by Lynn on November 19, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Coal Mine Theatre, produced by Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ont. Running until Dec. 10, 2023.

Created and performed by Jani Lauzon

Directed by Franco Boni

Environmental design by Melissa Joakim

Movement consultant, Julia Aplin

A show that is really a ceremony that is a deeply moving, eloquent exploration of what is sacred from the sky, the stars, a pebble to a rock.

The Story and productionProphecy Fog by Jani Lauzon explores the question: “Can a site still be sacred if it has been desecrated?” Lauzon comes to the question with lots of experience and background. She is Métis and has had her elders, her mother, grandmother and daughter teach her to appreciate the world in which she lives: the air, rocks, water, sky, stars and earth.  She has been collecting rocks of all sorts her whole life. She says that each one has a story. She says that if you rub the stones in your hands and feel the warmth, you release the story.

Melissa Joakim’s environmental design of the set in the small Coal Mine Theatre, is amazing in establishing Lauzon’s connection to rocks. In keeping with respecting the space of the ceremony, the audience is asked to remove their shoes and put them on shelves in the lobby. The audience sits in a circle in chairs.  Inside the circle are bowls and bowls of rocks of various shapes and sizes from boulders to pebbles. Above the space is a circular panel ringing the audience. Projections will be projected on the panel so that the whole audience can get the benefit of the projections.

As the audience files in, Jani Lauzon stands in the center of the circle, swaying and dancing inside a ridged circle which is on a larger round piece of red/orange material with spokes of material jutting out from it; it’s the sun I assume.  Lauzon’s white hair cascades in front of her face and down her back. When the audience is settled and the ceremony continues, Lauzon carefully takes the ‘spokes’ of the material and movers them to fit around the curve of the material so that they are all safely wrapped.

Jani Lauzon comments on the importance of rocks and stones in her life and the stories they have told her.  At various times in the 75 minute ‘ceremony,’ Lauzon upends the bowls of rocks, spreads them around the space, and even holds various rocks up and tells us where she found it and what it means. While she is careful in picking up and holding the rocks, she is deliberate and not delicate when spreading them around. They have been around for thousands of years. They are tough and Lauzon knows it.

Lauzon chose to investigate her question: “Can a site still be sacred if it has been desecrated?”  by going to the Mojave Desert in California, specifically to Giant Rock which had been revered by and deemed sacred to the Indigenous peoples of the area. Lauzon and her daughter drove to the site of Giant Rock and captured it on video.  The video is projected onto the circular panel above the audience. Lauzon approached the rock and then laid her back on it in reverence and after a time, walked away.

On first sighting Giant Rock is majestic and imposing. When Lauzon walks away, one gets a closer look and sees it is splattered with graffiti, some of it with despicable comments (“White power”) and two swastikas under it. There are not just one or two slogans; the face of the rock seems splattered with this graffiti.  So, when Lauzon was filmed delicately, reverentially passing her hand over the rock, even including those areas with graffiti, she illuminated the sacredness of the rock in spite of the desecration.  Giant Rock will always be sacred. Those who defaced it will always be morons.

As with all wonderful theatre, we listen to Lauzon’s story, but we hear it as it pertains to each of us. Her pilgrimage to Giant Rock made me think of my trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Australian Desert. Uluru is sacred to the many Aboriginal peoples of Australia. To see it from a distance is to have your breath taken away. As you move close and closer to it, it’s over powering. While it’s not covered in graffiti, tourist climbed it, in spite of it being a sacred place, leaving their garbage and even dirty diapers at the top. Finally, the Australian government made it illegal to climb on the rock, thus respecting the wishes of the Aboriginal peoples. I thought of that, while experiencing Jani Lauzon’s ceremony with her rocks.    

Lauzon is a compelling storyteller with a dancer’s grace. The piece is directed with care by Franco Boni. There are moments of stillness, joy, sadness and a real sense of wonder at Jani Lauzon’s vast collection of rocks and her respect for them and their stories.

Comment. Janie Lauzon’s ceremony for her rocks and their stories is a wonderful, embracing, inclusive experience. We might not know of the many and various aspects to her ceremony but we have a deep respect and appreciation for it. We won’t look at rocks in the same way after this show.

Coal Mine Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 15, 2023.

Saw it: Nov. 19, 2023

Plays until: Dec. 10, 2023.

Running Time: 75 minutes, (no intermission).

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