There was a time when the Earth was troubled by great winds. On one side was the warm south wind, and the other the chilly north wind.
The animal people suffered when the north wind’s demand for power overcame the south wind, and the land went into deep freeze. That is until the south wind’s offspring blew back with a warm breeze.
So goes the story that Aunty Joes tells us from the front porch of her Airstream trailer.
The story is, in fact, one of the oral tales passed down by the Interior Salish people, and has been captured by the pen of Shuswap writer Linz Kenyon for his new play, The Contest of the Winds.
Making its world premiere in the field and forest at Caravan Farm Theatre as part of its winter sleigh-ride production, the play is a beautiful, funny and poignant celebration and acknowledgment of local Secwepemc (Shuswap) and Syilx (Okanagan) culture.
The Contest of the Winds is as local as local can get, with a number of aboriginal youth from both the Splatsin and Okanagan bands making their professional theatre debut as members of the cast.
Opening night Friday was made even more special with a welcome from the Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis and the Splatsin First Nation Chief Wayne Christian and welcome songs by members of both bands.
The Contest of the Winds goes back to the beginning of the story, when Aunty Joes (played by North of 60 star and accomplished musician/composer Renae Morriseau) attempts to settle a disagreement between her nephew, the traditionalist Sonny Boy (Alex Twin), and the selfie taking, Tweeting modernist Ava Girl (Reneltta Arluk).
Both have different ideas on how life should be lived, with Aunty Joes acting as Switzerland, in that she remains neutral (she heats her home with firewood, but carries a cell phone for communication).
As the youth go off into the woods, Aunty Joes tells (and also sings in the native language, with Morriseau’s incredibly powerful voice) of the time before man, when the winds came to blows.
And that’s when we, the audience, head into the woods ourselves, carried along by Caravan’s famed Clydesdales, and in our case three compact and strong Norwegian Fjords driven by one of Caravan’s regular handlers, Mahina Rose.
As we dashed through the ice, on wheels sadly, the fog lifted to reveal the sets (designed by the immensely talented Catherine Hahn, who also designed the costumes, and lit by Stephan Bircher), which glowed like beacons in the darkness.
It was like Christmas morning as our little fjord team rounded each corner, to the grand vision of nature coming to life.
There, we are introduced to chirpy Skokomina Bird (Cheri Maracle), and the lovable (and comic relief) duo of Crane (Greg Gale) and Stinkbug (Jason Clift), who are approached by the gale force that is North Wind (Arluk).
She wants to blow South Wind (Twin) off his pedestal so that she can dominate the land. And she does just that, freezing the animals in her deathly grip until the South Wind Boy (Twin again) meets her in what is the most beautiful battle scene since Braveheart. (Think 10-foot wings flapping in the breeze.)
The Contest of the Winds is an epic tale of the forces of nature, and the consequences of what happens when you mess with it, as well as the push and pull of the traditional ways and the lure of modern, technological advances. It is told admirably by Caravan’s cast and crew, and director Rachel Peake, who do this local story, and the keepers of this land, justice.
Limlent. Kukwtsétsemc. Thank you.
The Contest of the Winds continues at Caravan Farm Theatre until Jan. 4. For tickets and information, call or visit the Ticket Seller at 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.
– Kristin Froneman is the arts-entertainment editor at The Morning Star.