Big, Deep Artistic Mining with choreographer/director Michael Greyeyes

Signal Theatre (Toronto)

from thine eyes

A DanceWorks & Native Earth Performing Arts Co-Presentation

Enwave Theatre

Thurs. Sept 22 through Sat. Sept 24, 8pm, Sat. Sept 24, 2pm matinee

Interview by Lucy Rupert

Lucy Rupert: What is your show about?

Michael Greyeyes: from thine eyes is a work about our mortality.   This dance theatre work follows six characters at the very moment of their deaths.  We ask what is it to imagine, what they see and experience? Is there a light?  Is it just darkness?  Are the ancestors there to greet us?  In my culture, there are many stories about traveling to the Land of the Dead.  In fact, this work’s origins began a number of years ago in another story—Pimooteewin (The Journey), a Cree language opera, with libretto by Tomson Highway.  This opera was based upon a trickster tale about the folly of trying to bring back the dead to the land of the living.  Our original workshop of this piece was actually titled “Land of the Living”; I knew this work was not about the dead or about dying, it was about the way people lived their lives and about the crucial, liminal moments in their lives when they learn about themselves.

LR: What do you hope the audience will get out of your show?

MG: I am interested in theatre in the largest sense of that word. A theatre artist is one who fearlessly leads the rest of us into the darker territories, where for whatever reason, we sometimes fear to tread.  Or conversely lead us into areas of pure joy and mirth, which we have somehow forgotten.  The best theatre does that for me. I’m hoping to create a work with multiple layers, multiple perspectives and effect.  When I leave a theatre space, I want to be changed in some way.  This is what I’m working toward.

LR: How does theatre, as a form or discipline, inform your choreography?

MG: As a theatre educator, I am responsible not for teaching a love of theatre—that is what draws us together in the first place—but instead I hope to teach my students its complexity as a tool.  As a choreographer, I want to work with artists with similar desires.  I need, as my former boss Eliot Feld, the great American choreographer once said to us in rehearsal, for the dancers to understand that any movement must be informed by the performer’s perspective. Our thinking and experience fills movement and makes it worth watching.  In my choreography, I create movement from character.  To me choreography is another kind of writing. It must push the narrative forward. A director, which to me is interchangeable with choreographer, drives the whole production forward based on the strength of our own belief in the story we are telling and our ability to lead by example.

LR: How did you choose the performers involved in your work?

MG: I am very keen on working with dancers as actors.  I am interested also in that more traditional theatre aesthetic in which the stage looks like life—the performers that I have cast in this work are multi-generational and I need them, particularly in this piece, to have the force of experience working for them. We are dealing with big stuff—shattering guilt, yearning, fear, unadulterated joy, and paralyzing loss—so I want to work with actors that are unafraid. I envisioned the dance with [these brilliant performers] as characters and the choreography emerged from them inhabiting those worlds.


LR: Though utterly universal, mortality and end-of-life is a pretty intense topic to take on and you seem to be taking it head on – what has brought you to this thematic exploration?

MG: Interestingly it’s a subject with which I have dealt with numerous times as a performer. On a more personal level, this work emerges from conversations I had with my Mom when her mother passed.  She said, “I was always afraid of death.  I had fear, but then I watched mom die and it was gentle…  I’m not afraid of it anymore.”  When my own mother passed, she began the next part of her journey. My wife and I too had experienced our own private loss, through recurrent miscarriage.  Those years of immense joy turning into more immense grief changed us forever.  From thine eyes is in many ways how I am continuing to deal with all of those losses.  But in helping to write these stories, I too am working my way towards a gentler understanding of life and its passing.

This interview has been edited for length and content.

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