Les­filles­duroi brings set­tler and In­dige­nous his­tory to­gether in a trilin­gual mu­si­cal by the same team that cre­ated Chil­drenof­god.

Corey Payette and Julie Mcisaac fol­low up his Chil­dren of God with a mu­si­cal trilin­gual tale of women shipped to a new land

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The year is 1665, and from the shores of the St. Lawrence River, near Mon­treal, two Mo­hawk chil­dren, Ka­teri and Jean-bap­tiste, are wit­ness­ing an in­creas­ingly fre­quent spec­ta­cle: the dock­ing and un­load­ing of a Euro­pean galleon. This one, how­ever, is car­ry­ing an es­pe­cially rare and valu­able cargo in the form of young women. The filles du roi, as they’re known, have been cho­sen to join their male coun­try­men in what must seem a strange and for­bid­ding new land— but at least one of them will also find an un­ex­pected affin­ity with her In­dige­nous wel­com­ers.

That’s the start­ing point for Les Filles du Roi, the new mu­si­cal from Corey Payette and Julie Mcisaac, and while it’s not a pre­quel to Payette’s pow­er­ful res­i­den­tial- school saga, Chil­dren of God, it can be seen as ex­plor­ing the roots of the sys­tem that al­lowed for the sys­tem­atic abuse of Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren.

“What stands as a con­nect­ing piece for the two is that they’re re­ally about shift­ing our per­spec­tives to al­low our­selves to ex­pe­ri­ence these his­to­ries through an In­dige­nous per­spec­tive, or through the per­spec­tive of women, who’ve been un­der­rep­re­sented and whose sto­ries haven’t been doc­u­mented in the same way as the stan­dard white-male per­spec­tive,” Payette ex­plains, on the line with Mcisaac from a Granville Is­land re­hearsal space. “That’s def­i­nitely a through-line that’s car­ried in both works.”

What’s dif­fer­ent is that Les Filles du Roi in­ter­twines In­dige­nous and set­tler ex­pe­ri­ence in eye- open­ing new ways, point­ing out the con­nec­tions be­tween cul­tures as well as the clashes, and per­haps posit­ing a way of mov­ing for­ward through those shared his­to­ries.

“It’s a big ‘ What if?’ ” Mcisaac says, point­ing out that the young French­women were com­ing into a world that, un­like their priest-rid­den home­land, was or­ga­nized around ma­tri­ar­chal lines. “What if, on ar­rival, the Euro­pean set­tlers, as op­posed to try­ing to as­sim­i­late the peo­ple that were al­ready here, what if they lis­tened and learned from the peo­ple liv­ing here on the land at the time? What if they learned from those teach­ings and in­cor­po­rated those teach­ings in­stead? What might our con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety look like?”

Mcisaac links her take on the story, which she’s been in­ter­ested in since first hear­ing about the filles du roi in a Grade 8 his­tory class, to con­tem­po­rary so­cial move­ments such as #MeToo. “Think about the things that women are still deal­ing with in terms of vi­o­lence, in terms of not feel­ing re­spected and not feel­ing hon­oured and feel­ing afraid all the time,” she says. “If we had learned more from the so­ci­eties ex­ist­ing here on the land when we first ar­rived, maybe that wouldn’t be the case to­day.”

Les Filles du Roi is a true col­lab­o­ra­tion: Payette has com­posed the mu­sic, for a small en­sem­ble of pi­ano, vi­olin, vi­ola, cello, and a va­ri­ety of First Na­tions drums; he and Mcisaac wrote the book and lyrics; she plays the cen­tral fille, Marie-jeanne Le­spérance. And for both artists it’s been an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore not just a mul­ti­cul­tural per­spec­tive, but a mul­ti­lin­gual one. The story is told in French, English, and Kanien’kéha, and the mere act of putting this Mo­hawk di­alect on-stage has pro­found ram­i­fi­ca­tions, Payette feels.

“It’s ground­break­ing,” he says. “The lan­guage holds so much cul­ture, and it in­spires me be­cause I know that lan­guage holds our songs, and those songs hold our dances, and then those dances will tell a new story. And so, for me, I feel like there’s a move­ment com­ing where, through that lan­guage, our en­tire cul­ture will be shifted, and our en­tire cul­ture will be able to build out­wards, and we will see our­selves dif­fer­ently in the fu­ture.”

The long process of cre­at­ing Les Filles du Roi has led both Payette and Mcisaac to see them­selves dif­fer­ently, too. Payette is Oji- Cree, with some French- Cana­dian her­itage, but he’s re­cently learned that one side of his fam­ily moved to north­ern On­tario from Mo­hawk ter­rain.

“My great- grand­mother spoke Kanien’kéha, English, and French,” he says. “So now, re­turn­ing to the lan­guage and try­ing to un­der­stand it and try­ing to learn all of its in­ter­nal com­plex­i­ties, it re­ally has been such a ful­fill­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, both per­son­ally and ar­tis­ti­cally— and one that I feel like I’m not alone in. There are In­dige­nous peo­ple all across Canada who are re­claim­ing their lan­guage, and I feel like this piece will speak to all of those peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences and what they are drawn to, as well.”

Mcisaac’s con­nec­tion to the story is even more in­ti­mate: in re­search­ing Les Filles du Roi, she found that one of her own fore­bears, on her fran­co­phone mother’s side, was on that 1665 ship, or at least one much like it.

“It’s a piece of our his­tory that even my mom and her sis­ters didn’t know about. Was there some­thing in me or some­thing in my fam­ily’s his­tory that was urg­ing me for­ward be­fore I even knew?” she asks. “So if other Cana­di­ans are in­spired to dig into their own fam­ily his­tory by virtue of com­ing to see this show, I think that would be won­der­ful. Like Corey says, our an­ces­tors aren’t that far away from us; some peo­ple be­lieve that they’re right here with us at ev­ery mo­ment. So that’s there to be found out; it’s there to be con­nected with— and I think it can only strengthen us and help us move for­ward.”

Fugue Theatre and Raven Theatre, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Ur­ban Ink and the Cultch, present Les Filles­duroi at the York Theatre from Tues­day (May 15) to May 27.

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