The Lake | N-ha-a-itk is a rare event in its collaborative scope and its historical stretch. As part of an inter-institutional research project on the effectiveness of cross-cultural collaboration and musical partnerships, this project has provided fruitful ground for observing the negotiation and collaborative creation of a unique intercultural event.
The project began with conversations with Owen Underhill and Jeremy Berkman (then Co-Artistic Directors of Turning Point Ensemble) about recent collaborative projects with First Nations communities in Vancouver. Initial interviews with Turning Point collaborators, artists and audiences centred around two projects. The first was a collaborative co-production with the U’mista Cultural Society, UBC Museum of Anthropology, UBC First Nations Studies Program, and others for a June 2008 screening, performance and panel discussion at UBC in Vancouver of Edward Curtis’s 1915 film In the Land of the Headhunters. The second work, IMPRINT, was completed in 2010 (see Resources page). Commissioned by the Museum of Anthropology at UBC (MOA), IMPRINT was created by Henry Daniel (choreography) and Owen Underhill (composer) with assistance from Chief Robert Joseph and William Wasden and premiered at the MOA on January 23, 2010. These initial interviews and discussions then lead into further conversations around the collaborative process and, ultimately, to The Lake | N-ha-a-itk.
The collaborative process for The Lake | N-ha-a-itk began when Mary Ingraham came into contact with Elder Delphine Derickson-Armstrong and Jordan Coble of the Westbank First Nation. Their interest in the story of Susan Allison being rendered in song through the Barbara Pentland / Dorothy Livesay opera The Lake sparked general discussions about how artists with different cultural perspectives could work together, with details of what would be done coming much later. Shared principles of reciprocity, responsibility, and connection to logic and heart underscored all participants’ involvement. From here, the idea of identifying and including the multiple voices, stories and ways of telling suggested in Dorothy Livesay’s text and Barbara Pentland’s music turned into a pre-concert presentation in 2012 about the opera that included Jordan, soprano Heather Pawsey, and conductor Owen Underhill. After a concert performance of The Lake, it was Delphine and Heather’s immediate and deeply personal connection that fostered a more in-depth collaboration between Turning Point Ensemble, Astrolabe Musiktheatre, and the community of Westbank First Nation that resulted in the inter-cultural, fully staged production and performance context entitled The Lake | N-ha-a-itk in August 2014 in the Okanagan region.
As the project developed, participants began to weave the elements of storytelling together to create a new performance context that would situate the opera within historical and cross-cultural perspectives that were both culturally sensitive and educational. The Lake | N-ha-a-itk is the result of significant interchange that has produced new relationships, new performance context for a newly staged opera, new opportunities to perform in cultural collaboration and even completely new creative materials. There is ample room for such collaborative work in our communities and ample places for ‘learning together.’ While the opera may have provided the motivation, the stories and ways of telling that reverberate around it, result in a truly unique event. The shared performance context of syilx performers, history and spirituality with a settler story and a historically European art form reveals the tensions of shared place and stories but it also encourages new dialogues for further intercultural exchange.