Kaha:wi celebrates traditional Iroquoian song, dance and symbolism through contemporary dance expression. Powerful and captivating, Kaha:wi connects with audiences emotionally, physically and spiritually. This production is profoundly connected to the richness, integrity and beauty of the Iroquoian people. The cycle of Life unfolds through Kaha:wi as a grandmother dies and a new baby is born. The narrative weaves around the lives of three generations of women and the community in which they thrive. Kaha:wi draws inspiration from Iroquoian social dances such as the Gada:tro:t (Stomp Dance), Ehsga:nye: gae:nase: (New Women’s Shuffle Dance), Gayowaga:yoh (Old Mocassin Dance) and the Wa enoti:yo (Stick Dance). Musically, Kaha:wi highlights traditional based songs such as the Dawn Song, Gada:tro:t, naming songs and Ato:wi:se (Women’s Chant or Moon Songs).
Kaha:wi premiered in 2004 at Toronto’s Premiere Dance Theatre at Harbourfront Centre. The 65 minute production includes a cast of 6-8 dancers with original lighting design by Ron Snippe and costume/set design by Cheryl Lalonde. The original contemporary Aboriginal music is pre-recorded to CD format and has been nominated for two Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards and was the winner of a Hamilton Music Award in 2005.
Kaha:wi has been performed at: Premiere Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, ON, 2004); National Museum of the American Indian (Washington DC, 2005); The Sanderson Centre (Brantford, ON, 2005); Hartwick College (New York, 2005); The Banff Centre for the Arts (Banff, AB, 2005); and Centre for the Arts, St. Catherine’s.
Producer/Artistic Director/Choreographer: Santee Smith
Composition/Musical Arrangement: Donald Quan
Songwriters: ElizaBeth Hill, Santee Smith, Amos Key Jr., Sadie Buck, Jennifer Kreisberg, Pura Fe
Musicians/Singers: Rick Shadrach Lazar, Bob Doidge, Semiah Kaha:wi Smith, Ol’ Mush Singers (Tom V. Hill, Alfred Key, Rathanthon:ni, Hubert Buck Jr.), Martin Mohawk Hymn Singers (Sandra Sault, Shelda Johnson, Linda Y. Hill, Sharelle Martin, Karen Williams), Daniel Cecil Hill, Faron Johns, Gordie Buck, Kalani Queypo, Mavis Callihoo, Chris Warner, Ulali (Jennifer Kreisberg, Pura Fe, Soni Moreno), Santee Smith
Original Set/Costume Designer: Cheryl Lalonde
Original Lighting Designer: Roelof Peter Snippe
Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, Laidlaw Foundation, Woodland Cultural Centre, Chalmers Award, Grand River and Employment and Training
Winner of a Hamilton Music Award in 2005
Smith’s evening-length celebration of Mother Earth, finds emotional resonance in its evocation of traditional Iroquois cultural symbols, including the archetypal ancestor spirit, acknowledgment of the powerful four directions, honoring of elders and celebration of the continuity of life as a cycle from birth to death to afterlife and rebirth…Smith and her dancers carry their upper torsos responsive to breath and gravity, connecting them deeply, spiritually, to Mother Earth. - Washington Post, Lisa Traiger, 2005
Her choreography is bold, earthy, sensual and exciting… Calgary FFWD, 2005
Ravishing mix of styles and spirits. Her ambitious, full-length Kaha:wi was awarded a standing ovation by an enthusiastic audience, while focusing on a dance artist who can mount classy productions with substance. Smith, a member of the Mohawk Nation, is multitalented. The good-looking cast is a mix of aboriginal and non-aboriginal dancers, and the intermingling of training styles provides an interesting dynamic, with the modern dance smoothing out the Earth-rooted native movements to form a lyrical hybrid with echoes of both. Smith’s choreography is a perfect fusion. There are the stamping, rhythmic feet, low-body crouches, spiral turns and arched, angel-winged arms of her Iroquois heritage. And there are also the graceful upper body work, deep contractions, split jumps and partner lifts of her modern-dance training. Her depiction of pregnancy and birth, for example, is very dramatic, as is her erotic partnering for her lovers. The group tribal dances are down-right thrilling. In short, Kaha:wi succeeds because it walks the fine line between a genuine spiritual experience that is also ravishing in its visual components. – Globe and Mail, Paula Citron, 2004