Marie Cle­ments goes in search of the Miss­ing

> BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

As a play­wright, direc­tor, and mul­ti­me­dia artist, Marie Cle­ments is known for her fear­less de­ter­mi­na­tion to tell In­dige­nous sto­ries—but even she was hes­i­tant, at first, to ex­plore the new-to­her world of opera while writ­ing about miss­ing and mur­dered women.

“When you’re asked to write on this theme or this re­al­ity, some­times your first re­sponse is ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can go in there,’ just be­cause of the grav­ity of it,” she tells the Straight from Toronto.

But the story needed to be told. The re­sult is Miss­ing, her col­lab­o­ra­tion with Toronto com­poser Brian Cur­rent, City Opera Van­cou­ver, and Pa­cific Opera Vic­to­ria, in part­ner­ship with Van­cou­ver Mov­ing Theatre/ DTES Heart of the City Fes­ti­val.

“A lot of times, in think­ing of opera, I would think that it was just for peo­ple who had money, you know,” she says. But Cle­ments adds that it’s a mul­ti­me­dia art form, which fits in with her pref­er­ences and with First Na­tions sto­ry­telling tra­di­tion. Miss­ing un­folds in Van­cou­ver and along the High­way of Tears in north­ern B.C., but it also takes place in the realm of dreams and myth.

At its core, though, is some­thing very real: how our cul­ture stereo­types In­dige­nous women and puts them in con­stant danger of rape or worse. That’s why Ava, the young, non-na­tive wo­man who is one of the opera’s two pro­tag­o­nists, does not, at first, extend em­pa­thy to the “un­named Na­tive girl” she sees hitch­hik­ing in the North.

“There’s a mo­ment where she’s feel­ing ‘Well, should I pull over?’ ” Cle­ments says. “But it’s get­ting dark and she’s a bit scared, so she doesn’t pull over‚ and that’s how the story be­gins.”

Over the course of Miss­ing, the name­less hitch­hiker gains a post­hu­mous iden­tity, and Ava de­vel­ops an un­der­stand­ing of her com­plic­ity in the events that led to the girl’s death.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that it be told ev­ery­where and any­where, be­cause we’re tired of hav­ing to tell this story and tired of it hap­pen­ing,” Cle­ments says. “To me and to so many other peo­ple, this is not an In­dige­nous is­sue; it’s a hu­man is­sue.”

In a sep­a­rate in­ter­view, Cur­rent ad­mits that he was ini­tially ig­no­rant of the ex­tent of the dan­gers In­dige­nous women face, but that his dawn­ing un­der­stand­ing helped shape the mu­si­cal lan­guage he’s opted to use.

“The very first per­for­mance of this will be for fam­i­lies of the vic­tims, right?” he says. “A closed event with grief coun­sel­lors, and it’s go­ing to be in­tense. And if we’re go­ing to talk di­rectly to them, then I don’t want it to be in some big avant-garde, com­plex lan­guage. I want them to un­der­stand it the very first time that they hear it.”

Much of Miss­ing will be sung in Gitxsan. “Half the cast is In­dige­nous, and there is some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary about see­ing these beau­ti­ful per­form­ers who come, many of them, with their own cul­tural po­si­tions and also this trained voice out of the Euro­pean tra­di­tion,” Cle­ments says. “For me, it’s a gift—and some­thing that in it­self would make you want to sit up and go ‘What’s go­ing on here? I want to see that.’ ”

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