul reserve in northwestern Ontario, near Sioux Lookout. I listened to people telling their stories, recorded sounds and visually documented my visits. The strongest feeling I had was of the residue of violence present everywhere, you can feel it. It was not apparent at first, but by listening to stories and spending time there, by visiting historical sites such as the residential school, I noted that the culture of violence persists in the region and creates a feeling of despondency, a lack of hope. Phantom Stills & Vibrations pokes at that tension, bringing the invisible to the surface, whereas Windigo strips it bare, exorcises it.
The concept underpinning Windigo and Phantom Stills & Vibrations is multipolar. It is a portrayal of a world where everything conspires to create a sense of hopelessness and despair. The violence is complex and multi-layered, given that several generations have been traumatized and there is thus an accumulation of suffering in their bodies, in the land itself. One cannot simply go up north and lay waste to the land without there being consequences.
The repercussions are enormous. Many people have lost their means of survival, lost the land that nourished them. Windigo explores how to survive with that painful past, the residue and complexity of all that baggage. The project is a response to a state of alert and of awakening, a combination of birth and death where there is no more room for denial. It had been quite some time since I had last worked with male performers, and since the birth of my son I have been asking myself questions about the future, about his heritage and his responsibility. Phantom Stills & Vibrations is a work that seeks to convey the weight of silence, the ghosts that still haunt that site, which is now a high school.
The performers demolish and manipulate objects in Windigo, and those props almost acquire the status of characters in the piece. What are you aiming for as regards our relationship to objects?
I want to give that material the same value as the body. Objects reflect a spirit or an animal, and there is a feeling that nothing is very concrete or in a fixed state; everything has the ability to transform. Neither the performers’ bodies nor the characters are fixed, in the same way as the objects that they transform.
I open a door toward a spiritual state beyond the concrete. We work a lot with the idea of the animal in sensation and action, at a primary level like a child’s vision, the animal spirit. The horse also suggests cowboys and Indians, stereotypes but northern images too. My images reflect my family’s history and also animal presence, the presence of spirits, in First Nations culture.
Phantom Stills & Vibrations offers an immersive experience, a plunge into the heart of the violence of the residential schools, hidden yet very poignant.
My grandmother attended the Pelican Falls Indian Residential School in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Today it is a high school, yet the building still harbours its share of trauma. Created in collaboration with my spouse Stefan Petersen, who is a photographer, this exhibit-cum-performance aims to transmit the essence of a feeling I had in that haunted site, a brutal awareness of the weight of silence encompassing those horror stories, a shock that brought me to a standstill, a vibration that rattled me. We talked a lot to the people there and learned about the heartbreaking number of unrecorded suicides.
The silence surrounding that genocide and the suffering is something that affects the entire community. It is part of its daily life, of the air it breathes, and of course it has repercussions. By means of photographs, a textured soundscape – children’s voices, wind, rain, rudimentary music – and a performance, I’m trying to give an account of the horror of that genocide, which is unrelenting. The ghosts suggest the invisible presence of violence that is transmitted and that continues.
“An enchanting and provocative experience.”
Evelyn Goessling, McGill Daily, 2016-01-06, à propos de Tame
“We cannot look away.”
Janet Smith, Georgia Straight, 2014-07-02, à propos de NGS
“You can never accuse Lara Kramer of taking the easy way out.”
Philip Szporer, Dance Current, 2013-12-12, à propos de NGS
“Kramer is a talent to watch. She wears her heart on her sleeve, which translates into dance theatre that is as vulnerable as it is emotional.”
Paula Citron, The Globe and Mail, 2013-07-08, à propos de of good moral character