NAC Dance: Lara Kramer comes Face 2 Face with her past, present and future

Lara Kramer Phantom Stills & Vibrations. Photo: Stefan Peterson

Three generations of Lara Kramer’s family were dragged to the Pelican Falls Residential School near the community of Sioux Lookout in Northwestern Ontario.

The school left a mark, one that the Montreal-based artist Kramer is trying to navigate for her self and for her family.

She uses performance to accomplish this. That art work will be on view in Ottawa this week during the Face2Face series that features contemporary dance creators. This year three Indigenous voices, Kramer of Oji-Cree ancestry; Jacob Boehme, a choreographer, dancer and writer from the Narangga and Kaurna nations of South Australia and Victoria Hunt, of Māori heritage (New Zealand) will be featured.

Kramer is putting on two works. The first is Phantom Stills & Vibrations. It is an exhibit and performance art piece that will be on view at the Ottawa Dance Directive’s Studio B starting on Feb. 20. Her other work is called Windigo and it explores the destruction of land and culture by corporate greed.

“These two works burst out of an experience,” Kramer said in an interview with ARTSFILE.

“I grew up in London, Ontario. My mother is First Nations and my father is of Mennonite background. My mom’s family is from (the) Sioux Lookout area. Due to residential schools, my family has been displaced from that territory although some family is still there.

“I am the mother of two children. With the birth of my eldest who is almost six now, it was important for me to connect to my family and their territory and history. I have memories of being there when I was a child.”

A scene from Windigo featuring Jassem Hindi and Peter James. Photo: Stefan Peterson

So she went north.

“I wanted to show my kids. I was up there when I was pregnant with my second child. There is picture of me when I was five months pregnant. I did not have a really clear concept of what I was doing; it was more that I was up there. It was almost like field work.”

She recorded some sound and her husband took photographs.

“For me, one of the early urgencies was unloading and mapping of what I have to do following from my mom being a survivor of residential school. and the history (of the family) being fragmented and displaced from territory and culture.

“I am piecing together where I position myself in that narrative and what my legacy is and for my children as well.

That navigation produced Phantom Stills.

Windigo, which she has choreographed is more about the impact of “provocative” actions such as clear cutting forest and flooding land for hydro projects all without permission. She has created a contemporary version of Windigo, which is a being that threatens communities because of greed. Kramer’s version puts an emphasis on capitalism and corporate greed and cultivating the land without thinking of the consequences.

Windigo is not a representational work, she said.

“The way I work with performers, objects, images and soundscapes is quite layered. There is a destruction and violence but there is also warmth because of some of the textures of the sound and the images. You can have moments when you might catch a glimpse of what it is.”

The piece asks the public to be in constant engagement because everything is open to interpretation.

There is something more too.

“There is this destruction and in watching it happen we aren’t doing anything and that is a big part of it.”

It’s hard to consider this art work a dance . It’s “a performance,” Kramer said. “For me the approach to the body, sound, images and objects, is not to give anything a higher value in the piece. Everything is equal. Everything is animate and transforms and evokes many different meanings.”

Kramer has talked with her mother about her experiences.

Those conversations “very much started off my early career in creation.” Her mother talked about her life when not many people were really talking about it.

“One of my earliest works involved diving deeper into her stories. I took my mom on a trip in 2008 to the two residential schools that she had attended. We were revisiting the area and seeing what the connections are. It was very heavy and difficult.”

That’s why, for Kramer, court-mandated apologies, such as the one Stephen Harper delivered to residential school survivors, don’t hold a lot of water.

“I live it daily (the legacy of residential schools). There is no closure because our government has decided to manage it. It is in the memory.”

Audience reaction to her work varies but one encounter in Montreal is memorable for Kramer.

“A woman from Europe came up to me and said ‘I had no idea. This is not how Canada is portrayed overseas.’ That is my sense too. Canada loves to show the rosy colour and say that we stand up for human rights when in reality it is BS.

“There is a deliberateness to keeping Indigenous people in the north in poverty without clean drinking water and adequate housing. This is not a problem that is unfixable. It’s a choice.

“That to me is moving when you have someone come in and they are enlightened.”

Windigo by Lara Kramer
Co-production of NAC Dance and Ottawa Dance Directive/Series Dance 10
Where: The ODD Box Arts Court, 2 Daly St
When: Feb. 21-23
Tickets and information:

Phantom Stills & Vibrations
Where: ODD Studio B, Arts Court
When: Feb. 20 -23
Information: This is a free event

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.