Picture associated with WINDIGO, a performance in the Kia Mau Festival. Two men sit in a canoe which is on concrete. They are wrapped in blankets.Wow, did I misunderstand the marketing for this show. “Fierce and visceral, Windigo resonates like a scream, the vibrant echo of a long history of hu-man ransacking and destruction, a violation of a land and its culture.” I went in bracing myself for the emotional equivalent of a hurricane. This is not that. For me, it’s much closer in spirit to the picture included here. Unusual, unsettling, measured and compelling.

This performance piece has come out of research choreographer Lara Kramer was doing around the Residential School that “three generations of her family endured. It also evolved out of field work she was doing at her mother’s home in Lac Seul First Nation, in northwestern Ontario.” The three performers, Kramer, Jassem Hindi and Peter James, are on stage when we go into the theatre. They’re sitting on two mattresses. There’s another mattress wrapped in plastic at the back. To one side there’s a pile of clear plastic sheeting. On the other, shoved into the back corner, is a pile of clothes. The sound of cracking starts while the house lights are still on. As they fade other nighttime noises start. Kramer stands then moves to sit to one side where she stays mixing the sound for the rest of the show.

For what seems like a long time nothing happens. The men scratch their necks or their ankles. They switch positions, curling around their mattress like it’s a teddy bear. Hindi pulls a flick knife out of his back pocket. He runs a hand over his mattress then frantically cuts into it, ripping out a piece of stuffing and shoving it into his mouth where he chews away at it. James finds his own flick knife. He uses it to cut into the sides of his mattress, threading blue and yellow rope through the holes. At one point he drinks from a water bottle then squishes it into the mattress as the plastic crumples and crackles. I feel like things are happening but they’re the metaphorical iceberg – I can only see the very top of it, and I understand even less.

While wondering what the heck I was going to write in this review, I came to the conclusion that I’d been colonised by the idea that I had to interpret this piece on an intellectual level. That to make sense of it I needed to know what the mattresses were a metaphor for, whether the plastic sheeting represented destruction, environmental collapse or something else. Instead I should have trusted my heart which pulled me, leaning toward the work. I should have trusted my breath, bated in anticipation as to what was going to happen next. I should have trusted in the silence after the show finished in darkness and the audience refused to applaud, refused to break the spell we’d been under until the lights came back up again and the performers stepped forward to bow.