Elle Sofe Sara centres on land and reclamation in Sámi dance

Inspired by Sámi culture and history, spiritual dance performance Vástádus eana – The answer is land centres themes of community, reclamation and the importance of land. The Sámi people are Indigenous to Sápmi, also known as northern Scandinavia, and, similar to Indigenous peoples in Canada, have suffered cultural assimilation and violence from colonialism.

“I think our performance is as relevant in Canada as it is here in Sápmi Scandinavia,” Sámi choreographer and filmmaker Elle Sofe Sara says.

Presented with DanceHouse and Dancers of Damelahamid, Sofe Sara brings Vástádus eana to the Vancouver Playhouse on Feb. 23 and 24.

Reclaiming culture

Sofe Sara’s process of creating and producing Vástádus eana was long and complicated. Working without a script, she started with big themes and loose visual ideas before developing the music and accompanying movements. From this she got the idea to use polyphonic yoiking – layering multiple different melodies of traditional Sámi singing. Themes like community and the importance of land to culture and identity were central to creating the performance and Sofe Sara wanted to capture that.

“In the beginning, togetherness and mass movement was my inspiration, and also connection, disconnection to land. We used a lot of time developing the performance and finding the way to create certain moods and take the audience on a journey,” she explains.

One creative decision to this effect was having the show begin outside before moving indoors, a reflection of the importance of land and nature and a way to challenge traditional Western theatre norms. Sofe Sara stressed that she did not want to explain the meaning behind this creative decision, instead she wants the audience to make their own interpretations.

“It feels very right to start outside, where we all, both the audience and the performers, stand on the land,” adds Sofe Sara.

Freedom to create

Before conceptualising the show, Sofe Sara had actually decided to quit being an artist due to the lack of income and opportunity. However, after getting a residency at the Davvi Centre for Performing Arts in Arctic Norway she found guidance and inspiration. For her, this show is a reminder to have faith in herself.

“This show reminds me of the fact that one must keep going. Not give up. Believe in new beginnings,” she says.

That belief characterises her approach to art. When creating Vástádus eana, Sofe Sara says that the lack of script was a deliberate but terrifying choice that required a lot of faith went into the work. There was no script to fall back on if the choices they made did not work out.

From Vástádus eana – The answer is land. | Photo by Antero Hein, courtesy of DanceHouse.

“This freedom of working with dance and music is both wonderful and scary as hell,” she says.

Sofe Sara’s dedication to creating a show that pays tribute to the history and culture of the Sámi people was part of that process. Vástádus eana centres the resilience and strength of the Sámi people in resisting colonial efforts of assimilation through language suppression, residential schools and religious conversion.

Similar to Indigenous peoples in Canada, the Sámi are reckoning with generational trauma and the need to rebuild and heal. Sofe Sara thinks the cultural and historical similarities in Sámi and Indigenous people in Canada are reflected in Vástádus eana where community and reclamation are central.

“The first time I was in Canada was back in 2007 at the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife [as a cultural performer]. We met so many other Indigenous people and got to learn a little bit. There is so much in common,” she says.

Sofe Sara hopes audiences leave Vástádus eana interested in learning more about Sámi culture, arts and history. She says the most important part of the show is the feelings it evokes for the audience, whether they can easily relate or not.

“I hope they feel hopeful and also get reminded of their own connection to certain places and to the land,” she says.

For more information of Vástádus eana – The answer is land visit www.dancehouse.ca