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Sarah Waisvisz in Monstrous. Photo by Christopher Snow.

undercurrents: Monstrous blends storytelling to dance in search for cultural belonging

By Jennifer Cavanagh on February 13, 2016

Miscegenation (noun): the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types. Sarah Waisvisz travels a murky, muddled and miss-remembered heritage in Monstrous a world premiere performance at undercurrents that blends storytelling to dance in Waisvisz search for cultural belonging. Premiering during Black History Month this work comes at an opportune moment offering insight into the baggage carried by many North American’s in relation to cultural identity.

Monstrous explores, from mostly a personal perspective, the lost history of stolen and exiled people whose birthright was clouded by the impact of slavery, the holocaust and enforced displacement.

Born to a family of both the African and European Jewish diaspora Waivisz finds her identity inconsistently, interchangeably and assuredly defined by strangers. Straddling a range of indefinable skin tone somewhere between dark European and light African she is the “ethnic” child while her brother is the blonde “Gerber baby”. Growing up they play slave trader games and no points in guessing how the roles were divided. As an adult strangers pronounce her identity assuredly and inconsistently: black, white, Israeli, Lebanese, Caribbean, Italian and other. The consistent repeated disassociation coupled with in-family jokes leads Waisvisc to self-diagnose herself as suffering from cultural schizophrenia.

Waisvisc dynamic energy fill the minimalist set where music, projection and dance illustrate a global trek as stories, anecdotes, lies, hearsay and research are pulled from this trunk of family history.

Martinique, Africa and Europe all figure large in the exploration of a family’s legacy. Waivisz’s multilingual talents and her choice of French-language music serve this production well emphasizing the international scope. “Pourquoi tu n”habite pas ici tati?” gives an authenticity to this self-reflective production.

She travels to Martinique, where her parents first met, and remarkable silhouetted shadow-play on evocative projections linking sensory impacts – sound, sight, taste – with the cultural sense of self – “I want to remember everything – how do I know I will ever return”.

Stories and research are played out through song, chalk maps and dance episodes so masterful that at one point the room burst in to spontaneous applause. Through her performance and a vibrant selection of projections Waivisz takes us from Africa to Martinique, to Ottawa, Rotterdam, Paris, Ferney and beyond.

How do you define yourself when your cultural identity is blurred? Take a trip with Monstrous to decide.

Monstrous is playing at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Avenue) on Saturday Feb 13 at 7pm, Thursday Feb 18 at 7pm, and Saturday Feb 20 at 1pm. Tickets are $18 and available through undercurrents.

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