Santee Smith of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre performing in "Blood, Water, Earth." // Supplied

Two festivals to deliver 12 days of Indigenous arts and film to Edmonton

Rubaboo Arts Festival and Dreamspeakers International Film Festival celebrate milestone anniversaries by running at the same time

Rubaboo Arts Festival and Dreamspeakers International Film Festival
Rubaboo: Fri., Apr. 26 – Tue., May 7; various locations. Dreamspeakers: Sat., Apr. 27 – Wed., May 1; Metro Cinema.

The Rubaboo Arts Festival and the Dreamspeakers International Film Festival first joined forces in 2016, but this is the first year the two events will run concurrently. Both events are also celebrating major milestones, as it’s Rubaboo’s 10th anniversary and Dreamspeakers’ 25th.

The common bond that first joined these festivals—on top of a celebration of Indigenous art—was Christine Sokaymoh Frederick, executive director of the Dreamspeaker Festival Society and artistic director of both Dreamspeakers and Rubaboo. Frederick co-founded Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts to take leadership of Rubaboo shortly after it first started in 2009, and then in 2015 she was asked to take over the Dreamspeakers Festival Society. She eventually approached the boards of both groups about combining their efforts.

“[I] talked about what our needs are in the community, and how both of these organizations have such long standings, but we really needed to both grow and change according to and in response to how the community has changed—the very community that we have nurtured and developed, and put a lot of effort toward cultivating,” Frederick explains.

What initially started out as a partnership agreement turned into a full-fledged merger in late 2017.

Despite the fact that both festivals are being held at the same time this year to mark their anniversaries, Frederick says that the intention is that Rubaboo and Dreamspeakers will both maintain their unique identities, and therefore the plan is not to hold them concurrently again next year.

“Unless we hear otherwise from the community—if they really like it together, then we’ll certainly entertain that idea,” she says.

In the meantime there are a full 12 days of events planned this year.

Highlights at the film festival include Falls Around Her, starring Tantoo Cardinal and directed by Darlene Naponse, and Three Feathers, directed by Carla Ulrich and based on the graphic novel by Richard Van Camp, who lives in Edmonton.

Tantoo Cardinal in “Falls Around Her.” // Supplied

“We actually have about 46 films that we will be showing, but those were two that were confirmed early and we’re really happy to be able to share with both media and community,” Frederick says.

In addition to the robust film selection offered by Dreamspeakers is the amazing selection of events presented by Rubaboo.

The arts festival includes a Youth Day (May 2), and as a special treat this year, it will feature a talent search by casting director Rene Haynes (Indian Horse and Monkey Beach).

“So she’ll be doing auditions, both with the youth of Youth Day, but also she’ll have some audition slots open for the public,” Frederick says.

Haynes will also give a workshop on auditioning tips, which will also be open to the public.

The casting search isn’t the only opportunity for youth to show their stuff: There will also be a talent night.

“We know that youth always are working on things and so [it’s] just giving them an opportunity to take the stage, and showcase some of their talent,” Frederick says. “[And] hopefully [they will be] bolstered by the encouragement throughout Youth Day and having that opportunity to meet, not just casting directors and things like that, but also other professional artists throughout the festival.”

Arik Pipestem will perform at the Anniversary Gala. // Marc J Chalifoux Photography

And that’s just one day of the 12-day festival.

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre from Toronto will be performing its show Blood, Water, Earth on May 3 and 4.

“The artist Santee Smith [founding artistic director of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre] is just one of the most beautiful artists I’ve seen internationally, and we’ve presented her work at Rubaboo in the past with her work NeoIndigenA,” Frederick says.

She adds that Smith likes to include local talent.

“So we’ll be connecting her with a local singer as well to add to the show,” she says.

Also on May 4, Rubaboo is having what Frederick calls a Body Sovereignty Night, featuring Vancouver burlesque artists Virago Nation and also local performers.

Local burlesque artists Iskotew Iskwewak will perform at the Sovereign Bodies event. // Supplied

“In a way it’s our response to #MeToo movement and Time’s Up, but also a reclaiming of our bodies, maybe a positive response to the murdered and missing Indigenous women, where we honour Indigenous women,” Frederick says.

Body sovereignty is something of a theme for this year’s Rubaboo Arts Festival.

The Tattoo Medicine for Land Defence Gathering and Action on May 5 connects body sovereignty to land sovereignty with on-site tattooing by international Indigenous tattoo artists.

Rubaboo will include on-site tattooing at the Tattoo Medicine for Land Defence Gathering and Action. // Supplied

There’s also a chance to see some art performed outdoors.

Back when the ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ Indigenous Art Park opened in September, there was meant to be a performative Fusion event as part of the opening ceremonies, but rain and snow interfered and, for safety reasons, the performances had to be cancelled. Frederick was highly involved with the park, from the steering committee to the opening ceremonies committee, and is excited that Rubaboo will finally see some of those performances come to life.

“It’s a multidisciplinary improv performance, essentially, which we usually center around what is typically thought of as a non-performative artform,” she explains.

In this case, the six public art pieces in the park will be the centres of the work.

The Rubaboo Arts Festival wraps up with the Anniversary Gala on May 7, which will feature performances from Caleigh Cardinal, Virago Nation, Arik Pipestem, the Edmonton Symphony Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta, and an excerpt of Shumka’s Ancestors and Elders.

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