July 07, 2012

Native performers in Cirque du Soleil

Meet Christian Laveau, Discovered at a Pow Wow, Now the Lead Singer of Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM

By Jordan WrightChristian Laveau keeps to his roots–both literally and culturally. As an herbalist he stays grounded by following the ways of his people working for several years at the First Nations Garden at the Montreal Botanical Garden sharing his knowledge of native plants and traditional medicines passed down to him by his Huron-Wendat elders. As a cultural ambassador he is a well-known Canadian performer, TV host, comedian, singer, songwriter, television producer and musician. His award-winning children’s show Chic Choc focuses on inspiring stories directed towards Canadian youth.

His most recent role is as the lead singer in Cirque de Soleil’s latest production TOTEM, a fascinating tale of the evolution of man from his original amphibian state to his ultimate desire to fly. Illustrated through a visual and acrobatic language, it falls somewhere between science and legend. Laveau was discovered by the iconic Canadian company while performing at a pow wow on his reservation.

How do you reach young people with your message?

I have a TV show called Chic Choc on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). In native language it means, “Go over the mountain.” It’s for the youngsters that I do this TV show. It’s difficult for them. There are not a lot of things to do in the area and there are problems with alcohol and drugs. They don’t even allow glue in the classrooms. But because the children are the keepers of our culture we have to show them and use what our grandparents gave us. My grandmother always spoke to me about the importance of the “Seventh Generation” and continuing our traditions.

In TOTEM, you sing in your mother language?

Yes, in the show I sing in my mother language. Guy Laliberté [founder of Cirque du Soleil] said, “You are a real culture, you are alive, so you will sing in your mother language.” For me it’s really an honor. Every night I use my own drums and other personal items.

Tim Smith, who has been TOTEM’s Artistic Director through its inception, was there to answer additional questions about the production.

Are there other Native performers in the cast?

The show is truly multicultural. We have 53 artists from 17 different countries speaking 9 different languages on stage every night. Two are American Indian dancers performing traditional dance–Shandien Larance (Hopi) and Eric Hernandez (Hopi) from New Mexico and California. They are authentic hoop dancers. The hoop shapes describe evolution from frog to thunderbird. We don’t teach them, we go out and find the real thing. We use a lot of traditional images and Christian (Laveau) has written a lot of original music for the show in collaboration with the composers of Cirque. That’s how authentic TOTEM is, and how important it is for the company to embrace that voice and that spirit.
Comment:  For more on a related subject, see Inuit Circus in Igloolik.

Below:  Christian Laveau.

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