Uprooted too quickly, the trees, like the elders, have disappeared without passing on their knowledge. Meshtitau is an ode to ancestral roots and healing. A performance that invites us to repair the broken links with our land and ancestors.
What remains after death? For trees, life goes on. They feed the soil with their ancient wisdom, perpetuating their memory for the living. If they are uprooted too quickly, trees, like elders, often disappear without passing on their knowledge. Inspired by this severed connection with trees that have been cut down and with elders who died too soon, the multidisciplinary Pekuakamilnu artist born in Mashteuiatsh, Soleil Launière, created Meshtitau, il a tout détruit, saccagé sur son passage in Innu-aimun, an ode to roots and healing. This performance invites us to mend our broken ties to our ancestors and to the land.
An immersion into the heart of the forest energies sleeping beneath the city, Launière’s performance builds bridges between worlds. The city reunites with nature, light meets the shadows, and life comes to terms with death. The urban garden of the Musée d’art contemporain, inhabited by the performance artists Rasili Botz and Jacques Newashish, centres around a century-old tree reconstructed by the Atikamekw visual artist Eruoma Awashish and becomes charged with myriad ancestral energies. A hypnotic performance following the trajectory of the setting sun, Meshtitau delves into the invisible realm and makes dormant worlds re-emerge from underneath the pavement.
Produced by Production AUEN
Directed by Soleil Launière
Performed by Rasili Botz + Jacques Newashish
Set Design Eruoma Awashish
Lighting Design Gonzalo Soldi (HUB Studio)
Costume Design Fruzsina Lanyi
Sound Design and Technical Director Marcin Bunar
Production Manager Cynthia Bouchard-Gosselin
Producer and Artistic Support Julie Marie Bourgeois
Co-produced by Festival TransAmériques
Creative residencies Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal + Centre de Création O Vertigo – CCOV + Danse-Cité
Presented in association with Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
Written by Elsa Pépin
Translated by Luba Markovskaia
Premiered at Festival TransAmériques, Montreal, on June 4, 2021
Soleil Launière (Montréal)
Through song, movement, theatre, and performance, Soleil Launière, a Pekuakamilnu artist born in Mashteuiatsh, creates a universe that is deeply connected to her roots and to Innu traditions.
As a performance artist working with body and voice, she is interested in songs from around the world, in sounds, in vocal improvisations as well as in physical movement. For her creations, she draws inspiration from dreams and legends, from Innu cosmogony and its sacred animal spirits. Her work was featured in several festivals and artistic events all around the world, in countries like New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. In 2018, she undertook a two-year Indigenous arts residency at the National Theatre School of Canada.
That same year, her first production, Umanishish, was staged by Xavier Huard. In this solo performance, Launière explored the mysterious time before birth and her relationship with the ancestral land of the Innu.
As an audiovisual technology enthusiast, Launière enjoys superimposing images with stage presence, and creating a dialogue between human beings and the digital realm to create a form of organic machinery. In the winter of 2020, at the Théâtre de Quat’sous, she co-staged the play Courir l’Amérique, based on the books Elles ont fait l’Amérique and Ils ont couru l’Amérique by Serge Bouchard and Marie-Christine Lévesque. Taking stories about remarkable men and women who have been forgotten by history as their starting point, Launière, Abitibi artist Alexandre Castonguay, and stage director Patrice Dubois take the stage to commemorate them with insight, humour, and honesty. As part of the 2021 edition of FTA, Launière pursues her exploration of silences, universal languages, and the forgotten with Meshtitau, by focusing on lineage and broken ties with the land. Inspired by the wisdom of trees and their life after death, this performance invites us to reconnect with our roots.
Meshtitau is a performance inspired by trees that have been cut down over the past 400 years, about what happens to them afterwards. Is it thus a work that deals with lineage and memory?
Meshtitau means “he destroyed everything, ransacked everything in his path” in Innu-aimun, my father’s language. This is a work about forgetting and memory, but also about nostalgia to some degree. The performance takes place in the middle of the city, in the garden of the Musée d’art contemporain, where there are practically no trees, except for some very small ones planted a short time ago. We started working in another space where there were old trees, and I wondered what the land was like before the city and the arrival of the settlers, what happened to the trees that were cut down?
Trees pass on their knowledge through their roots and trunks, even after their death. They continue to give knowledge and nutrients to the young trees around them. Something remains, a certain immunity and knowledge of the territory. I wondered about this transfer, which no longer exists for the trees that grow around us and get sick. I made a link with the elders who pass away with their knowledge and memory, which we often lose without having had access to it. So I am drawing a parallel between the memory of trees and that of ancestors.
There is a contrast in the work between the urban space and repatriated nature (the hundred-year-old tree). You also work with sunlight. Is this a way of bringing us back to nature?
The performance starts ten minutes before sunset because I wanted to reconnect with the time cycles of nature. I found myself wondering if it was still light an hour after sunset. I didn’t know anymore. You don’t often see the sun set in Montreal. I wanted to bring the energy of the land back into the city. I wanted to create a space where you go back in time, listen to the sounds that were there before, feel the energy of the space before there were buildings and concrete all around us. I wanted to pull the world back into that energy. During sunset, we go from a world of light to a world of shadows and darkness.
This work plays with the notion of shadows and the multiplicity of the individual. In each person there are several spirits, several connections, several roots, and the performance sets up a meeting between the performers with their different shadows. They touch each other through the shadows. The sunset represents this passage to the other side, this passage between life and death. It relates to our fear of the dark, of the night, of death, of what we do not know or cannot see.
Why did you choose the performers Jacques Newashish and Rasili Botz, both of whom are over 65 years old? Was it important for you to create with seniors?
The message I wanted to convey could only be imparted by seniors. The spotlight had to be on them. On their bodies, their experiences. My choice of performers arose from my dreams and visions. I met Jacques at a workshop several years ago and was struck by his exceptional presence. He is very down-to-earth, very connected with his roots, his art. He’s a multidisciplinary artist who works in diverse genres: wood sculpture, land, painting, cinema.
Rasili has been my mentor, my partner in crime, for eleven years. It is thanks to her that I do what I do. She has taught me a great deal. She has a very powerful natural presence. It’s a privilege for me to be able to direct her. She is a very strong parental figure for me.