Ab-Original Spokenword-Scapes by Marilyn R. Wilson

Ab-Original Spokenword-Scapes
by Marilyn R. Wilson, @oliobymarilyn


February/March2013, Vancouver was host to the 12th annual Talking Stick Festival. This 2 week long premier event was chock full of art exhibitions and performances showcasing both established and emerging Aboriginal artists. Theatre, storytelling, writing, music and dance along with performance and visual art were presented at several venues around Vancouver. One that stood out for me in particular was the Ab-Original Spokenwork-Scapes on stage at the roundhouse.


The original street name for this type of oral word weaving is Slam Poetry – started in 1984 at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago. The first national Poetry Slam competition was held in San Francisco in 2010. While the original name and competition still holds, the art form has matured and changed. There are many highly respected poets who produce original work not for competition. They are referred to as Spoken Word Artists. This evening featured several such artists whose words were blended with live music, movement and film.


The evening began with a short set by renown guitarist/ music director/educator/competition juror David Larocque and cellist Cris Derksen – a rising star in the Canadian music scene known for building layers of sound. They continued throughout the evening to provide a musical foundation the artists built their performances on. During the evening, Cris Derksen was also given the opportunity to perform a solo piece that showcased her exceptional talent. Singer Tiffany Moses stepped in to provide a counterpoint between poems with the offering of two numbers – the first softly haunting, the second with a light jazz note.


There were five Spoken Word performances this evening, each unique. Alex Jacobs is multi-discipline artist as well as an editor, teacher, historian and more. He opened with a powerful, original work called The Healings written just for this festival as well as a second piece later in the evening accompanied by video footage. His words, his presence and his resonant voice were a perfect blend that kept us on the edge of our seats.


Actor/dancer Justin Many Fingers had several roles that night centered around movement while others spoke. The most striking piece for him this evening was one performed with the founder and artistic managing director of Full Circle: First Nations Performace – Margo Kane. He began with a small spoken word piece and then performed a strong dance story working a pile of white rocks into a circle while Margo Kane continued the spoken word performance as well as a rhythm counterpoint.

Janet Rogers, a visual artist and writer, took the stage 3 times this evening. Her first piece was called 75 Levels of Connecting With the Negative. Despite it’s heavy subject accented by a repetitive NO, it was delivered in a lilt with an enigmatic smile that caught everyone’s attention. Her second piece began with singing and then continued with spoken word over her recorded voice. The final offering from Rogers was my favourite and chosen to close the show. While her words were given to us on tape, she performed a movement piece. The white rocks were again in a pile at one side of the stage. She slowly carried them one at a time, stepping on the rocks already in place, and laying them at the other end to form a long path. When this last number was finished and the artists took their bow, there was no doubt that the audience had been profoundly affected by the entire evening’s program.

Talking Stick Festival is just one facet of Full Circle First Nation Performance – established 20 years by Margo Kane to create opportunities for Aboriginal artists of all disciplines to develop, perform and receive recognition locally, nationally and internationally. For more information, visit the website at http://www.fullcircle.ca

“Full Circle speaks of many images…
Full gathering of people – all races, cultures, communities, perspectives
completeness, inclusiveness, wholeness
the completion of a journey
unceasing movement – no beginning or ending.”


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