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Nature and dance collide in Sandra Lamouche’s latest film, showing Friday in Pincher Creek

Thursday, 15 September 2022. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Nature and dance collide in Sandra Lamouche’s latest film, showing Friday in Pincher Creek

Sandra Lamouche’s Gather was filmed near the Oldman River in Fort Macleod. Interpretive dance, as shown in this photo, is one of the highlights of the film, and she uses it to highlight aspects of her Cree heritage.   Photo by Rick Liberte

Nature and dance collide in Sandra Lamouche’s latest film, showing Friday in Pincher Creek

By Gillian Francis

Community Reporter

On a rainy afternoon in 2021, Sandra Lamouche was exploring River Valley Wilderness Park in Fort Macleod when she happened upon a clump of wolf willows — shrubs with dusty silver-coloured leaves that are native to Alberta — and was fascinated by their metallic sheen as water droplets dripped off the leaves and glistened in the sun.

Sandra, an interdisciplinary artist with ties to Bigstone Cree Nation and Piikani Nation who explores Indigenous dance, storytelling and visual arts, saw creative potential in the plant and used it as inspiration for one of her latest projects — a 15-minute art film called Gather.

“To be in awe of something so beautiful, that day for me, it just struck me,” she recalls.

Gather was filmed near the Oldman River, close to the spot where she discovered the willows. In it, she performs a routine of land-based dance while picking the silvery plant, or soniyaw niyipsiy, as she calls it.

“There’s some movement and dance in it, but there’s also an interview, explaining what it’s about, and there’s a bit of spoken word that goes with the movement,” says Sandra.

Lebel Mansion in Pincher Creek is showing the film Sept. 16 as part of Alberta Culture Days, a month-long celebration of the many passions and talents that contribute to the province’s unique cultural identity. The film will be played on loop between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

It accompanies her art exhibit Generations, which has been on display at the gallery since Sept. 9. For this project, she took items found on her outdoor explorations and in thrift stores, and repurposed them into art so people could see them in new ways.

Her favourite work from the collection was made out of pieces from a wasp’s nest.

“I’ve been fascinated with the designs and the shapes in it, the colours and the textures,” she says, describing the nest.

Both projects were born out of her desire to learn about the natural land and connect it to her Indigenous identity.

In Anishinaabe culture, says Sandra, humans have seven senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing, intuition and prophecy. Intuition helps guide your decision-making, she says, and prophecy involves manifesting destiny and actively creating the future that the mind envisions.

Although Sandra is not Anishinaabe, she says there is a similar concept in Cree culture that resonates with her.

She describes her artistic process as one where she uses these senses to explore her external environment and find creative inspiration in everyday situations. She finds specific objects that catch her eye, or plants that smell nice, and researches them in order to better understand how they fit in with her own culture.

When she began researching wolf willow, she discovered that the Cree regarded the plant as a form of spiritual protection and used it to make necklaces. This piqued her interest, and her film took shape from there.

Another central component to the film is Indigenous dance, something that Sandra has been practising for years. She is trained in numerous dance styles — ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, modern, contemporary, hip-hop, powwow, hoop dance — and has collaborated with Indigenous dance companies, including Dancing Earth in Sante Fe, Kahawi Dance Theatre in Toronto and Atamira Dance Company in New Zealand.

She completed an MA thesis on Indigenous dance and its effect on health and well-being.

Dance, no matter its form, is an integral part of her art. She says it can be used to “move through life,” to “embody your feelings or emotions or difficulties,” and to “physically connect with things, emotions or ideas.”

Dance and nature are two ways that she explores her being and her culture.

“Teachings are all around us, if we’re able to gather them and harvest them, and watch and learn,” she says.