DanceHouse and Dancers of Damelahamid
Elle Sofe Sara’s Vástádus eana – The answer is land

When & Where February 23 & 24, 2024 at 8pm | Vancouver Playhouse, 600 Hamilton St.

Choreography Elle Sofe Sara & Alexandra Wingate Dramaturge Thomas Schaupp Costume Design Elle Sofe Sara and Ramona Salo Set Design Elin Melberg Lighting Design Øystein Heitmann

Performers Nora Svenning, Julie Moviken, Viija Tjemsland Kwasney, Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska, Olga-LiseHomen, Greta Daling, Emma Elliane Oskal Valkeapáá

Reviewer John Jane

Formerly known as Lapland, Sápmi is not an autonomous country, but a region in northern Scandinavia that stretches across Norway, Sweden, Finland an even into the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Most of its land mass is within the Arctic Circle and the people who traditionally inhabit the region are nomadic Sámi (speaking with one of the performers after the show, Sámi people prefer not to be called Laplanders).

Elle Sofe Sara’s spiritually-centred new work Vástádus eana is part dance, part singing and part celebration, but also a cultural commentary on reclamation and ethnic Identity. The audience watches the performance for the first twenty minutes standing outside on the adjacent plaza. The seven-member female troupe, uniformly dressed in black kilts, red shawls, colourful woolen bonnets, and equipped with megaphones, move in quasi-military style formation and repetitive movements to demonstrate their strength in community.

With a few hundred patrons streaming back into the theatre through the back door and across the stage floor, in took several minutes for everyone to find the seats. When the performance restarted with the women changed to indoor attire, it was nothing short of mesmerizing.

The women actually come from various vicinities – some Norwegian, some Sámi, and some Norwegian-Sámi. Elle Sofe Sara and Alexandra Wingate choreography doesn’t appear to hold formal dance syntax, nor does it seem to incorporate folk elements. The performer’s movements, together with their joiking (a style of vocalizing not unlike the timbre of Inuit throat-singing), follows a particular narrative.

The Indigenous Sámi people have had struggles similar to Canada’s First Nations, in that, they have strived to maintain their cultural heritage and language in the face of assimilation and religious conversion.

© 2024 John Jane