Looking at perspective, diversity

Showcase play takes a salmons point of view

Posted: Monday, March 28, 2005

Since Ishmael Hope founded the annual Beyond Heritage festival in 2001, event organizers have sought to put together a program that balances traditional and contemporary expressions of Native art and culture.

This year's showcase play, "Alive in the Eddy," combines a 101-year-old version of the story "Salmon Boy" with interviews and anecdotes from about 20 local Natives.

Along the way, it looks at life from a salmon's perspective.

"If you lived among the salmon, what would your eyes see?" Hope said. "Would you learn to see things from their perspective?

"What if salmon returned from the sea and were rejected?" he said. "We think that's a profound question. The salmon want to come to the humans. They want to give of themselves to complete the cycle, to complete the eternal return."

Beyond heritage events

6 p.m. Sunday, April 3 - kickoff, at University of Ulaska Southeast Egan Library, free.

7 p.m. Tuesday, April 5 - "Storytelling through the generations," at Perseverance theatre. free or pay-as-you-can.

7 p.m. Wednesday, April 6 - Poetry slam and short-film showcase. gold town nickelodeon. free.

7 p.m. Friday, April 8 - Storytelling by Gary Waid and "Alive in the Eddy," world premiere, at ANB hall. $10 for adults, $5 for students and senior. $5 discount with a "Long Season" ticket stub.

"Alive in the Eddy," plays at 7 p.m. Friday, April 8, at the ANB Hall. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors.

Beyond Heritage begins Sunday, April 3, and overlaps with Diversity Week, a week-long cultural celebration that starts Tuesday. See juneaudiversity.org for more.

"Alive in the Eddy," has many versions in Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. The story has a number of names, including "Aak'wtaatseen," "Lively in the Pond" and "The Prince and the Salmon People."

This particular version can be tracked to Sitka's Kiks'adi clan. The play follows the transformation of a boy into a fish, and eventually into a shaman. It touches on respect, renewal, subsistence, stewardship of the land and the life cycle of salmon.

"The eddy is sort of a nook, a resting places in between worlds, in the subconscious," Hope said. "He's able to mediate between that world and the human world by going out with the salmon people. He learns what it means to have that power."

Deikeenaak'w, a Sitka Kaagwaantaan, told one version to linguist and ethnographer John Swanton in 1904. That story appeared in Swanton's 1909 compendium "Tlingit Myths and Texts."

Roby Littlefield and Ethel Makinen transliterated Swanton's text into modern spelling. They joined Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Richard Dauenhauer and Lydia George in 2001 and edited the story for the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative's "I Am Salmon" curriculum for elementary school students.

Hope's father, Andy Hope III, suggested the story two years ago. Andy Hope first heard the story when he was in Angoon.

"When I looked at the retranslation it was almost inaccessible," Ishmael Hope said. "Because when you look at the Tlingit world and Tlingit language and world-view, and then you try to transpose it on to English and American ways today, I had no idea what was going on with the story."

Shona Strauser directs the play. Hope, Lily Hudson, Allan Hayton and Ramiro Rivera Jr. star. The cast accumulated about 20 hours of interviews, including scores of salmon recipes. Some of the dishes will be handed into the audience as the play begins.

Hayton, a veteran of Alaska regional theater and an Athabascan from Arctic Village, recently moved to Juneau after five years in Anchorage. He played Ross in Perseverance Theatre's Tlingit-inspired adaptation of "Macbeth," in which he worked with Hope and Hudson. He's also worked with Juneau's Naakahidi Theater.

"The story is a little abstract in the way it travels between worlds," Hayton said. "I really love the twin perspectives when the boy's a child, and then becomes a salmon and later transforms into a shaman."

"There's not really any Athabascan culture in the story, but there's a lot of common history that we've had as Native people," he said. "That's what was really moving in the stories that we gathered."

Rivera, one-quarter Tlingit, has joined the cast as its fourth player. His previous experience is with Juneau's KitschyYumYum Delectable Burlesque Co.

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