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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Review: NeoIndigenA is an experience of sacred ritual

Santee Smith not only performs the warriors, goddesses, and beasts of NeoIndigenA, but wholly becomes them

Words always fall a little bit short when it comes to dance; the whole point of the art form is to move beyond the verbal, after all. When it comes to NeoIndigenA, however, words feel especially useless. NeoIndigenA is not simply a dance performance, which would already put it in the “beyond words” category, but an experience of sacred ritual.

For the average Vancouverite the notion of a sacred ritual may bring to mind a meaningful church service or meditation retreat. In NeoIndigenA, we go deeper, bigger, and older: dancer and creator Santee Smith confronts her inner beasts and demons, embodying the ecstasy and terror of facing the deepest and darkest creatures that live in her spirit. Punctuating the twisted and animalistic elements was the airy, joyful connection to light and playful euphoria.

There are not enough superlatives to describe Smith’s performance. Honestly, it’s not even entirely clear that only one woman inhabits that body – her transformations are so swift and total that she not only performs the warriors, goddesses, and beasts of NeoIndigenA, but wholly becomes them. Compelling, enthralling, enrapturing, powerful – choose the term that grabs you most, and it is guaranteed that this describes Smith.

The lighting design by Arun Srinivasan, adapted for tour by Evan Sandham is responsive and evocative. The composition team, including Jesse Zubot, Cris Derksen, Adrian Harjo, and Tanya Tagaq, creates a soundscape the draws the audience into Smith’s ritualistic transformations.

Like any spiritual ritual, there are times when it seems there might be more in it for the participant than the observer, and at times the audience is left to simply watch something that appears to be meaningful, but overall this is a transformative journey for everyone.

NeoIndigenA continues at The Cultch until February 19. Visit for tickets and information.

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