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Friday, May 13, 2016

Spiderwoman: "Material Witness" to violence against women

Gloria Miguel of Spiderwoman Theater
in Material Witness at La MaMa
(photo: courtesy Spiderwoman Theater)

I leave the door open for the spirits to walk about freely.
I welcome all the guardians to our space.
--Gloria Miguel in Material Witness

I never saw Spiderwoman Theater's original Women in Violence--the first production by this legendary Native American troupe, premiered in New York in 1976. But, last night at La MaMa, I got a good look at its rambunctious offspring, Material Witness, a piece designed to reach out to today's young women. It aims to remind them, and all of us, that physical, sexual and emotional abuse has not been eradicated from Native communities and that silence about it remains a deadly force.

Material Witness is directed by Spiderwoman co-founder Muriel Miguel, co-written by its six-woman cast with Miguel, and co-presented with Aanmitaagzi, an indigenous, interdisciplinary troupe from Nipissing First Nation, Ontario.

The 90-minute work bears all the hallmarks of Spiderwoman--communal, community-minded theater, story-based exposition, rollicking physical humor often reminiscent of vaudeville and slapstick comedy, and strong musical drive. The 1976 tune from AC/DC, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"--its chorus cheekily woven into a narrative about deeds most dirty--meets up with Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens to You." But, of course. And its new generation--the radiantly charming and kickass Cherish Violet Blood, Penny Couchie (choreographer), Donna Couteau, Ange Loft and Tanis Parenteau--share the stage with veteran Spiderwoman Gloria Miguel who serves as witness to their struggles and stories, setting and holding the space for them, collaborating in their honesty and victories. The music is dance-club loud, Soni Moreno's costume and decor colors and combos are eye-popping, and the performers' energy rocks the house.

Let me issue a standard trigger warning:  Some stories related here can be uncomfortable for anyone, especially survivors of violence, to hear. But I must also leave you with this laughter trigger warning: Spiderwoman's commitment to humor as a disinfectant has not and will never quit.

Material Witness continues through May 29 with performances Thursday to Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm. Panel discussions are scheduled following certain performances. For information and tickets, click here.

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