Samantha Sutherland

Looking Ahead

Jeremy Mimnagh

Joe Szekeres

Samantha is an Indigenous contemporary dance artist, choreographer, and teacher based in Tkaronto. She is from the Ktunaxa Nation in British Columbia. Her ancestry is Ktunaxa and Scottish/British Settler. She completed the Arts Umbrella Dance Diploma Program in 2018, the pre-professional program. She has worked as a guest artist with Ballet BC and an associate artist with Red Sky Performance. Samantha explored what aspects of her Ktunaxa culture, history, and traditional knowledge can be pulled into her choreography. She has presented works at Matriarchs Uprising by O.Dela Arts, and the Paprika Festival.

However, I have more to learn and appreciate about the art of dance and I’m appreciative of those artists who are taking the time to share with me and others what is it about the art of dance that continues to fascinate and intrigue them.

Samantha laughed as I asked her to start with the big question – what about the world and study of dance still intrigues her as a performing artist?

“Overall, it is a universal language. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you’re at in your life. You can watch movement and watch a body move, and that will trigger some kind of reaction within us. It doesn’t matter what language we speak as dance is understandable. As an expression, [dance] reads as it’s a way to express the human experience using this human vessel we all have, and we all share that similarity.”

From Samantha’s perspective, movement is an extremely satisfying experience for her. Dance and movement keep her happy and when she tends to dance her day gets a little happier personally.

How is Samantha feeling about this gradual return to the performing arts even though Covid still envelopes us for the foreseeable future? She’s excited about the return and remarks how it appears that the city of Toronto seems to be excited about its return. Even though Covid is still present, Samantha says these last two years have given all of us an awareness of our own health in how to engage with people.

Yet Samantha is not turning Pollyanna because artists are aware there are some fears, but if we follow regulations in what’s happening around us, then that’s all any of us can do going forward. There is a safe ambition as we return because we have to trust that those who aren’t feeling well don’t come around those who are feeling fine. Let’s embrace the changes that we’ve seen over the last two-plus years. The arts need to be experienced because if artists are afraid of getting back into the studio, then there is the possibility the work, the experience, and the artistic connection could die out.

Samantha is most excited about presenting a premiere dance work kaqwiⱡȼi as part of the late-night dance series NIGHT SHIFT co-presented by Citadel + Compagnie and Fall for Dance North (FFDN). The piece she will present works in her native Ktunaxa language. Samantha has been learning her traditional Ktunaxa language over the past two years via Zoom.

“Learning my language is something I need to do,” Samantha states, “but I wasn’t always sure how or when I was going to be able to do it, so I’m very happy I am learning the language now with my teacher, Alfred Joseph.”

About a year and a half ago, Samantha recalls in one of her classes they were given the body parts vocabulary list, and this triggered an idea in her brain. As a dancer herself, Samantha says she thinks about the body parts and how could she translate Ktunaxa words to movement. She shared next what she would do.

All of this language learning begins with the study of the body parts and then meshed into a solo dance piece built from a practice of translating words into movement. Samantha works with an audio recording of her grandmother, Sophie Pierre, and another Elder, Marie Nicholas, of them having a conversation in the traditional Ktunaxa language. Sutherland then translates the story and the full sentences of the ladies into movement, and this is what is being presented. Samantha also uses her own voice in speaking the traditional language and dances along with her own movement as well.

What are some of the ways Sutherland approaches translation into her traditional language?

She looks at the shape of the letters and then uses her body to form that shape.

How many syllables does the word have? If three, then the movement would have three parts.

If she had the word ‘river’ in front of her and she heard her grandmother say river, then Samantha uses her hands to show a free-flowing fluid movement of the river. Other vocabulary words she said with me during our conversation:

ʔa·kⱡam - head (sounds like ahk-thlam)
ʔa·kiy - hands (sounds like ah-kee)
ʔa·kⱡik - feet (sounds like ahk-thlick)

Samantha likes working with text because there are so many ways to approach a word either how it sounds or looks on paper, or whatever it means and then using movement to define the meaning. She describes the process as fun. She is excited that she gets the opportunity to continue to present it. Earlier this spring, she had made this production for the Paprika Festival and got presented at ‘Sharing the Stage’ at the National Ballet and she gets to continue it for Fall for Dance North and the Citadel.

Within the five-year trajectory plan of where artists see themselves, Samantha hopes that she continues to collaborate with other Canadian artists and get to create whether solo or with others. She loves the Indigenous dance community not only here in Toronto but Canada abroad. As a new choreographer herself, Samantha hopes to meet and to create within the next five years.

Sutherland hopes one day that her story presented by Citadel and FFDN can also be presented live in her home nation so that her relatives and other Ktunaxa folk can see her work. She is excited to share the work with her classmates and teacher and relatives.

What’s next for Samantha Sutherland once this show is complete? She has a couple of other shows coming up in Toronto and the area for the fall. She teaches full-time as well so she’s excited to be getting back to seeing her kids. Mostly, however, Samantha will be performing her works at a few upcoming festivals.

To learn more about Samantha Sutherland’s production visit www.ffdn.com or citadelcie.com.

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