Dancing on the Edge Festival: Edge Three
They Shoot Buffalo, Don’t They? by Troy Emery Twigg
The wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park were decimated at the turn of the century, going from a herd of sixty or seventy million and slaughtered down to less than 3000. Around this time, Aboriginal people’s culture in the Americas was being massacred through the banning of their languages, traditions and dances.
It is with this history in mind that Alberta Aboriginal Arts produced They Shoot Buffalo, Don’t They? presented as part of the Edge Three double bill. Ryan Cunningham, who conceived the idea for the piece, used his research of the buffalo slaughters in Yellowstone to spark the imagination of Blackfoot choreographer Troy Emery Twigg, who is also one of the three dancers.
The work opens with a red spotlight smouldering on the dancers at centre stage, all wearing buffalo masks, burlap wrapped around their torsos and black pants rolled up under their knees. As the lights dim and blaze in different areas of the stage, the dancers create vignette-like scenes of the buffalo slowly coming to life.
The first mood shift comes when dancers Alex Twin and Richard Lee slowly take off their masks and place them on the floor. As they roll up to standing, we finally see their faces, wild-eyed and fierce. The tone turns violent when Lee begins unravelling Twin’s burlap: Twin was forcefully spun out of it before grabbing Lee’s and doing the same. Fragments of fabric are left scattered across the stage.
The partner work of the now bare-chested duo resembles fighting buffalo, complete with guttural moans. At one point Twin drags Lee on his side as if carrying a carcass home. In the background, there is the sound of intermittent Blackfoot language that most in the audience probably couldn’t comprehend, just as the settlers to the Americas couldn’t understand the indigenous populations they found when they arrived.
Eventually, Twin and Lee descend upon the “last buffalo”: Twigg, still wearing his mask. They unravel the burlap covering his torso while he writhes on the floor; they tear off his mask, gag him and then bind his wrists and feet together. The buffalo masks strewn all over the stage are like the lost voices of those who were silenced.
They Shoot Buffalo, Don’t They? is missing a clear dramatic arc that would have made the piece more accessible, though it made up for this in physical intensity and sheer guttural power.
The Lost Art of Girl Guiding by Meredith Kalaman and Sophie Yendole
Edge Three opened with a very different and amusing work by Sophie Yendole and Meredith Kalaman, performed with gusto by Kalaman. In The Lost Art of Girl Guiding, Kalaman’s ballet training and Yendole’s years as a Girl Guide are used to create a dance-theatre work exploring how girls are shaped through their childhoods by the rules of these organized activities.
Over the fifteen-minute piece, Kalaman uses monologue and dance to bounce between her “obedient and cheerful” self and into the wild person who wants to break out. Her dancing, interspersed between the text, features fast, staccato segments; a zany explosion of moves like those of a young girl dancing alone in her room; and finally a softer section that hints at her passage out of childhood.
Kalaman’s stage presence throughout is glowing and her voice – from singsong to matter-of-fact – is an effective storytelling instrument. While her and Yendole’s exploration of growing up is easy to relate to and sometimes poignant, the piece as a whole is almost too light-hearted and doesn’t delve deep enough into the minefield that is a girl’s childhood.
*First published in The Dance Current.