Still Image courtesy Rosy Simas
"We Wait in Darkness," a new work by choreographer Rosy Simas, started when she was stuck in bed for three weeks. Finding herself with a lot of time on her hands, she ended up doing an in-depth genealogy study on her family and the Seneca people. Though she knew quite a bit of her history from stories told to her by her mother, she wanted to find out more about Seneca culture and its matrilineal society. "We get our identity and clan from the female side," she says. "I was interested in unraveling that."
The piece opens this week at All My Relations Gallery as an art installation, with dance, lectures, and panel discussions this month. It will also be shown as a full-length performance piece at the Red Eye Theater in July.
After beginning her investigations, Simas continued her research by traveling back to the New York reservation where her family is from. There, she found new relatives. "It opened up this whole world that we didn't know a lot about," she says. That led to Simas making new discoveries about her grandmother's life.
Simas hopes that exhibiting and telling part of the story of her
own people will help heal some inter-generational wounds. A practitioner of somatic-based work, which investigates the body and movement "from an internal place of knowing," Simas was interested in the idea that "our ancestors have scars in their DNA, from traumatic things that happened to them, that are passed down over generations." This comes forth in her new work, as the concept of the piece suggests that "if time goes forward and backward, we can also heal those scars," Simas says. "It's really about something contemporary that is healing my grandmother and my great grandmother."
Still Image Courtesy Rosy Simas
Though she had heard stories from her mother about her family, there are certain things that they never talked about, like that her grandmother's father was shot in front of her by Simas's great grandfather. "My grandmother's first memory was a blood stain on the floor," she says.
Simas's grandmother was born in 1901, and attended Thomas Indian School, a boarding school. "She grew up without parents," Simas says. She met Simas's grandfather, who was from a well-off family, and began having children when she was 19 or 20. After having five kids, her grandmother separated from her grandfather, eventually moving to California. By the time Simas was born, her grandmother was 60, and running the American Indian Center in San Francisco. "She was very active," Simas says. "Not politically -- more things that helped the Native community of San Francisco." This included supporting people who had been taken off their reservations and relocated to the city.
For the piece, Simas's main collaborator is composer François Richomme, who is creating an electronic, contemporary sound-score for the piece. Because Richomme's work requires a complex sound system, Simas says she doesn't rehearse without him. They have had residencies in France, at the Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis, and in Montreal, plus they have also worked together in Riverside, California. Simas travelled to New York with Richomme to make recordings of people speaking and the sounds of the land and water in the area around the reservation. Richomme is using the sounds to create the composition. "It's very rewarding, though it's a lot of our work," Simas says, but she's found that spending so much time together creates a deeper collaboration and richer work.
The piece includes film elements, created by Simas with contributions from Douglas Beasley. There's also one standalone piece with other film work that is integrated into the rest of the performance.
For her costume, Simas wears a white dress replicating what her grandmother wore to boarding school in the late oughts, as well as a contemporary outfit.
During the run at All My Relations, Simas will be working in the gallery on Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., and Fridays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. She'll also be performing 10-minute dances at noon and 2 p.m. on each of those days.
When Simas isn't in the studio, there will still be plenty to see, including a mini-set built for the gallery, a standalone seven-minute film that is a part of the performance, and an exhibit that includes antique maps that show the change in territories of the Seneca and Iroquois people over 400 years. Artifacts and vintage pieces that belonged to her grandmother and her family will be display.
"We Wait in Darkness"
All My Relations
1414 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
The opening reception will include a blessing by Dennis Jones; a panel discussion on contemporary Native performance by Marcie Rendon, Heid E. Erdrich, Simas, and Rhiana Yazzie; and time for socializing from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, June 19.
Other special events include a discussion with Jacqueline Shea Murphy at noon on Friday, June 20 and with Laura Waterman Wittstock 1 p.m. Saturday, June 28.
The piece will later premiere as an evening-length work at Red Eye Theater July 9-12.