Review: Embodying Power and Place.

by Lynn on April 5, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming for free.

Produced by Nightwood Theatre, Native Earth Theatre Company and conceived by New Harlem Productions by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.

Idea conceived by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.

Written by:  Reneltta Arluk,

Tara Beagan,

Yolanda Bonnell,

Darla Contois,

Aria Evans, 

Lindsay “Eekwol” Knight,

Jessica Lea Fleming,

Falen Johnson,

Émilie Monnet,

Yvette Nolan,

Michelle Olson,

jaye simpson

Directed by: Cole Alvis

Jessica Carmichael

Katie German

Sound Design and Composition by Olivia Shortt and Cosette Pin

Multimedia Interpretations by Kaylyn and Kassiday Bernard of Patuo’kn.

Art work: Natalie Sappier,

Cast: Cole Alvis

Reneltta Arluk

Tara Beagan

Samantha Brown

Lindsay “Eekwol” Knight

Monique Mojica

Joelle Peters

Tara Sky

Michaela Washburn

Embodying Power and Place is a huge endeavor produced by Nightwood Theatre, Native Earth Theatre Company and conceived by New Harlem Productions, specifically Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. It dramatizes the 2019 Final Report of the Federal Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls entitled Reclaiming Power and Place.

The Report is a two-part, 12 chaptered, hefty document. In 2020 over a dozen artists from a wide range of disciplines were commissioned by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, of New Harlem Productions, to read and create a response to specific chapters of the report. The digital result is entitled: Embodying Power and Place.

From the press information: “This digital iteration of Embodying Power and Place offers twelve audio-visual works that seek to honour the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, Trans, and Two-Spirit people, and strives to create a sacred space in which to reflect, heal, and find renewed hope. The selections incorporate text, sound and imagery from a rich array of Indigenous creators. “

Some pieces used videos of nature to enhance the spirituality of Indigenous culture. Some used animation for the same effect. Each piece varies in length from about five to 22 minutes. Each segment distils what each chapter is about and presents it in poetic writing suffused with anger, frustration and the brutality of the report, but also illuminates the spirit of Indigenous life, the reverence for the land and earth.

For example:

Villa Puffs by Falen Johnson, directed by Cole Alvis, visuals directed by Patuo’kn, performed by Michaela Washburn.

This piece dramatizes Chapter 1 of the Report: Centering Relationships to End Violence.  It is about a woman remembering her younger self and her first encounter with bullies in grade 3 who beat her up. But she was saved by an older girl who defended her. The symbolic sound of crows cawing in the background (as well as in other pieces) illuminates the importance of birds, insects and the land in Indigenous culture, and also focuses on the struggle to avoid violence. Falen Johnson gives the girl a wonderful line: “To be seen is a really powerful thing, eh?”

Baby Girl by Tara Beagan dramatizes chapter 7: Confronting Oppression—Right to Security. Directed by Cole Alvis, performed by Tara Beagan, Joelle Peters, Michaela Washburn.

Lorna is 16 and has been in and out of foster homes. She got pregnant by a young man in one of those homes and she’s just given birth to her daughter. She had her first child at 13 and that child was put up for adoption. It’s looks like the same will happen here. It’s a bleak life of being shunted from one place to another, and not being able to talk to an Indigenous nurse or doctor or at least someone who understands her life and situation. But then Tara Beagan creates a twist in the story that offers hope, salvation and optimism.  

While the anger is palpable in the writing, so is the poetry. In Becoming by Michelle Olson the language is ceremonial, reverential. A character says: “The earth is my law. The crows are my scattered thoughts.”  So vivid an image.

Subtle drumming underscores many of the pieces. There are the sounds of nature, boots crunching snow, water flowing, birds singing. We are put in the world of each piece.

Embodying Power and Place offers an Indigenous interpretation of yet another report that depicts a disgraceful point in our history.

The 12 offerings of Embodying Power and Place can be found for free at:

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