Ayita: Modern Design History Debuts at SkirtsAfire Festival 10th Anniversary

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Edmonton’s SkirtsAfire Festival kicks off the story of how a modern Indigenous woman was made on its 10th anniversary starting Thursday.

Ayita tells the story of three generations of Indigenous women: past, present and future. Created and written by Teneil Whiskeyjack, a Cree woman from Saddle Lake First Nation, the story chronicles her healing journey and what she learns along the way.

“This is truly the story of an Indigenous woman breaking free into her own story of peace,” she told CBC’s Edmonton AM on Thursday.

6:27Ayita’s world premiere opens tonight at Edmonton’s Skirts Afire Festival

The story of the creation of an aboriginal woman. We’ll speak with writer Teneil Whiskeyjack and festival artistic director Annette Loiselle about the show Ayita, which kicks off tonight at Skirts Afire Festival. 6:27

The play is not just theater but will include text, movement and sound. The cast, made up entirely of indigenous women, includes eight performers, four dancers, and a drummer. Whiskeyjack will play the current version of Ayita.

Ayita’s seed began in 2019 during her thesis project as a theater major at Concordia University, Whiskeyjack said. But it wasn’t until last year that she started working to put everything in place. For Ayita, she went to the ceremony, listened to knowledge keepers and other indigenous women.

A look at Ayita, a play premiering at the SkirtsAfire Festival on Thursday. The play speaks of three generations of Aboriginal women. (Noella Steinhauer)

The process was also helpful in her own healing, including what she discovered was the healing of the womb. “We don’t hear much about the healing of the womb, and a lot of that is our own inner fire,” she said.

“By entering the womb, we are not only healing ourselves, we are helping to heal our matrilineal lineage; our grandmothers, our mothers, our daughters, and the people who came after and before us.”

SkirtsAfire is Edmonton’s only multi-disciplinary arts and theater festival showcasing the work of women and non-binary artists. Although theater plays a major role in the festival, it also includes other acts like music, dance, visual arts and spoken word.

Because Ayita is about finding the truth from within, this year SkirtsAfire’s theme is set to “Tastes Like Truth”.

“It’s a beautiful thing because a lot of artists can work with this theme,” said artistic director Annette Loiselle.

Ayita’s all-native female cast includes eight performers, four dancers and a drummer. It will premiere at the SkirtsAfire festival on Thursday. (Noella Steinhauer)

This year the festival is bigger with Ayita, its biggest theatrical production to date. This year’s festival budget is $400,000, double the amount of 2020 before the pandemic.

Loiselle said she was happy to welcome Edmontonians back to enjoy proper performances, especially at the Army and Navy on Whyte Avenue, where they created a cabaret space with art installations and design.

“It’s a ticketed event and people can come in and see the bands or the comedy or whatever’s going on that night,” she said.

The SkirtsAfire festival kicks off on Thursday with the premiere of Ayita at the Westbury Theater in the ATB Financial Arts Barn at 7.30pm

Tickets can be purchased at the Fringe Theater box office. The show is free for Aboriginals.

The festival runs until March 13.


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